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Old 07-08-2009, 09:42 AM   #1
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Copyright Laws Threaten Our Online Freedom

There is nothing really new in this article, and yes, I know, copyright issues have been covered here on Mobileread quite often already, but the article was published in the Financial Times and is one of the news items listed on the DrudgeReport today, so I thought I'd mention it.

The article is titled Copyright Laws Threaten Our Online Freedom and was written by Christian Engström

It starts out --

Quote:
If you search for Elvis Presley in Wikipedia, you will find a lot of text and a few pictures that have been cleared for distribution. But you will find no music and no film clips, due to copyright restrictions. What we think of as our common cultural heritage is not “ours” at all.
and a particularly salient point within the article was the following --

Quote:
Whenever there are ways of communicating in private, they will be used to share copyrighted material. If you want to stop people doing this, you must remove the right to communicate in private. There is no other option. Society has to make a choice.
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Old 07-09-2009, 05:13 AM   #2
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Interesting article, thanks.

Just a quick note (it is mentioned at the end of the article) : the author of this column is a member of the Swedish Pirate Party.
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Old 07-09-2009, 07:52 AM   #3
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Quote:
If you search for Elvis Presley in Wikipedia, you will find a lot of text and a few pictures that have been cleared for distribution. But you will find no music and no film clips, due to copyright restrictions. What we think of as our common cultural heritage is not “ours” at all.
The "cultural heritage" is ours to identify with. The individual pieces of art, music, literature, sculpture etc etc etc are not, and never were, "ours" in a possessional sense of the word.

Just like when supporters of a football club identify as a group by saying "our team" the actual team does not belong to them.
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Old 07-09-2009, 08:16 AM   #4
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While I agree that there are instances of excesses in copyright law (e.g. copyright periods too long, enforcement too aggressive), I don't find much merit in his position.

The idea that governments are planning to inspect email or other one-to-one sharing for copyrighted material is slightly absurd. Sadly, anti-terrorism efforts are the not only more likely, but actual existing reason for additional government scrutiny. It's a straw man argument.

In addition, even Linux benefits from some of the concepts inherent in copyright law. E.g. if I release Linux code under the GPL, I may be explicitly allowing users full access to the code, as well as the ability to modify and redistribute that code. However, I am still relying on the ability to require those subsequent modifications to be open and redistributed.

And naturally, Engstrom makes no provisions for paying the creators of the "cultural heritage." There won't be much culture left, if the artists cannot survive while making it. Nor did I ever see any indication that The Pirate Bay distributed so much as one thin dime to the artists whose work it helped distribute in violation of copyright law without permission.

I agree that civil rights should be protected. But enforcement of copyright laws is not, and if enforced properly should not, be a civil rights issue.
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Old 07-09-2009, 08:33 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kali Yuga View Post
While I agree that there are instances of excesses in copyright law (e.g. copyright periods too long, enforcement too aggressive), I don't find much merit in his position.

The idea that governments are planning to inspect email or other one-to-one sharing for copyrighted material is slightly absurd. Sadly, anti-terrorism efforts are the not only more likely, but actual existing reason for additional government scrutiny. It's a straw man argument.

In addition, even Linux benefits from some of the concepts inherent in copyright law. E.g. if I release Linux code under the GPL, I may be explicitly allowing users full access to the code, as well as the ability to modify and redistribute that code. However, I am still relying on the ability to require those subsequent modifications to be open and redistributed.

And naturally, Engstrom makes no provisions for paying the creators of the "cultural heritage." There won't be much culture left, if the artists cannot survive while making it. Nor did I ever see any indication that The Pirate Bay distributed so much as one thin dime to the artists whose work it helped distribute in violation of copyright law without permission.

I agree that civil rights should be protected. But enforcement of copyright laws is not, and if enforced properly should not, be a civil rights issue.
Did Elvis starve to death because of Wikipedia?


Wikipedia Italia was forced to remove reproductions of Renaissance paintings... Were they making Caravaggio work for free?



Is really copyright the only way to pay for creations of the mind?
I don't think so.
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Old 07-09-2009, 08:54 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Format C: View Post
Wikipedia Italia was forced to remove reproductions of Renaissance paintings... Were they making Caravaggio work for free?



Is really copyright the only way to pay for creations of the mind?
I don't think so.
Wikipedia is welcome to use public domain or their own photos of the paintings. They just aren't welcome to use someone else's photos. Laziness is not a justification for the abrogation of copyright law, however flawed it is. And yes, copyright is one of the best ways of paying for creations of the mind.

Copyright terms, skewed to infinity by greedy companies, is a problem, not a crisis. If it becomes onerous to a majority of the people, it will get changed. Companies risk shooting themselves in the foot if people suddenly decide not to buy thier art and music because it's too constrained. Anyone can draw a mouse on a steamboat, some better than others. If someone can do it better than WED once did, the Disney company might just be in a world of hurt.

Regards,
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Old 07-09-2009, 09:49 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PKFFW View Post
The "cultural heritage" is ours to identify with. The individual pieces of art, music, literature, sculpture etc etc etc are not, and never were, "ours" in a possessional sense of the word.
They certainly were when those works entered the public domain. That's what the public domain basically is, cultural heritage. With the way current copyright laws are being written/updated, there won't likely be anything entering the public domain anymore.
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Old 07-09-2009, 09:51 AM   #8
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While I agree with some of that it's hard to take the article seriously when he name-drops PirateBay as one of the sites protecting our cultural heritage.
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Old 07-09-2009, 10:06 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AshW View Post
While I agree with some of that it's hard to take the article seriously when he name-drops PirateBay as one of the sites protecting our cultural heritage.
I would have thought the same up until yesterday when I discovered the openbittorrent tracker. I feel we're going to see something highly spectacular and redeeming from the Piratebay in the coming weeks (at least I hope so)
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Old 07-09-2009, 10:19 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kali Yuga View Post
The idea that governments are planning to inspect email or other one-to-one sharing for copyrighted material is slightly absurd.
It's already being discussed.

