Tuesday, September 06, 2005

You can't have it both ways

I see that Canada's equivalent of the RIAA, the CRIA, wants Canada to overhaul its copyright laws to make internet file sharing illegal.

Hmmm. Lessee I already pay a "tax" of sorts on every blank CD/DVD I purchase for my computer systems, regardless of what I put on them. Those dollars are funnelled back to CRIA on the presupposition that I am using those CDs for bootleg copies of music.

About the only thing I will agree with them on is the notion that our current copyright / patent law system is dangerously antiquated and is terminally unable to deal with the issues that digital media and the internet present.

Any such overhaul of the copyright system needs to also revoke or acknowledge the reality of the taxes being levied on CRIA's behalf. Put simply, if I'm already paying the fine, then the copying of files is not a crime. If CRIA wants their precious little cash cow as well as the right to sue every person who downloads a file, then we have a serious problem. It's sort of like a prepaid speeding ticket. If I had to prepay a certain amount in speeding tickets based on the car I drove, or some other arbitrary measurement, then I would feel perfectly in my rights to get caught speeding a few times a year.

You can't punish me for the crime (the tax) pre-emptively, and prosecute me for the same thing. That isn't just. I respect the rights of artists to be paid for their work - I don't have any respect for CRIA's latest attempt to imitate the RIAA's bully tactics. Frankly, the RIAA seems to think that suing their customers is good business practice (hmmm - anyone else thinking of the SCO Lawsuit currently rippling around the computer industry?). Newsflash - suing the people that pay your bills is called bad for business.

What the CRIA, along with other industry groups of one sort or another (the BSAA for example) continue to miss is the reality that digital theft has been around for as long as computers. Making punitive laws against it isn't going to make it go away. Further, these groups estimate their respective industry losses using rulers so elastic that even M.C. Escher would shudder.

If we are going to address the challenges and issues that digital media have introduced for our patent and copyright schemes, we must act positively and decisively:

1. Strike down the laws that give pre-emptive punititive damages to these organizations.
2. Restructure our copyright and patent systems so that they usefully reflect the reality of modern media and intellectual property.
3. Reflect the reality that there are more players than just corporations in the IP game.
4. Recognize that theft exists, and should be punished. However, there must also be a counter balancing "fair use" doctrine in place. Like a photocopy of a chapter of a book, possession of a copy of a piece of IP doesn't necessarily constitute an offense on the part of the possessor.
5. What about reverse engineering techniques? (A common, and legitimate practice in software)
6. Independently derived, commonly held, solutions. In software, there are a myriad of ways to arrive at logically equivalent answers. (For that matter, Alonzo Church and Alan Turing did the same thing in mathematics in the 1930s) The "first to file" shouldn't own the exclusive rights to such a solution. Further, many algorithms in common use in industry are "commonly held" (for example Quicksort), and extensively reused on a daily basis.
7. What about digitally published books? How should those be handled?
8. How are we to define the notion of public domain?

There are many interesting, and potentially valuable examples that we could consider - for example the LGPL, the Creative Commons notion (which applies to prose and other "freely accessible" creative arts. These are intriguing, and constructive, structures that we should evaluate carefully as part of any review and restructure of the copyright/patent law structures of our nation. It would be folly indeed to allow our patent laws to be rewritten by such hostile and pugilistic forces as the RIAA and its offspring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What is truly scary about the RIAA, MPAA and their Canadian counterparts is that they want to eliminate the concept of "Fair Use".

For example, they don't believe that once I buy a CD, that I'm alowed to lend it to a friend.

Despite being legal under Canadian Law, they don't want us to be able to have, for our own personal use, copies of music on things such as "mix tapes" for in the car, walking, etc.

These organizations are also working on a pay per use system, where you'd have to pay each time you listen to a song, even after you've bought the media the song came on.

It's all about greed and not about rights.