Techdirt

by Leigh Beadon




Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the piracy-returns-to-the-spotlight dept

It's a rare thing these past few months, but this week's most outrage-inducing piece of government behaviour came not at the hands of surveillance and the NSA but rather those of copyright and our old friend ICE. When federal agents helped the MPAA interrogate a moviegoer for wearing Google Glass (switched off) in the theatre, sophisticatedjanedoe won most insightful comment of the week by summing up how utterly ridiculous this kind of public-private synergy is:

So, a private business solves ITS problems using MY taxpayer money. Who is the thief, MPAA?

When ICE attempted to defend its efforts on Twitter, it sparked up a lengthy discussion in the comments not just about the current laws, but about the very moral underpinnings of copyright and whether its existence is justified. One commenter criticized many Techdirt readers for being "anti-copyright", and Rikuo won second most insightful with a simple response to that observation:

Might I also ask what is wrong with being anti-copyright in the first place? It's simply a position on a law. I live in a country where abortion is illegal for example, but my position is it should be legal. Am I not allowed say it should be, am I not allowed talk about it or campaign to change the law?

Much pro-copyright rhetoric is based around the unsupported assumption that giving creators more control is not only beneficial but morally and ethically right. But that position doesn't bear much scrutiny, as Karl illustrates by responding to one such assertion in our first editor's choice for insightful:

Umm, this is going to be unpopular, but piracy is in part a moral issue. Generally speaking, when you can't afford something, the moral thing to do is to go without it, not seek out illicit means of obtaining it.

This is absolutely not true with cultural works. Generally speaking, when the public can't afford works, the moral thing to do is to create free access to those works.

It is why public libraries are an ethical good. It is why copyright exceptions for public schools are an ethical good. It is why it is an ethical good to create public performance exceptions for churches and non-profits.

It is such an ethical good, in fact, that early copyright laws explicitly stated that publishers had to produce editions that would be affordable by the general public. If they didn't do this, they lost their copyrights.

The question you should ask yourself is not whether it is unethical for the pubic to "take" cultural works. The question you should ask is why it is in any way ethical to stop them.

And it is not ethical. It may be a necessary evil, but it is an evil nonetheless.

And while I usually try not to give both editor's choices to the same commenter, this week Karl has another comment that needs to be highlighted. It's not the first time, and unfortunately probably not the last, that he found himself demonstrating in great detail that, according to the constitution, the statute and the courts, copyright is about benefitting the public:

I disagree with your interpretation of the case law.

You may, but judges and copyright lawyers do not.

Copyright's function/effect today is to provide a limited monopoly of use by the copyright holder.

That is copyright's effect. It is by no means copyrights purpose. Providing a limited monopoly to copyright holders has never been more than a means to achieve an end, and that end has always been to provide the general public with access to, and ultimately control over, works of authorship.

The full passage is necessary to provide context:

Except that you are emphasizing the parts of the passage that are incidental. Nobody (except OOTB) is arguing that copyright is not a statutory monopoly. Nobody is arguing that the method of copyright is to reward and encourage crreative work. Nobody is arguing that copyright is not "a balance of competing claims upon the public interest."

And absolutely none of this supports your claim that copyright's purpose is "to maximize the commercial exploitation of the work by the right holder."

But, if you're still doubtful, here are a few more quotes.

It will be seen, therefore, that the spirit of any act which Congress is authorized to pass must be one which will promote the progress of science and the useful arts, and unless it is designed to accomplish this result and is believed, in fact, to accomplish this result, it would be beyond the power of Congress.

The enactment of copyright legislation by Congress under the terms of the Constitution is not based upon any natural right that the author has in his writings, for the Supreme Court has held that such rights as he has are purely statutory rights, but upon the ground that the welfare of the public will be served and progress of science and useful arts will [be] promoted by securing to authors for limited periods the exclusive rights to their writings. The Constitution does not establish copyrights, but provides that Congress shall have the power to grant such rights if it thinks best. Not primarily for the benefit of the author, but primarily for the benefit of the public, such rights are given. Not that any particular class of citizens, however worthy, may benefit, but because the policy is believed to be for the benefit of the great body of people, in that it will stimulate writing and invention, to give some bonus to authors and inventors.