Quote:
Sadly, anti-terrorism efforts are the not only more likely, but actual existing reason for additional government scrutiny. It's a straw man argument.
Generally, "terrorism" has been the boogey man that is used to push through additional scrutiny or laws that they otherwise likely wouldn't have been able to get away with.

Quote:
And naturally, Engstrom makes no provisions for paying the creators of the "cultural heritage." There won't be much culture left, if the artists cannot survive while making it.
The standard argument to that is artists survived for a long time before copyright existed. Some of the greatest composers and artists created their works before the existence of copyright. Without copyright, creativity will still exist. You may not have music/book publishers putting out "cookie cutter" manufactured artists to keep the money machine rolling along, but I'm not sure the world will be worse off without quite so many pop artists or trashy novel authors.
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Old 07-09-2009, 10:22 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack Tingle View Post
Anyone can draw a mouse on a steamboat, some better than others. If someone can do it better than WED once did, the Disney company might just be in a world of hurt.
Why would Disney have to worry about competing when it's far easier to eliminate the competition by suing.
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Old 07-09-2009, 10:52 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaggy View Post
It's already being discussed.
By whom? I have never seen anyone even suggest, with the slightest degree of seriousness, the idea of scanning every email sent with the intention of identifying copyright violations, which is the scenario Engstrom depicts. I'm not even sure such a thing would be possible in the EU, which has stricter privacy laws than the US.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaggy
The standard argument to that is artists survived for a long time before copyright existed. Some of the greatest composers and artists created their works before the existence of copyright....
Copyright has been around for over 300 years; there wasn't really a need for it before the invention of the printing press. So I'm not really sure which pre-copyright era you're discussing, or how it's relevant to an era with mass production as well as mass distribution and mass piracy. For example, I can't imagine that patronage of the arts by the Roman Catholic Church is relevant, preferable or even workable in contemporary society.

To be clear about one point though, I would not say that "all creativity will come shuddering to a halt." However if artists are unable to get compensated for their works, they won't be able to continue producing those works, particularly works that require extensive resources and labor (e.g. movies).

And in particular, the Pirate Bay has profited by its facilitation of copyright violations, and as far as I can tell they have never distributed a single cent to any content creator. (Doing so would be a snap, since they know exactly how many times a given torrent has been downloaded.) How is that a sustainable model for the artists?
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Old 07-09-2009, 11:30 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Kali Yuga View Post
By whom? I have never seen anyone even suggest, with the slightest degree of seriousness, the idea of scanning every email sent with the intention of identifying copyright violations, which is the scenario Engstrom depicts. I'm not even sure such a thing would be possible in the EU, which has stricter privacy laws than the US.
In addition to various countries proposing versions of "Three strikes" laws for filesharers, there is also pressure being put on governments by the media industry to pass laws that require deep packet inspection by ISPs to enforce copyrights. I don't know how much traction they are gaining, or the likelihood of the laws being passed, but it's certainly beyond the realm of the absurd. It is already being talked about between media industry lobbyists and lawmakers.

Quote:
To be clear about one point though, I would not say that "all creativity will come shuddering to a halt." However if artists are unable to get compensated for their works, they won't be able to continue producing those works, particularly works that require extensive resources and labor (e.g. movies).
If the supply of creative works drops low enough the demand will increase to a point that somebody will be able to figure out how to make money from supplying it. Right now the creative market is over saturated, likely due to the excessive protection that copyright is giving to the industry side. That's one reason that consumers don't see the same value in the content that the industry would like them to pay. If things swung too far back in the other direction, where creative works became scarce and consumers were demanding more, then the value that they see in it will increase.

Copyright needs to balance the interests of the industry with the interests of the consumer. Right now it is extremely unbalanced in favor of the industry. The article is talking about reforming copyright, not eliminating it.
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Old 07-09-2009, 12:31 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kali Yuga View Post
The idea that governments are planning to inspect email or other one-to-one sharing for copyrighted material is slightly absurd. Sadly, anti-terrorism efforts are the not only more likely, but actual existing reason for additional government scrutiny.
I wouldn't be quite so certain of that.
Quote:
The European Commission, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and other government agencies have acknowledged participating in ACTA negotiations, but they have refused to release drafts of the treaty or to discuss specific terms under discussion in the negotiations.[5]
(The article is somewhat awkwardly worded.)

Last edited by zerospinboson; 07-09-2009 at 12:35 PM.
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Old 07-09-2009, 03:01 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaggy View Post
Why would Disney have to worry about competing when it's far easier to eliminate the competition by suing.
Because all someone has to do is draw a different mouse, on a different steamboat, better than Disney's. You can't sue over that. What you can sue over is someone taking Disney's mouse (or steamboat) and using a close copy of it to make money*. The Disney Company is quite correctly adamant about that.

Some folks on teh Intertoobz are of the opinion that all information, including copyrighted IP, should be free immediately. Chinese media pirates agree. The law in most places disagrees.

Most people can get into (and eventually out of) a rational, productive argument about how long IP should be protected. Totally unprotected, or protected forever, are both reserved for zealots, or very greedy (and often unwise) corporate executives. Personally, I think the correct answer for terms of copyright are on the order of a few decades, not a century, but I don't get too excited about it.

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Jack Tingle

*Parodies excepted.
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