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Some comments on Copyright and on Fair Use

[tags]copyright,DMCA,RIAA,MPAA,sharing,downloading,fair use[/tags]

Over the past decade or so, the entertainment industry has supported a continuing series of efforts to increase the enforcement of copyright laws, a lengthening of copyright terms, and very significant enforcement efforts against individuals.  Included in this mess was the DMCA—the Digital Millenium Copyright Act—which has a number of very technology unfriendly aspects.

One result of this copyright madness is lawsuits against individuals found to have file-sharing software on their systems, along with copies of music files.  Often the owners of these systems don’t even realize that their software is publishing the music files on their systems. It also seems the case that many people don’t understand copyright and do not realize that downloading (or uploading) music files is against the law.  Unfortunately, the entertainment industry has chosen to seek draconian remedies from individuals who may not be involved in more than incidental (or accidental) sharing of files.  One recent example is a case where penalties have been declared that may bankrupt someone who didn’t set out to hurt the music industry.  I agree with comments by Rep. Rick Boucher that the damages are excessive, even though (in general) the behavior of file sharers is wrong and illegal.

Another recent development is a provision in the recently introduced “College Access and Opportunity Act of 2007” (HR 3746; use Thomas to find the text). Sec 484 (f) contains language that requires schools to put technology into place to prevent copyright violations, and inform the Secretary of Education about what those plans and technologies are.  This is ridiculous, as it singles out universities instead of ISPs in general, and forces them to expend resources for misbehavior by students it is otherwise attempting to control.  It is unlikely to make any real dent in the problem because it doesn’t address the underlying problems.  Even more to the point, no existing technology can reliably detect only those files being shared that have copyright that prohibits such sharing.  Encryption, inflation/compression, translation into other formats, and transfer in discontinuous pieces can all be employed to fool monitoring software.  Instead, it is simply another cost and burden on higher ed.

We need to re-examine copyright.  Another aspect in particular we need to examine is “fair use.”  The RIAA, MPAA and similar associations are trying to lock up content so that any use at all requires paying them additional funds.  This is clearly silly, but their arguments to date have been persuasive to legislators.  However, the traditional concept of “fair use” is important to keep intact—especially for those of us in academia.  A recent report outlines that fair use is actually quite important—that approximately 1/6 of the US economy is related to companies and organizations that involve “fair use.”  It is well worth noting.  Further restrictions on copyright use—and particularly fair use—are clearly not in society’s best interest.

Copyright has served—and continues to serve—valid purposes.  However, with digital media and communications it is necessary to rethink the underlying business models.  When everyone becomes a criminal, what purpose does the law serve?

Also, check out my new “tumble log.”  I update it with short items and links more often than I produce long posts here.

[posted with ecto]