In enacting a copyright law Congress must consider, as has been already stated, two questions: First, how much will the legislation stimulate the producer and so benefit the public; and, second, how much will the monopoly granted be detrimental to the public. The granting of such exclusive rights, under the proper terms and conditions, confers a benefit upon the public that outweighs the evils of the temporary monopoly.
- House Report on the Copyright Act of 1909

The economic philosophy behind the clause empowering Congress to grant patents and copyrights is the conviction that encouragement of individual effort by personal gain is the best way to advance public welfare through the talents of authors and inventors in "Science and useful Arts."
- Mazer v. Stein

The sole interest of the United States and the primary object in conferring the monopoly lie in the general benefits derived by the public from the labors of authors.
- Fox Film Corp. v. Doyal

The copyright law, like the patent statutes, makes reward to the owner a secondary consideration.
- U.S. v. Paramount

The monopoly privileges that Congress may authorize are neither unlimited nor primarily designed to provide a special private benefit. Rather, the limited grant is a means by which an important public purpose may be achieved. It is intended to motivate the creative activity of authors and inventors by the provision of a special reward, and to allow the public access to the products of their genius after the limited period of exclusive control has expired. [...]

As the text of the Constitution makes plain, it is Congress that has been assigned the task of defining the scope of the limited monopoly that should be granted to authors or to inventors in order to give the public appropriate access to their work product.
- Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios

Not a one of these quotes is from the 1700's, or even from the 1800's. They are all contemporary descriptions of the purpose of copyright law. And every single one of them disagrees with you.

Over on the funny side, we're sticking to the story about ICE for one more comment. First place goes to Baron von Robber for a response to that weird thing that lives in the comments:

When you sit at the computer, your mind becomes more active.

When your mind is more active, your OCP becomes worse.

When your OCP becomes worse, you wear out the light switches in your house.

When you wear out the light switches in your house, your OCP makes your mind even more irrational.

When your mind becomes more irrational, you start to become obsessed with people named Mike.

When you become obessed with people named Mike, you post under the name Out_of_the_Blue.

Don't post under the name Out_of_the_Blue.

For second place on the funny side, we return to the ongoing tales of the NSA where, among other developments, the monospace font of a redacted document allowed us to deduce the name "AT&T" where we saw only a black bar. An anonymous commenter made a suitable observation:

And they say metadata doesn't tell you much.

For editor's choice on the funny side, we visit this week's Candy Crush Saga Trademark Saga, which inspired another anonymous commenter to begin designing his own game:

I am now working on a new game, it's called "Memory of the Edge Candy Apple Scrolls Saga".

It's about a world where Candy, Apples, Scrolls, Edges, Memory, and Saga's have all disappeared, thanks to the six evil trolls who dress like a patent lawyer, and sleep on big piles of money under bridges.

Oh and thanks to the evil troll of memory, no one can remember anything, because otherwise they'd have to pay the evil troll of memory royalties they can't afford. And the only food available is Candy and Apple's, but hardly anyone can afford to eat them, because they'd owe the evil trolls of Candy and Apple's big royalties if they did eat.

In order to get to the evil trolls dressed like patent lawyers you need to somehow make lots of money to pay the the many tolls set up by the evil trolls.

Eventually you'll come to one of the evil trolls. But no matter how hard you try to kill one of the evil troll's dressed like a patent lawyer, the troll will summon the evil judge! The evil judge will rule that you have to pay the evil troll all of your money for infringing on the troll's monopolies, and will steal all of your weapons and armor and give them to the evil troll to help pay your debts.

And, finally, we've got the revelation that the FISA court waited until after the Snowden leaks to investigate the legality of bulk phone record collection, which put ChurchHatesTucker in mind of a famous thought experiment that effectively describes their approach:

Schrödinger's Constitutionality
It's neither legal nor illegal until it is examined. Clearly.

That's all for this week, folks!


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  1. identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, 26 Jan 2014 @ 1:35pm

    It's a rare thing these past few months, but this week's most outrage-inducing piece of government behaviour came not at the hands of surveillance and the NSA but rather those of copyright and our old friend ICE.


    In other words, it's back to business as usual?

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