How Many Times A Day Do You Violate Copyright Laws Without Even Realizing It

from the many-more-than-you-think dept

Nearly seven years ago, we wrote about a paper from law professor John Tehranian, in which he detailed just how much he likely accidentally infringed on copyright law each and every day, just doing normal things. He later turned it into an entire book, called Infringement Nation: Copyright 2.0 and You (which, insanely, is priced at $39.99 for the ebook -- who thought that was a good idea?). Here was a snippet from his paper:
"By the end of the day, John has infringed the copyrights of twenty emails, three legal articles, an architectural rendering, a poem, five photographs, an animated character, a musical composition, a painting, and fifty notes and drawings. All told, he has committed at least eighty-three acts of infringement and faces liability in the amount of $12.45 million (to say nothing of potential criminal charges). There is nothing particularly extraordinary about John's activities. Yet if copyright holders were inclined to enforce their rights to the maximum extent allowed by law, he would be indisputably liable for a mind-boggling $4.544 billion in potential damages each year. And, surprisingly, he has not even committed a single act of infringement through P2P file sharing. Such an outcome flies in the face of our basic sense of justice. Indeed, one must either irrationally conclude that John is a criminal infringer -- a veritable grand larcenist -- or blithely surmise that copyright law must not mean what it appears to say. Something is clearly amiss. Moreover, the troublesome gap between copyright law and norms has grown only wider in recent years."
Just about the same time that Tehranian's paper came out back in 2007, we also pointed to a different research paper, by professor Tom Bell, in which he argued that the term "intellectual property" was misleading, and that it should really be called "intellectual privilege" as that was much more accurate. Years later, Bell has now published his own book on Intellectual Privilege, arguing why copyright law needs to be massively scaled back.

To help promote the book, Bell has recorded an amusing video not all that different from Tehranian's premise, highlighting just how much accidental infringement you do on a daily basis -- and, yes, it includes the singing of Happy Birthday, so I'm surprised Warner hasn't killed the video yet.
Now, some will argue that this is silly because no one is actually going after these kinds of "incidental" infringements, but Bell's point is pretty clear: "the fact that no one thinks copyright law should be fully enforced, demonstrates the need for reform." In fact, he notes that pretty much everyone agrees that full enforcement is "undesirable and counterproductive." And, really that should be a clear sign of just how flawed the law itself is.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 1:29pm

    "In fact, he notes that pretty much everyone agrees that full enforcement is "undesirable and counterproductive." And, really that should be a clear sign of just how flawed the law itself is."

    depends who you ask. Look at it this way, every law that is so unbelievably broad is realistically unenforceable and should be reduced in scope or abolished. However, these laws also mean, that, since everyone is guilty somehow, people with a vested interest can easily (and legally) blackmail anyone they like.

    This type of law is the stuff dreams of authoritarian dictatorships are made off.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 1:34pm

    Re:

    When the laws cannot be comprehended by the average citizen and so voluminous that it requires counsel to navigate, you no longer have a Free Society neither shall Justice be dispensed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), May 7th, 2014 @ 1:37pm

    None, I mean to every single time I do.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    David, May 7th, 2014 @ 1:39pm

    Re:

    This type of law is the stuff dreams of authoritarian dictatorships are made off.

    But through Berne convention and international treaties, this dream has become universal reality. We are not talking about a closed circle like those usually profiting from dictatorships.

    Instead, this is a dictatorship of large commercial media groups over independent information, culture, knowledge and education.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 1:41pm

    Re: Re:

    You might mean Oligopoly?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), May 7th, 2014 @ 1:51pm

    In fact, he notes that pretty much everyone agrees that full enforcement is "undesirable and counterproductive." And, really that should be a clear sign of just how flawed the law itself is.

    I believe the legal doctrine we're looking for is:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 1:52pm

    Re:

    That last sentence broke my brain...

    ~Politician

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 1:54pm

    Re: Re:

    don't worry, it's just phantom pain...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    LAB (profile), May 7th, 2014 @ 2:04pm

    Using the same logic. Everyone speeds so speed limits laws should be reformed. No one desires the full enforcement of speed limits either. Obviously there is a difference criminal infractions and civil causes of action. Most of the ways people potentially violate copyright everyday are arguably fair use. More importantly, they are not commercial in nature. I do agree reform is necessary. I believe copyright term lengths need to be adjusted. And I definitely believe statutory damages in non-commercial contexts need to be reigned in.

