Debunking The EU Commission's 'Myths About ACTA'

from the myths-about-myths dept

Crossposted from Computerworld UK where it was originally split into two separate articles.

It's a sign of the European Commission's increasing desperation over ACTA that it has been forced to send out a document entitled "10 Myths About ACTA" [pdf] that purports to debunk misinformation that is being put around. Unsurprisingly, the EC's document is itself full of misinformation. Here are just a few of the more outrageous examples.
1. ACTA will limit the access to the internet and will censor websites.

Read the text of the ACTA Agreement - there is no single paragraph in ACTA that substantiates this claim. ACTA is about tackling large scale illegal activity, often pursued by criminal organizations. It is not about how people use the internet in their everyday lives. Internet users can continue to share non-pirated material and information on the web. ACTA will not limit people's rights on the internet nor will it shut down websites, unlike the proposals discussed in the US (SOPA and PIPA).
There are some convenient half-truths here. Its supporters may claim that ACTA is about tackling large-scale illegal activity but nowhere in the document is there mentioned any minimum level for its operation. That is, potentially, it can apply to the actions of a single person, perhaps even sharing a single file, depending upon the circumstances. The problem is, ACTA's framing is so vague that it's not clear exactly who might be caught by its terms. Whatever the Commission may say now, it's how the text is interpreted later that matters.

After all, if the Commission had really wanted only to tackle "large-scale illegal activity", it would have added a minimum level to exclude the risk that ordinary Internet users would be affected. The refusal to add that minimum level to the treaty – something that would have been easy to do - can only mean that the Commission does indeed want the option of applying ACTA's rules to ordinary citizens, and that its claims to the contrary are simply whitewashing.

The next half-truth is: "Internet users can continue to share non-pirated material and information on the web". But what exactly is "non-pirated material"? Who decides? Because copyright has become such a complex set of laws that it is rarely clear – even to copyright lawyers – what exactly is or isn't "pirated": often the courts have to decide whether something is covered by "fair dealing/fair use", for example. So how can ordinary citizens possibly know in every case whether what they are sharing is "pirated"?

In particular, there is the situation that the term of copyright varies by country, and what may be in the public domain in one, is still in copyright in another. So what happens when someone in a country where some creation is in the public domain shares it with someone in a country where it isn't? The continuing injustice of the O'Dwyer case shows us that the US tries to applies its laws everywhere in the world: so does that mean its copyright laws apply in Europe?

Finally, while it is true that ACTA will not "shut down websites" directly, there is another clause that is even worse (Article 10):
judicial authorities have the authority to order that materials and implements, the predominant use of which has been in the manufacture or creation of such infringing goods, be, without undue delay and without compensation of any sort, destroyed or disposed of
Now, by definition, a Web site "creates" infringing copies when it sends or streams them to users; so lawyers could – and almost certainly will, knowing lawyers – argue that ACTA provides for the destruction and disposal of any computers whose "predominant use" is copyright infringement. So, no simple censorship, certainly, just the seizure and physical destruction of computers (assuming they are in one of the ACTA signatories), and probably the domain name too.

Not only that, but another section (Article 12) allows for "materials and implements" to be seized without informing the party affected, and even without any guarantee that people can defend themselves afterwards – so much for due process and justice.
3. ACTA is a secret agreement. Negotiations were not transparent and conducted "behind closed doors". The European Parliament was not fully informed, stakeholders were not consulted.

The text of ACTA is publicly available to all. The negotiations for ACTA were not different from negotiations on any other international agreement. It is a fact that such agreements are not negotiated in public, but with the Lisbon Agreement and the revised Framework Agreement there are clear rules on how the European Parliament (EP) should be informed of such trade negotiations. And these have been scrupulously followed.

Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht has participated in three plenary debates, replied to several dozens of written and oral questions, as well to two Resolutions and one Declaration of the EP, whilst Commission services have provided several dedicated briefings to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) during the negotiations.

Likewise, the public was informed since the launch of the negotiations about the objectives and general thrust of the negotiations. The Commission released summary reports after every negotiation round and the negotiating text since April 2010. It organised press briefings and four stakeholder conferences on ACTA, one of them even only a few days before the first negotiating round.
This is extraordinarily duplicitous. The text of ACTA may be available to everyone *now*, but that is after the negotiations have been concluded – in other words, as a fait accompli. Even though the ACTA discussions began in 2006, the first formal draft that was officially released was only in 2010. The only reason people knew what was in ACTA was thanks to a document posted in Wikileaks in 2008: in other words, if the ACTA negotiators had got their way, ACTA would have been negotiated behind closed doors for four years before the public was allowed to see anything (and had there not been the Wikileaks leak, it's possible that even the draft would not have been released.)

