So Many Similarities Between Copyright Law And Prohibition

from the time-to-deal-with-reality dept

A few months ago, we pointed to a video by ReasonTV, which noted that the over-enforcement of copyright law today had become this generation's Prohibition. While that might be slight (or significant) hyperbole, law professor Donald Harris has put together a fantastic paper that compares the two situations and finds an awful lot of similarities. Harris was recently on Jerry Brito's Surprisingly Free podcast to discuss the paper, and it was a very interesting and thoughtful discussion. It won't surprise many to recognize the obvious parallels between the situations:
Alcohol Prohibition during the 1920s and 1930s provide an historical example of the dangers of attempting to enforce a public policy that is inconsistent with society’s values and attitudes. Alcohol Prohibition failed because the people effectively nullified the law through widespread civil disobedience. There, as here, increased enforcement efforts failed. Prohibition teaches that it is impossible to enforce broad social norms that are inconsistent with widespread human behavior. This is consistent with compliance theory, which posits that societal compliance with laws will occur only when society believes the laws are just and legitimate.
In the end, Harris appears to come down in favor of a similar solution to the way that Prohibition ended: legalizing the activity in question (and regulating it). For example, he suggests that clearly-defined non-commercial file sharing could be legalized. I'm not sure that I agree completely with the argument, but it's still quite an interesting paper to read and podcast to listen to, so check them out.

Filed Under: copyright, donald harris, prohibition


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  1. icon
    RadialSkid (profile), 20 Aug 2012 @ 2:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    1.Callous unconcern for the feeling of others.

    "We don't care if she's a single mother who just swapped 24 songs that she liked online, we're going to destroy her life by forcing her to pay us millions of dollars! We have sympathy for her, she brought it on herself! How dare she like music! And if you disagree, then you're a FREETARD!"


    2.Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules, and obligations.

    "We don't care if 500 million people worldwide engage in such acts, we won't allow it! Lock everything down! Everyone will just tolerate it if we cut off their internet connections, and they'll love us again!"


    3.Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them.

    "Okay, we're going to pay your band $500,000 in advance, payable out of your royalties if you recoup at a normal 8% rate. You're really going places! Those other bands that have one hit and are never heard from again? That won't be you! You have a unique voice, just like every act we signed before you!"



    4. Very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence.

    "Why won't Mike debate me, that stupid piracy apologist freetard Google Big Search Cookies shill?"


    5. Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment.

    "Why are hundreds of thousands of people DDOSing our official website right now? We never did anything wrong!"


    6. Markedly prone to blame others or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.

    "It's sad that the millions of people worldwide protesting us care more about THIEVES that the UNDENIABLE RIGHTS of our roster of ARTISTS and CREATORS."


    Any of that sound familiar?

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