     

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  10.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), May 7th, 2014 @ 2:10pm

    Extending Logic

    So, am I the only one who sees how those pushing the "nothing to hide" are quiet when it comes to stuff like this?

    Weren't the copyright cartels pushing for the FBI to be able to bring civil suits against people for infringement?

    Topics such as this are just more evidence to me how the government needs to stay away from copyright entirely unless it is to massively scale it back. It also shows yet more reasons why total surveillance that the feds are pushing is a horrible thing. If you upset anyone in power, they will just hand your info over to some copyright oppressors and then boom, your life is tied up with lawsuits. Wouldn't be hard for them to do. It seems like the US is trying pretty hard to catch up to where China and Russia are at these days with control of the populace so I wouldn't put it past them.

     

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  11.  
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    Nick Taylor, May 7th, 2014 @ 2:59pm

    Re:

    I've been pondering this whole blackmailability thing... and I think there might be some universal law of nature out there, to wit:

    Anyone with the technical ability to spy on you, also has the technical ability to plant evidence.

    Which would (I would have thought) render such evidence meaningless.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 3:00pm

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_law_of_the_United_States
    At one time copyright law was reasonable, it helped make our country what it was. Now it is a laughing stock, and yet again the U.S. Congress is chiefly to blame.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Ed Allen, May 7th, 2014 @ 3:14pm

    Copyright used to have a safety valve in that penalties were only applied in cases of commercial gain and
    further that that gain needed to be valued in excess of a dollar amount, $1000.00 I think.

    That is why the *AAs have been so unwilling to assign a dollar amount to even a single MP3 file.

    Instead they scream, "The law says that you owe us $150,000.00 for each MP3" with no court making them PROVE that.

    Another thing Copyright used to have was a limitation to TANGIBLE media, books, records, and such. Then along
    comes radio and tangible got thrown out and copyright expanded to cover "performances". Now they are trying
    to redefine "broadcast" to be "a single transfer to a single recipient".

    Legal and Rational are never congruent and seldom in the same neighborhood it seems.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    madasahatter (profile), May 7th, 2014 @ 3:15pm

    An idea

    Mike,

    The article gave an idea. Since everyone is guilty of copyright infringement, try to find some way to sue high ranking officials of the major studios for infringement and demand the maximum damages allowed by law. Then sit back and watch the fireworks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 7th, 2014 @ 3:30pm

    Re: An idea

    You'd better both be the owner of the copyrighted "work" you're alleging has been infringed on and have an enormous warchest saved up to cover legal fees, lost wages due to the amount of time you'll spent on the case, etc.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 5:07pm

    Re: Re: An idea

    The trick is to get one high ranking official to sue another one -- in a very public manner, and without realizing at first who the defendant is.

    Even better is if you can get them to sue every person in the senate and congress... and maybe leaders of the TLOs and executive branch as well.

    You'd see reform happen pretty quickly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 5:07pm

    Re:

    Yes ... obviously.

    So why even attempt to draw a comparison when you are intensionally ignoring the point being made.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 5:11pm

    Re: An idea

    They will simply claim affluenza and pay a pittance while everyone else gets reamed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), May 7th, 2014 @ 5:18pm

    Searched on TPB driven by curiosity: it's there. Someone seeded it it out of pure irony.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), May 7th, 2014 @ 5:27pm

    Re:

    Using the same logic. Everyone speeds so speed limits laws should be reformed. No one desires the full enforcement of speed limits either.

    Yes. I know you're trying to poke holes in the logic here, but actually, your statement is entirely reasonable. Current speed limit laws are routinely ignored, which is why they should be reformed.

    Plenty of people think so.

    Here's one person making a bunch of salient points about the speed limit and why it's broken: http://www.modernwhig.org/whigblog/korsgaard/why-we-need-put-brakes-speed-limit

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Mark Noo, May 7th, 2014 @ 6:26pm

    Re: people with a vested interest can easily (and legally) blackmail anyone they like

    That is an interesting statement. That means I like it.

    people with a vested interest can easily (and legally) blackmail anyone they like

    This does allow for prosecutorial discretion. It has already been stated that they are pursuing the poor. Where is the equal protection?
    Evey untrue accusation is in itself the tort of defamation. Accusing someone of being a criminal is defamatory, if it is not true. I think it is defamation per se.
    Remember, copright infringement carries jail time, I think up to 5 years, so it is a crime.

