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
    Overcast (profile), 20 Aug 2012 @ 9:44am

    Complete lack of enforcement on the internet from 2000-2010 apparently means 2012 equals over-enforcement. LOL

    You know nobody actually believes any of your bs, right Masnick?

    You're whistling in an echo chamber.


    Law, no law - hasn't and won't do a damn bit of good. The 'law' never stopped anyone from copying a cassette tape and it's not going to stop the masses from copying digital music.

    Sure, they'll bust a couple here and there - and likely waste 10 times what they *may* get in profits if every pirate paid what they could for media - because I suspect 90% of 'pirates' - can't afford what they are downloading - come hell or high water, they are likely just too poor.

    Most of us that make enough to buy media - do so anyway, as we want the physical media.

    I won't buy 'digital' - because it's too easy to get SCREWED by the companies - and I'll call one out, Blockbuster.

    Blockbuster sells a friend of mine a 'digital movie' = and yes, he PAID for it. With real money, you know?

    So Blockbuster takes their DRM crap offline and now he can't watch.. the movie... **HE PAID FOR**. Blockbuster 'doesn't offer it for streaming' and they won't ship him a copy - so basically, he's screwed. Sure, they offered to refund the money, to a card he hasn't had in two years... lot of good that does.

    So - this is a case of a media company screwing a customer - we don't hear about this now, in regards to DRM do we?

    This is WHY I only buy Physical media. If it's digital - and 'free' - I'll use it. Otherwise, I buy physical and rip to digital.

    See - even when people pay - they get the shaft. So explain again why people should pay for digital media - please try to make a sensible argument, if there is one. Especially when the 'seller' can screw you at will because they decide to just take their DRM servers offline....

    So sure, I buy the media I use - but that is very little. Most all I get now is Pandora, Satellite Radio and On-Demand. Hell, almost no reason to even 'buy' now anyway.

    And yes, the blockbuster story is 100% true. Sadly.

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