Can You Fairly Distinguish Commercial vs. Non-Commercial Use In Copyright?

from the not-convinced...-but... dept

One issue that comes up in discussions of copyright quite often is the idea of whether or not you could change copyright law to distinguish between commercial and non-commercial use. In some ways this is quite appealing, and Cory Doctorow's latest column makes the case for at least exploring those distinctions. However, even he admits that there is a gray area, and I wonder if that gray area is really complex. I don't think it would necessarily make copyright law any worse, and my guess is that, at least initially, it would make copyright function better. After all, copyright law itself was really intended for commercial use (though, there are some lobbyists who falsely claim otherwise). It's only in this day and age when everyone has the tools of content creation, reproduction, performance and distribution in their pockets and on every desk that the old copyright laws have been shown to not function properly at all.

So perhaps separating out commercial and non-commercial use is a step in the right direction. But I'm still confused about how you determine what really is commercial use vs. non-commercial use. If I use your information to make an investment, is that commercial use? If I have a blog that uses a bit of your content, but has ads on it, is that commercial use? There are some RSS feeds that declare "not for commercial use!" But, if I put that RSS into my feed reader and read it for work, is that commercial use? It's not really that clear. And given that many individuals and companies feel that any even (borderline) commercial use of their works deserves compensation, you could see an awful lot of lawsuits filed as we try to define the borders. Perhaps copyright law could be written to make the border clear (though, I doubt it). Perhaps the lawsuits would establish clear boundaries as well, after a bit of upheaval and lawsuits. But I think that there will always be new situations that again test the fuzzy border between the two types of use, and drawing any sort of bright line distinction won't really fix very much.

Filed Under: commercial, copyright, copyright reform, non-commercial


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  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 29 Jan 2010 @ 12:44pm

    Re:

    listen genius... LAW IS NOT CUT AND DRY. IT IS NOT BINARY.


    No one said it was. Not sure why you think I did.

    too many techies think that everything in law is flat out binary, and so they'll super-sensationalize the marginal injustices.


    Unsubstantiated statement.

    no one is going to sue you because you read an RSS feed and talked about it on your blog.


    Have you seen some of the lawsuits we discuss here?

    what's even funnier is that you are criticizing the copyright industry for NOT having clear boundaries here, but you criticize the music industry for having clear boundaries that don't fit your perception of "perfect" for the digital world.

    I don't even know what this sentence means. What exactly are you upset about?

    you clearly cannot be satisfied, and that's why the industry balks at people just like you.

    Also not quite sure what this means. How does the "industry" "balk" at me? I spend quite a bit of time with people in a variety of industries, and have found plenty quite receptive to what I have to say. I just got back from a nearly weeklong music industry conference where I found a tremendous interest in talking to me about where the industry is heading, and lots of interesting ideas on the horizon built off of these ideas. So I guess I just don't see what your argument is.

    Might help if you identified yourself.

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