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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Copyright Law Catching Up to the Internet

Here is another section of my book. It is in rough draft form:

The Internet has made copying and distributing protected material easier than ever before. You could be held liable for copyright infringement for storing your music collection on your hard drive, downloading photos from the Internet or forwarding news articles to your friends. It is conceivable that either inadvertent or deliberate copyright violations could be in the trillions. It sounds absurd, but copyright owners have the right to control reproductions of their works and claim statutory damages even when a use does not harm the market for their works. U.S. law authorizes judges and juries to award such damages in any amount between $750 and $30,000 per infringed work - and up to $150,000 per work if the infringement is deemed willful - without proof of any actual harm. The statute says the award should be "just" but provides no guidance about what this means. In one extreme case, a jury ordered an individual file sharer to pay nearly $2 million in damages for illegally downloading 24 songs. Is that really "just"?
In the UK a total of 7.2 Million people engage in violating UK's copyright laws
Questions arise as to the application of copyright law. How does it, for example, apply to the complex issue of fan fiction? If the media agency responsible for the authorised production allows material from fans, what is the limit before legal contraints from actors, music, and other considerations, come into play? As well, how does copyright apply to fan-generated stories for books? What powers do the original authors, as well as the publishers, have in regulating or even stopping the fan fiction?

Stewart Brand (then editor of Whole Earth Review) uttered the fateful words at the first hacker's conference in 1984: “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.” If you conduct a search for the phrase information wants to be free you get close to 78 million results. That’s a lot of interest.

I believe that all generally useful information should be free. By 'free' I am not referring to price, but rather to the freedom to copy the information and to adapt it to one's own uses... When information is generally useful, redistributing it makes humanity wealthier no matter who is distributing and no matter who is receiving.” Richard Stallman

"We live in this wierd time, an age of prohibitions, where in many areas of life ordinary people live constantly against the law. ordinary people live life against the law. The kids live life knowing they live it against the law – which is extremely corrosive and extraordinary corrupting. In a democracy we ought to do better"Lawrence Lessig TED 2007

The problem is it takes time and money to create something. When you finally publish it and someone takes it, because of uncontrolled distribution on the Internet, you lose income and your time is wasted. There has to be a better solution for permission to reuse copyrighted works; a better way to pay the copyright holders. Can you imagine the profit potential if these billions of people started paying just pennies for using this content for their limited purposes. This is win-win. If the laws don’t change soon people will just choose to ignore them creating anarchy.

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