The Commission claims "the public was informed since the launch of the negotiations about the objectives and general thrust of the negotiations": but what matters, of course, are the details, not the "general thrust". A few press briefings and stakeholder conferences are no substitute for actually allowing the public to give some – any – input to the ACTA process. But in the many years of negotiations, there was no possibility whatsoever to do that.

And yet even though the public was denied any opportunity to comment on a treaty that would have important implications for their lives, certain privileged groups were not just given access but consulted on their views, as Wikipedia explains:
Apart from the participating governments, an advisory committee of large US-based multinational corporations was consulted on the content of the draft treaty, including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the International Intellectual Property Alliance (which includes the Business Software Alliance, Motion Picture Association of America, and Recording Industry Association of America). A 2009 Freedom of Information request showed that the following companies also received copies of the draft under a nondisclosure agreement: Google, eBay, Intel, Dell, News Corporation, Sony Pictures, Time Warner, and Verizon.
Given the fact that major US corporations that stand to benefit directly from ACTA's disproportionate enforcement terms were allowed to shape its details from early on, while the 300 million European citizens who will be subject to those same terms had not a single formal opportunity even to express their views, the Commission's attempt to suggest that this was not a secret treaty, and that the public was consulted, is risible and insulting.
6. ACTA favours IP right-holders. ACTA eliminates safeguards and exceptions existing under international law.

Quite to the contrary, ACTA is drafted in very flexible terms and contains the necessary safeguards to allow the participating countries to strike an appropriate balance between all rights and interests involved, in line with their economic, political and social objectives, as well as with their legal traditions. All safeguards and exceptions under EU law or under the TRIPs Agreement remain fully preserved.
Notice how the "myth" has two components, but that the European Commission only answers one of them. The whole treaty is predicated on the assumption that more enforcement is good: there is no consideration of the collateral damage it might inflict, for example on members of the public. That, of course, is because the public was never allowed to present its views; inevitably, the resulting document is incredibly one sided and biased in favour of the copyright industries.

This can be most clearly seen in Article 9, which spells out the damages for infringement (my emphasis added):
1. In determining the amount of damages for infringement of intellectual property rights, a Party’s judicial authorities shall have the authority to consider, inter alia, any legitimate measure of value the right holder submits, which may include lost profits, the value of the infringed goods or services measured by the market price, or the suggested retail price.

2. At least in cases of copyright or related rights infringement and trademark counterfeiting, each Party shall provide that, in civil judicial proceedings, its judicial authorities have the authority to order the infringer to pay the right holder the infringer’s profits that are attributable to the infringement. A Party may presume those profits to be the amount of damages referred to in paragraph 1.

3. At least with respect to infringement of copyright or related rights protecting works, phonograms, and performances, and in cases of trademark counterfeiting, each Party shall also establish or maintain a system that provides for one or more of the following:

(a) pre-established damages

(b) presumptions for determining the amount of damages sufficient to compensate the right holder for
the harm caused by the infringement; or

(c) at least for copyright, additional damages.
Consider, now, how this might apply to sharing a few mp3s online. According to ACTA, the copyright holders can demand damages equal to the "lost profits" from those mp3s. And if you want to know how the recording industry calculates those, ask Jammie Thomas-Rasset, who was fined $1,920,000 for sharing 24 songs in the US. When that was later reduced to $54,000, the recording industries demanded a retrial because they felt it was far too low.

ACTA essentially validates this kind of deranged calculus, and permits copyright companies to claim for completely imaginary losses "to compensate the right holder for the harm caused by the infringement", even though it is impossible to quantify that "harm" in any sensible way when you're dealing with digital file sharing. Indeed, arguably there is no harm, since file sharing can actually *boost* sales – just ask Paulo Coelho; but ACTA's tunnel vision naturally cannot contemplate such a possibility.

Given these utterly disproportionate figures, it is extraordinary how the members of the European Commission can claim with any seriousness that ACTA does not "favor" rights-holders. Perhaps they imagine everyone earns the same as they do – 240,000 Euros a year - and can easily find a few million Euros down the back of the sofa if they need to....
8. ACTA leads to "harmonization through the backdoor". A study ordered by the European Parliament's committee for International Trade (INTA) to academics says that ACTA will require changes to EU enforcement legislation and/or to national laws.

