How Copyright Extension Undermined Copyright: The Copyright Of Parking (Part I)

from the parallel-parking dept

What do copyright and parking laws have in common?

The short answer: no one takes either very seriously.

According to a recent article in L.A. Magazine, only 10% of parking citations ever get written. Which is to say that 90% of the times that people park illegally, there are no consequences. Those who violate the increasingly strict parking rules in most U.S. cities are more likely to associate a ticket with bad luck or personal hostility against them than with the fact that they broke the law.

In other words, when you get a ticket, you don't feel guilty. You feel victimized. As John Van Horn, the editor of Parking Today, explains, low levels of enforcement undermine the deterrent intent of parking laws. "We break the law often and get away with it. Deep down inside we know that. What makes us mad is getting caught the few times we do. 'Ninety percent of drivers on this street got away scot-free today, but I get the ticket?' That makes us crazy."

Part of what drives us to rage at getting a ticket is that we don't actually believe parking should be illegal in the first place. The freedom to park wherever there's space is deeply ingrained in the American psyche if not the law. The invention of the parking meter in the late 1930's was greeted with near-riots across the country. Editorials railed against the new devices as "illegal," "immoral" and a "perversion." The Alabama state Supreme Court declared meters unconstitutional in 1937, and ordered them removed from Birmingham streets.

"I truly believe that when men and women think about parking, their mental capacity reverts to the reptilian cortex of the brain," says UCLA's Donald Shoup, perhaps the nation's only academic devoted to the study of parking.

A law that is rarely enforced—indeed, which is not cost-effective to enforce except sporadically—is no law at all. Which brings us to copyright.

Overprotective and largely unenforced rules, combined with a deep-rooted sense of entitlement, create an explosive combination. The problem is the same with parking and copyright. As copyright law becomes more strict, and its penalties more byzantine, Americans are less likely to make the effort to follow the rules, or to believe that new forms of technology-enabled copying are immoral in the first place.

We refuse to see our behavior as illegal, even when we know it is. Recent surveys by the Pew Research Center, for example, report that 72 percent of Americans between ages 18 and 29 "do not care whether the music they download onto their computers is copyrighted or not." Rightly or wrongly (if those terms even mean anything anymore in this context), the added penalties, extensions, and limits on copying, along with decreasing rates of successful enforcement, are making it less, not more, likely that Americans will obey the rules.

We are collectively living in a state of cognitive dissonance, uncomfortably embracing two conflicting beliefs at the same time. Copying is illegal. Copying is not wrong.

Where did we get the idea of a right to free content? In large part, from the content producers themselves. An older generation grew up with music, movies and television programs beamed directly to their televisions and transistor radios at no charge. Those consumers can't understand why saving content onto some medium and enjoying it again or later should suddenly transform a strongly-encouraged behavior into a felony.

A younger generation, raised on cheap Internet access, was likewise encouraged to enjoy all manner of copyrighted materials freely and frequently by content providers who wisely chose to rely, as their predecessors did, on advertising and other indirect revenue to pay their costs and generate profits. That's the message of newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks who offer some or even all of their content without a paywall. And the movie industry teases consumers mercilessly with trailers, interviews, and production blogs that show just enough of upcoming movies to make us feel entitled to see the rest, one way or the other, the sooner the better.

Yet when fans enthusiastically encourage others to embrace their preferences by posting clips or copies of popular content to YouTube or by ripping CDs and DVDs to repeat their enjoyment on other devices, they instantly cross the legal line from well-trained consumers to dangerous criminals—even terrorists.

Copyright may be the law, in other words, but it no longer holds any moral authority with most consumers. There's no longer an ethical imperative to obey it or even understand it. Self-enforcement is fading, and the rules are so severe and so frequently violated that effective legal enforcement has become nearly impossible.

It's a meter, and we all know that the meter is rarely checked. Copyright is a law in name only—as obsolete and irrelevant as rules still on the books in some jurisdictions that regulate who can or must wear what kind of clothing.

Next: How making the law stronger makes the law weaker »

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  1. identicon
    Rekrul, 21 May 2012 @ 8:15pm

    Re: Re:

    I love driving my own car too but we love it so much that we forget about public transportation which has led to it practically vanishing in all but the few largest cities.

    The last time I went to a local supermarket, I picked up three gallons of milk and four 12-packs of soda. I'd like to see you try to lug that home on the bus or subway.

    Not to mention that public transportation doesn't always run to the places you need to go. Depending on how close the bus comes, you might have to walk an extra mile, to & from your destination. Not a problem for healthy people, but for anyone who has a problem walking, it's a nightmare. Plus, there's the extra time involved.

    You're also at the mercy of someone else's schedule. With the way the buses run around here (suburbs) I have no idea how anyone could rely on them to get to/from a job. Twice, I've missed appointments because the bus never came. Then there's the time issue. You have get to the bus stop early to ensure that you don't miss it, then wait 15-20 minutes for it to show up, then on your way back, you may have to wait another 30 minutes for the return bus.

    Here's what my last trip to the doctor was like;

    I live on a dead end street, and it's probably 1000-1500 feet to the corner, which isn't a huge distance, but it's also not like it's right next door. My appointment was for 1PM and the bus normally passes by the end of my street at about 20 after the hour, going in that direction. I left the house at 12pm and got to the corner at maybe ten minutes after. I then waited, and waited, and waited... No bus. Finally, at 1pm, I walked back home and called the bus company. "Oh, the city handles that part of the route until 1pm, so I don't know what happened. One of our buses should be by there any minute now." I then called the doctor's office to make sure I wasn't going to be wasting a trip and they put me on hold! Finally they come back on and tell me that I can arrive late. So, I literally run back to the corner, by which time I'm ready to pass out (I'm not in the best shape), just in time to catch the bus. Since I had just gotten over a cold, all the heavy breathing brought back my cough, which persist for the next hour or so. If I were the paranoid sort, I'd think that the bus company knows when I have an appointment and intentionally makes me late.

    I got out of the doctor's office just slightly after the return bus was due. There's no place to sit down, so I walked down about a block and sat on the steps of a nearby church. Oh, did I mention that it was about 40 degrees out? Finally, I see a bus coming and the front says that it's going to the next major stop on the route home, so I board it. It stops at the little shopping complex about half a mile from my home and the driver yells "Last stop!". Yup, I got on the wrong frigging bus! Stupid me for getting on a bus from the same line that had listed as its destination the next stop on the same exact route as the bus that actually does go past my street. So, faced with the prospect of waiting possibly half an hour for the next bus and paying a second time, I elected to walk home from there. When I got home it was about 3:30pm and my ankle was killing me.

    So basically it took me three and a half hours for a 40 minute appointment at a doctor who is about ten minutes from my house by car.

    Yeah, public transportation is great!

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