Copyright Has Stretched So Far That It Has Broken

from the not-what-it-was-meant-for dept

The Cato Institute is running a series of articles on "The Future of Copyright," a subject that the think tank has been discussing for a while now. The first piece in the series, by Rasmus Fleischer, is an absolutely fantastic read, detailing all of the reasons why those pushing for stronger copyright laws are doing so, and why copyright itself is being stretched way beyond its initial purpose. He goes over the history of copyright, and how it was really initially only intended to protect printed works, but as that coverage has expanded over the centuries, you run into some really awkward scenarios where this square peg no longer comes close to fitting into the round hole:
This change has taken place because previously distinct media are now simulated within the singular medium of the Internet, and copyright law simply seems unable to cope with it. Consider radio broadcasting and record shops, which once were inherently different. Their online counterparts are known respectively as "streaming" and "downloading," but the distinction is ultimately artificial, since the same data transfer takes place in each. The only essential difference lies in how the software is configured at the receiving end. If the software saves the music as a file for later use, it's called a "download." If the software immediately sends the music to the loudspeakers, it's called "streaming."

However, the receiver can always choose to transform a stream to a digital file. It's simple, legal, and not very different from home taping. What now fills the record industry with fear is the possibility that users could "automatically identify and separate individual tracks from digital transmissions and store them for future playback in any order." In other words, they fear that the distinction between streaming and downloading will be exposed as a big fake.

For example, Swedish company Chilirec provides a rapidly growing free online service assisting users in ripping digital audio streams. After choosing among hundreds of radio stations, you will soon have access to thousands of MP3 files in an online depository, neatly sorted and correctly tagged, available for download. The interface and functionality could be easily confused with a peer-to-peer application like Limewire. You connect, you get MP3s for free, and no one pays a penny to any rights holder. But it is fully legal, as all Chilirec does is automate a process that anyone could do manually.
So, what happens? Well, the entertainment industry that's focused on protecting its old and increasingly obsolete business model, keeps pushing for new legislation that tries to force that square peg into that round hole -- and each time, the new legislation just makes things worse. So they push for more legislation, that just makes things even worse again.
This domino effect captures the essence of copyright maximalism: Every broken regulation brings a cry for at least one new regulation even more sweepingly worded than the last. Copyright law in the 21st century tends to be less concerned about concrete cases of infringement, and more about criminalizing entire technologies because of their potential uses. This development undermines the freedom of choice that Creative Commons licenses are meant to realize. It will also have seriously chilling effects on innovation, as the legal status of new technologies will always be uncertain under ever more invasive rules.
But the situation is only going to get worse for entertainment companies that don't learn to embrace the changing market. Every attempt to legislate things back to the past will only fail -- and that failure will become even more and more profound as you follow the rather obvious trendlines of technology:
One early darknet has been termed the "sneakernet": walking by foot to your friend carrying video cassettes or floppy discs. Nor is the sneakernet purely a technology of the past. The capacity of portable storage devices is increasing exponentially, much faster than Internet bandwidth, according to a principle known as "Kryder's Law." The information in our pockets yesterday was measured in megabytes, today in gigabytes, tomorrow in terabytes and in a few years probably in petabytes (an incredible amount of data). Within 10-15 years a cheap pocket-size media player will probably be able to store all recorded music that has ever been released -- ready for direct copying to another person's device.

In other words: The sneakernet will come back if needed. "I believe this is a 'wild card' that most people in the music industry are not seeing at all," writes Swedish filesharing researcher Daniel Johansson. "When music fans can say, 'I have all the music from 1950-2010, do you want a copy?' -- what kind of business models will be viable in such a reality?"
So as the industry tries to fight this, it just keeps focusing on more and more draconian laws, that do an awful (and I do mean awful) lot more than just strengthen copyright. They chill innovation, outlaw important and useful technologies and remove important civil liberties:
Yet in the name of ISP responsibility, virtually any Internet user might be called to account by the recording industry. Here's why: In discussions about so-called ISP responsibility, it is crucial to remember that big telecom companies are far from the only existing "operators of electronic communications networks and services." This is the actual definition of an ISP, used within the European Union bureaucracy, but by this definition, you may be one, too. The U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act is equally vague: It defines a "service provider" as a "provider of online services or network access, or the operator of facilities therefor," leading many to wonder whether libraries, employers, or private individuals operating routers might also qualify as ISPs.

Given such a broad definition, any company or person sharing connectivity, as well as anyone hosting a blog or a web forum, could, in the name of "ISP responsibility," be obligated to register the identities of users and to deliver them to copyright enforcers on request. The range of possible abuses is enormous. Attempts to save an already broken policy will mean an ever more absurd sequence of follow-up regulations.
There's plenty more beyond those snippets here that make the entire piece worth reading. I'm looking forward to additional pieces in the series as well.

Filed Under: broken, copyright, rethink

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  1. identicon
    corodo, 12 Aug 2012 @ 4:03pm


    the abolish cars is not a bad solution at all
    persenally i would go for ablish money as a solution
    even known its imposseble to do
    when you think of it
    i can make a solar car but somehow none are for sale
    and dont even talk about engine power
    cuz a 30km/h car is availeble and it not even hard to beat at al
    but that is not the only thing held back at all
    the robot idea has bin around since the 70 can you even believe they are hard to make im sorry to tell you that there is no effort in making them build a house
    esacially if you think they could start at level grond and build like a simple round tower

    when you think of it at al you would just quit anything
    it better not to and think keep doing pointless things
    like going to a bar while you have plenty of drinks at home

    did you know i tshirt is inside out the seemes itch your skin and the perfect smooth side is to look at

    we live in a wold where having money means owning money
    makes you succesfull
    not trying to do so is like whaering your tshirt inside out
    no wonder a milionaire is more powerfull than any politiscian and can do anything hes wonts to and that is still making more money and that will never change

    sorry you need to be dumb for them to do so they keep you dumb
    education is based on making you obey more than making you smart
    jobs keep you buzy and nothing more

    but you know what there nothing you can do about it
    so close curtens in your house and start your life like everyone does afraid that a passing guy walking a dog might see that you are a human whit thought of its own

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