ACTA provisions are compatible with existing EU law. ACTA will not require any revision or adaptation of EU law and will not require any Member States to review the measures or instruments by which they implement relevant EU law. ACTA is also in line with international law, in particular with the WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The INTA study does not show evidence of any concrete situation where ACTA would contradict, repeal or require the modification of a single provision existing in EU legislation. This has been confirmed in very clear terms by the two above mentioned Opinions of the Legal Service of the European Parliament.
If ACTA is compatible with existing EU law – and that remains unclear, despite the Commission's assertions to the contrary – that's only so because the whole treaty is so vaguely worded. It is full of options – clauses that signatories "may" implement in certain ways.

But this is the central trick of ACTA: it is not that the treaty itself imposes new laws on participants *now* - the studied vagueness makes that unnecessary. What ACTA does is to create a framework whose assumptions are that laws will be passed in the future to comply with the optional, more stringent parts. In other words, ACTA is not so much about today's legal landscape, but about tomorrow's. It will allow politicians to say: "well, we really have to implement these harsher enforcement laws because it's in ACTA, and all of our partners have done so, and it would look bad if we didn't follow suit."

In fact, European commissioners aren't even waiting for ACTA to be ratified before moving down this path: with the “Proposal for a Revision of the Directive of Intellectual Property Rights” (pdf) they are already planing to bring in harsher copyright enforcement of precisely the kind that ACTA tries to establish as a benchmark.

In other words, it's the usual copyright ratchet, whereby a country's copyright maximalism in one area is used as an excuse to "harmonize" everyone else's. That's precisely what has happened with copyright term, for example, where the varying terms for different kinds of creation – text, music, sound recordings – have gradually been extended around the world in order to bring about "harmonization" (isn't it strange that there's never harmonization *downwards*, and that it's always in favor of the copyright industries and to the detriment of the public?) ACTA seeks to use the same trick to export the worst excesses of copyright enforcement first to all signatories, and later around the world through further treaties, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Sneeje (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 12:07pm

    Evidence of Acts not used for their intended purpose

    I'm sure there are other examples, but don't we only have to point to the Patriot Act to show how ignorant this is? See Wasn't The PATRIOT Act Supposed To Be About Stopping Terrorism?.

     

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      gorehound (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 1:18pm

      Re: Evidence of Acts not used for their intended purpose

      Patriot Act
      then
      Is Waterboarding torture ?
      then
      No Warrant needed to spy on US Citizens
      then
      Corporations are people
      then NDAA
      then
      SOPA/PIPA/OPEN/ACTA/TPP

      Sure I missed a few.Does not matter as we all know this tale and we have heard it before.
      History is doomed to repeat itself.

       

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      •  
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        Sneeje (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 1:22pm

        Re: Re: Evidence of Acts not used for their intended purpose

        Yeah, I know. It's just sad to see the various forms of the statement, "this will only be used for its intended purposes" have any weight whatsoever. Anyone that doesn't immediately reject that statement and its forms is completely clueless about both history and human nature.

         

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    Miles Barnett (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 12:33pm

    ACTA will not require any revision or adaptation of EU law

    They keep using this excuse. If nothing is going to change, why bother with it in the first place.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2012 @ 12:37pm

    tl; dr

    j/k, nice breakdown of this crap.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 12:41pm

    I'm not usually one to point out errors (I certainly make enough of my own) but following sentence is quoted twice in row from the EU Commissions pdf and it kind of confused me for a minute.

    Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht has participated in three plenary debates, replied to several dozens of written and oral questions, as well to two Resolutions and one Declaration of the EP, whilst Commission services have provided several dedicated briefings to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) during the negotiations.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2012 @ 12:43pm

    dont know why we dont all just give every penny we have, split 50/50, between the various governments and the entertainment/copyright industries? as long as we keep them rolling in it, we can all go without anything and everything, in particular, the internet. they wont be happy till they've got it, folks. wait and see!

     

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    Designerfx (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 12:56pm

    SOPA REDUX?

    holy crap, are they really going to try to say "black is white, here's why" just like SOPA all over again?

    Did they not learn from last time how that went?

    wow, they really don't want ACTA to pass, huh.

     

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      TtfnJohn (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 6:28pm

      Re: SOPA REDUX?

