November 29th, 2007
Yesterday I read this great paper on copyright infringements by John Tehranian.
Its about the social effects of our more and more copyright-focused society. For a long time the public has viewed at the discussion from the viewpoint of “Copyright maximalists, such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)”
They argue that the ease of digital reproduction has enabled piracy on a scale never before witnessed in human history, and they have lobbied vigorously for statutory weapons with which to fight this scourge.
But maybe its time the public takes a better look at what “copyright skeptics” say
They argue that development of digital rights management technology has enabled copyright owners to exercise unparalleled dominion over their property, thereby constraining fair use rights.
I also learned from the paper that there was nothin like a default copyright before the 1976 Copyright Act.
But before the passage of the 1976 Copyright Act, most creative works did not enjoy copyright protection. Quite simply, authors could only enforce exclusive rights to works whose copyrights had been properly registered (and, subsequently, renewed). As a result, the vast majority of our society’s creative output automatically belonged in the public domain and use of this output did not raise any legal flags. With the passage of the 1976 Copyright Act, however, we radically altered our default regime from one of nonprotection to one of protection. Under the current Act, copyright subsists in authors the moment they fix a creative, original work in a tangible medium, regardless of the observance of any formalities such as registration. Thus, virtually the entire universe of creative works created after 1978 is now subject to copyright protection.
Then it gets funny. To showcase what a life would be like if copyright holders enforce their rights fully the author describes the day of an hypothetical law professor John.
In the morning, John checks his email, and, in so doing, begins to tally up the liability. Following common practice, he has set his mail browser to automatically reproduce the text to which he is responding in any email he drafts. Each unauthorized reproduction of someone else’s copyrighted text—their email— represents a separate act of brazen infringement, as does each instance of email forwarding. Within an hour, the twenty reply and forward emails sent by John have exposed him to $3 million in statutory damages. [..]
In the late afternoon, John takes his daily swim at the university pool. Before he jumps into the water, he discards his T-shirt, revealing a Captain Caveman tattoo on his right shoulder. Not only did he violate Hanna-Barbera’s copyright when he got the tattoo—after all, it is an unauthorized reproduction of a copyrighted work—he has now engaged in a unauthorized public display of the animated character. More ominously, the Copyright Act allows for the “impounding” and “destruction or other reasonable disposition” of any infringing work. Sporting the tattoo, John has become the infringing work. At best, therefore, he will have to undergo court-mandated laser tattoo removal. At worst, he faces imminent “destruction.” [..]
At the end of the day, John checks his mailbox, where he finds the latest issue of an artsy hipster rag to which he subscribes. The ’zine, named Found, is a nationally distributed quarterly that collects and catalogues curious notes, drawings, and other items of interest that readers find lying in city streets, public transportation, and other random places. In short, John has purchased a magazine containing the unauthorized reproduction, distribution, and public display of fifty copyrighted notes and drawings. His knowing, material contribution to Found’s fifty acts of infringement subjects John to secondary liability in the amount of $7.5 million.By the end of the day, John has infringed the copyrights of twenty emails,
three legal articles, an architectural rendering, a poem, five photographs, an animated character, a musical composition, a painting, and fifty notes and drawings. All told, he has committed at least eighty-three acts of infringement and faces liability in the amount of $12.45 million (to say nothing of potential criminal charges).