    Unknown:
    Didn't a federal judge in California tell a troll that he needed to see the person in front of the computer downloading the file and that he had to have the entire bittorrent file before he could proceed with his suit. that he needed to surveille the respondent

     

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  22.  
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    MrWilson, May 7th, 2014 @ 6:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: An idea

    The predators typically only fight each other when there aren't enough prey to go around. When you're swimming in gazelles, there's no reason to fight with other lions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Mark Noo, May 7th, 2014 @ 6:47pm

    Re: Re: people with a vested interest can easily (and legally) blackmail anyone they like

    I made a few mistakes in my comment.
    It seems that the government is not pursuing anyone in these cases. That means equal protection, prosecutorial discretion are out.
    It does not, however, make accusing someone of a crime any less of a tort.

    My apologies. I got excited. I do not like the powerful picking on the weak.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 7:03pm

    Intellectual Persecution Laws.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 8:28pm

    Just a note that the link to the paper in the old article has died. Paper is still available via the wayback machine (eg https://web.archive.org/web/20080326011532/http://www.turnergreen.com/publications/Tehranian_Infring ement_Nation.pdf)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Whatever, May 7th, 2014 @ 11:27pm

    another amusing story

    It's another amusing story. However, it's on par with how many jay walking tickets might be issued, how many people speed, or how many people might go in the out door on a given day.

    You can take his argument and apply it in all sorts of ways to all sorts of things, it doesn't make those laws or those things any less valid. More, it just points out that for every time someone screams "copyright maximalist" a million people violated copyright without issue because nobody is coming to get you for it. It's perhaps the best example of why the law may be black and white, but the application is grey. I know it doesn't play well here, but that's the truth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 2:17am

    By the end of the day, John needs to get a life.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 5:21am

    Re: Re:

    In the UK even our PM has said that our national speed limit should be 80 mph and not 70 mph on the motorways.

    Not sure what its like in the US but I remember reading that you have to drive even slower than 70 in some places.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 5:56am

    Re: another amusing story

    I'll just leave this here
    http://www.dumblaws.com/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Pragmatic, May 8th, 2014 @ 6:25am

    Re:

    deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

    Yeah, about that...

    The governed have been sliced into competing factions, one of which actually believes there is a left and a right, and that the left/liberals are a threat to them and to their way of life.

    Another believes that if we only got rid of all government, everything would be just peachy. Except that if we did that and other nations didn't automagically follow suit, we'd be well and truly screwed. In any case, doing this would mean getting rid of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that gave us government (and our Nation) in the first place, so who the hell would enforce the law? There would be no law, no courts, or anything like that. I have yet to see an entire nation run on Anarchist principles and thrive.

    Then there are the religious authoritarians, who rely on the corporatists to keep them afloat and promote their agenda.

    Meanwhile, on the left/liberal side, there's much cheerleading for President Obama, much denial of the harm the NSA and the alphabet soup agencies have been doing to us, and much dividing of the public over ideological positions instead of working to unite the people and deal with this crap.

    When the governed get off their overstuffed, overbearing asses and decide that serving the country is more important than serving their ideological agendas, fantasies, and other nonsense, maybe we'll get something done. The first step to this is letting go of our two-tribe partisanship and promoting people who will actually make a difference in the next election. Which means going out on a limb and voting third party.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, May 8th, 2014 @ 6:31am

    Re:

    Actually, it's us. We go along with this in the false assumption that copyright ownership is a license to print money by limiting the amount of our creative output that others can use or experience without our consent. I get into arguments about this all the time.

    That, and we voted the current incumbents in Congress into office because we either didn't like the D or R alternative or were afraid that if we voted third party, the D or R we didn't like would slip past.

    In a first-past-the-post system, it's a numbers game. We need to popularlize and raise awareness of other parties and get talking about them now. Then, when it's time to vote, people will realize there is a choice. At that point, the third parties will have a chance of getting a candidate in.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, May 8th, 2014 @ 6:32am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: An idea

    ^This. Plus I think they've come to a gentlemens' agreement that they'll only ever go after us.

    If one of us tried it, they'd use up our money by using delaying tactics to drag the case on for years. It's not worth it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 8th, 2014 @ 8:33am

    Re: Re: people with a vested interest can easily (and legally) blackmail anyone they like

    "copright infringement carries jail time"

    There are two kinds of "copyright infringement". One is a civil matter and one is a criminal matter. Not all copyright infringement carries jail time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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