      One can only hope and pray that the European Parliament votes no on this. Overwhelmingly.

      The former is possible, the latter is more of wishful thinking I think though I'd love to be proven wrong :)

       

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    identicon
    johnny canada, Feb 13th, 2012 @ 1:00pm

    This just came up on quotes4all



    Only one thing, is impossible for god: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.


    Mark Twain

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2012 @ 6:27pm

      Re:

      That must be an early quote of his. As he aged and began to worry about his children he became in favor of increased duration for copyright.

      One weeps for a great mind enfeebled by age.

       

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    Watchit (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 2:23pm

    The MPAA and RIAA have succeeded... in making me want to pirate everything

    The more I read about the ridiculousness of the MPAA and the RIAA the more it makes me want to pirate anything ever produced by them ever...

     

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      Watchit (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 2:29pm

      Re: The MPAA and RIAA have succeeded... in making me want to pirate everything

      actually... im gonna go pirate something. right. now.
      bam! I'm such a hardened criminal! o.0

       

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    Duke (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 2:25pm

    No need to change EU law...

    ACTA provisions are compatible with existing EU law. ACTA will not require any revision or adaptation of EU law and will not require any Member States to review the measures or instruments by which they implement relevant EU law.

    I'm no expert on EU law, but I can't see how anyone could possibly say this with a straight face.

    Firstly, you have Articles 23-26, or "Section 4: Criminal Enforcement." The EU does not do criminal law. Aside from something like 7 specific crimes, there aren't any criminal provisions in EU law. While there was an attempt to include some in IPRED2, that Directive was abandoned (partly, it seems, due to concern about it including criminal measures). For the EC to suggest that EU law is already compliant with ACTA seems ludicrous on this point; how can a Treaty stating that "[e]ach Party shall provide for criminal procedures and penalties" (Art 23(1)) not require a change to EU law?

    Secondly, you have Article 27(7): "To protect electronic rights management information, each Party shall provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against any person knowingly [and] without authority ... remov[ing] or alter[ing] any electronic rights management information" etc. Now, again I'm no expert, but I'm not aware of any country in the EU (or outside) that has any sort of law protecting "electronic rights management information" as defined in footnote 16. The claim made by the EC (or any other supporter of ACTA) that no laws need changing clearly falls apart completely at this point. ACTA seems to require the creation of an entirely new type of IP protection.

    And those are just the two obvious and clear examples. As discussed in the article, much of the text is so vague there's plenty of room for further doubt.

     

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      Watchit (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 2:33pm

      Re: No need to change EU law...

      wow, maybe the ones who really need to read ACTA, are the ones who support it? wait the only people who support ACTA are the ones who had a hand in writing it... hmmmmmm...

       

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      Duke (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 8:40am

      Re: No need to change EU law...

      Oh, it seems I'm wrong about the second point; that right was created by Article 7 of the InfoSoc Directive (2001/29), implemented into UK law as s296ZF CDPA 1988.

      Odd - I've never seen that used or discussed before. I've finally learnt something from all this ACTA rubbish.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2012 @ 4:29pm

    Glyn, once again, you are off trying to apologize for pirates and makes excused for them.

    "The next half-truth is: "Internet users can continue to share non-pirated material and information on the web". But what exactly is "non-pirated material"? Who decides?"

    What is non-pirated material? Material that you have the rights to (by license or by being the owner of the material) or material such as the (often onesided) stuff posted on Techdirt, as an example. If the writer says "share my stuff however you like", you can do it. Creative commons rings a bell, no?

    Basically, if it's copyright (marked) and you don't have a license to distribute it, then don't. How fucking hard is that?

     

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      dude, Feb 13th, 2012 @ 5:09pm

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Feb 13th, 2012 @ 4:29pm

      Other than the fact you've completely forgotten fair use, the whole "limited" part of the monopoly, and the public domain, it's not that hard, really.

      Oh wait, and the whole social good versus individual good tradeoff.

      Oh, and the fact that copyright binds up and destroys culture over time.

      Ok, now not that hard.

       

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2012 @ 6:29pm

      Re:

      And remember not to loan that book to your friend as well.

       

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      TtfnJohn (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 6:37pm

      Re:

      There does remain fair use and fair dealing, though it's something you have trouble wrapping your head around.

      Even with CC licenses and purchased licenses for reproduced material sites and authors have been accused of piracy so, again, who decides what exactly "non-pirated" material is. Is my recent essay on the history of the second battle of the Ardenne (known to Americans as the Battle of the Bulge) "non-pirated" if I give it to a friend to read and post on their blog? Keep in mind that I'm making no claim to copyright on my work one way or another and all quotes and citations are properly noted.

      As I note above there are such things as fair use and fair dealing which have been used since copyright first appeared to highlight something from a work and then discuss it all of which ACTA wants made criminal in spite of wide spread use in journalism and academia.

      Your biggest problem is seeing beyond that big C in a circle at the end of your nose to the real world. It ain't all that simple.

       

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      identicon
      Gert-Jan, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 4:41am

      Re:

      "The next half-truth is: "Internet users can continue to share non-pirated material and information on the web". But what exactly is "non-pirated material"? Who decides?"

      "What is non-pirated material? Material that you have the rights to (by license or by being the owner of the material) or material such as the (often onesided) stuff posted on Techdirt, as an example."

      You don't seem to realize that EC's answer is completely different than your statement (and ACTA's intend). If I buy an MP3 from a legal source, then that MP3 is non-pirated material. The EC's answers says (incorrectly) that I can legally share this. You basically "introduce" redistribution rights as being required for legal sharing.

      See how the EC's answers are misleading?

      The default must be public domain. So then the next question is: how do I know that a work is copyrighted? And if it is copyrighted, how do I know whether my intended use is covered by fair use (or similar provisions). Far from easy!

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 8:18am

      Re:

      Wow, good job refuting absolutely nothing from the post.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2012 @ 5:04pm

    The internet is the closest tool we have to regulate our governments and corporations, it gives some power back to us, we should have had it to begin with, thanks govs and corps for bringing that tool to light

    This is whats gonna happen, specific politicians and specific coporations who dont want the public to have eyes and ears on their dirtt underwear, are gonna fight tooth and nail, use every trick under the book, to stop this power shift


    That is the reason for all these bills, its a pre-emptive strike on the net, they cant get rid of it, its too integrated in our societies, not to mention the uproar, so the only option they have is to control it, thats their fucking end game, little bit here, a little bit there, next thing you know, they have the power to censor the net

    and yes, i think with every fibre in my heart that they are capable of trying it

     

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      TtfnJohn (profile), Feb 13th, 2012 @ 6:42pm

      Re:

      They're not only trying to censor it, the fully intend on censoring it while coming up with a long laundry list of laughable reasons why what they're up to isn't censorship.

      Corruption is endemic now at all levels from legislative to the negotiations of treaties.

      And none of it will do a thing "for the children" or "for the artists".

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2012 @ 10:25pm

    "Myths About ACTA"

    What about "Facts about IP"

    Copy protection lengths last way too long.

    Infringement damages are way too high.

    Damages for false infringement claims are way too low.

    Copy protection is opt out and it should be opt in.

    The USPTO grants way too many bogus patents

    Our current IP laws hinder innovation

     

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 2:44am

    A Valentine for Cary Sherman

    In the US we often hear about the statutory damages for copyright infringement. The law states that the copyright owner may seek "instead of actual damages and profits, an award of statutory damages".

    This is where it gets odd. We have to ask why is there the choice of actual damages and profits vs. statutory damages.

    The amount is no less than $750 and no more than $30,000, per infringement, unless the infringement is willful then the award may increase to $150,000 unless the infringer proves that he was unaware of infringing and had no reason to believe he was infringing, then the minimum award is $200, per infringement.

    With the exception of the reduced damage for unknowingly committing copyrght infringement. these damages only make sense in one single context; criminal copyright infringement for commercial distribution, and "I think" that is what the law is designed to protect against.

    Think about this in terms of culture (which we must preserve with stronger IP laws). Every guy who has ever made a mix tape for his girlfriend on Valentine's Day, is guilty and should have to pay a minimum of $7500 for copying music he paid for and giving it to someone else. If Cary Sherman could get on the interwebs and read that, he would have an orgasm, counting all the money thats owed to him on Valentine's Day.

     

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    identicon
    Hikaru Maxwell, Feb 17th, 2012 @ 12:36am

    Reblogged....

    Sometimes I wish techdirt had a "tumbl this" button, so I could share their articles more easily. Or maybe I'm just lazy, what with the extra 40 seconds it takes to copypasta the article link into my tumblr, think of a name for the link title, type it in...and then add a tag and post. Yeah, it's probably the laziness.

     

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