Tag Archives: copyright

Good news on copyright, but bad news on protection for sources

Some great news from Brussels on the attempt to extend copyright terms, again:

“Copyright term extension was dealt another serious blow last week when COREPER, the European Committee representing EU member states and the Council of Ministers, voted against the proposal. In a surprise move the UK government joined others in a blocking minority, rejecting a compromise deal that would have delivered minimal benefits to performers. It now seems increasingly unlikely that a deal on copyright extension will be reached by EU countries before the EU Parliament first reading plenary vote takes place.”

However, there’s bad news from the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled on the case of Sanoma Uitgevers B.V. v. the Netherlands, which deals with the protection of journalistic sources:

“With a 4/3 decision the Court (Third Section) is of the opinion that the order to hand over a CD-ROM with photographs in the possession of the editor in chief of a weekly magazine is in casu not a violation of Article 10 of the ECHR.”

This judgement will cast a long shadow over journalists, who will have more doubts in their minds over when sources will be legally protected. Although the court agreed there was a need to balance out the demands of law enforcement with the potential “chilling effect” of uncertainty over source protection, they seem to have erred very strongly on the side of law enforcement. This is a bad thing in general, and will pose some interesting problems for journalists and others.

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Lessig is wrong (mostly)

Via Doc Searles comes this quote from Lawrence Lessig:

…our attention is not focused on these creators. It is focused
instead upon "the pirates." We wage war against these "pirates"; we
deploy extraordinary social and legal resources in the absolutely
failed effort to get them to stop "sharing."

This war must end. It is time we recognize that we can’t kill this
creativity. We can only criminalize it. We can’t stop our kids from
using these tools to create, or make them passive. We can only drive it
underground, or make them "pirates." And the question we as a society
must focus on is whether this is any good. Our kids live in an age of
prohibition, where more and more of what seems to them to be ordinary
behavior is against the law. They recognize it as against the law. They
see themselves as "criminals." They begin to get used to the idea.

That recognition is corrosive. It is corrupting of the very idea of
the rule of law. And when we reckon the cost of this corruption, any
losses of the content industry pale in comparison.

Copyright law must be changed. Here are just five changes that would make a world of difference…

The problem with Lessig’s argument is that he’s using edge cases in order to promote reform which would affect everyone. Most times that people make copies of digital media, they’re not doing anything creative with them – they’re just using them, listening to them, reading them, watching them.

Ironically, using edge cases in this way is exactly what the content industries do, too. They declare that every copy made is a sale lost, which is equally absurd. Yes, there are people who no longer buy music because they can rip it off, but those are the edge cases as the insane success of Apple’s iTunes Store shows. Most copying falls into the category of "victimless crime", simply because no one has been deprived of even a potential sale.

Law, as Lessig should know, cannot be framed from the edge cases. If you try and do that, you end up with the absurd situation we’re in with the government’s demands for 28 42 days detention without trial, not because it says it needs it, but because there may be edge cases where it might need it. Law has to be created from the middle, from behaviour that’s typical, or it inevitably fails.

Lessig is also behind the times with his call for deregulation of what he terms "the amateur remix". The world of content creation is no longer one of amateurs and professionals: when you can monetize content within minutes by using AdSense, the distinction isn’t one of money made. In that sense, we can all be professionals, if we choose. As soon as something is shared on the Internet, it is no longer amateur – because someone, somewhere, will monetize it. 

And if Lessig really means his statement that "when YouTube makes the amateur remix publicly available, some compensation to Mr. Gil is appropriate" then his solution is no solution, because there’s no notion of who pays. Does Google pay? I can’t see Google wanting to admit it’s responsible for the content on YouTube. Does the "amateur" creator pay? Yeah, Larry sure he does. And if he doesn’t, what then? Back to the courts?

Where Lessig is completely correct, though, is in the need to simplify and make more efficient the process of copyright. A term of life plus anything is ludcrous: we want creators to create, not sit on songs as "pension plans" (they can get a bloody pension plan like everyone else).

Copyright needs reform because for the first time in perhaps a hundred and fifty years it can truly work to protect everyone. Digital media levels the playing field – and copyright needs to protect everyone, not just those who can afford the biggest lawyers.

What’s the point of copyright law?

One of the things that is making me happy at that moment is that Danny is blogging again. Of course, with Danny being Danny and me being me, we don’t always agree – and there’s a great example in that in his post on "Copyright, Fraud and Window Taxes (No, not that Windows)". Comparing copyright to the old Window Tax (don’t ask – read it), he mentions this:

"Copyright is a similar tax, imposed for the benefit of artists, and collected at the act of copying."

I understand where Dan’s coming from here. But, I think that if you want to change copyright law for the better, this isn’t a good way to frame the argument.

By stating that it exists to benefit artists, you’re framing the
debate in the same way that Cliff Richard does when he argues that “my
songs are my pension plan” – ie that the argument is all about the
actual group that benefits financially, and to what extent they
benefit.

And that’s an argument that, actually, you’ll never win -
because not only are you taking on existing rich artists, but you’re
taking a lot of aspiring ones too. Think of every band that’s ever
wanted to be famous, every actor who wanted to be a film star, every
street kid who wanted to be a rapper. Or think of the DJ friend that Danny mentions, who, as
soon as they’re directly hurt by copying, becomes vehement about the
fact that copying is bad.

The key question shouldn’t be “does copyright benefit artists?”
Instead, in order to get copyright laws which aren’t the current insane
mess, we need to return to the idea that copyright must be framed so
that it benefits society as a whole, by encouraging and rewarding
original work – or as the Statute of Queen Anne put it, “for the
Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in
the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein
mentioned.”

In other words, we should always remember that copyright is an
artificial monopoly granted because it has a beneficial effect for
society as a whole, not privilege that’s designed simply to benefit a particular class or
profession (and that word “artificial” is really important here).

So the real question is “what would a modern copyright work look
like if it was written from the perspective of encouraging original
work for the benefit of society as a whole?” And the answer to that is
“very different from what we currently have”. It certainly wouldn’t
last longer than the author’s life (and 20 years from time of
completion seems to me to be more justifiable – artists who can’t rely
on work made in their 20’s forever will be far more productive in their
50’s than ones who can).

It would codify and extend the rights of readers to copy for
personal use under a much wider range of circumstances than is
currently permitted, because the wide distribution of original work is
beneficial for society; and it would constantly remind authors that
this is an artificial monopoly, granted to them for the benefit of all,
not a favour granted because we like their hairstyles.

In what way is slavishly copying something “original”?

Joseph Jaffe is generally great, but I really do have to pick him up on his post about how "Hasbro should change its name to Hasbeen":

"Proof that you can’t keep a good Indian programmer down comes from the Agarwalla brothers, creators of the original and popular Facebook app (arguably the only one that actually worked) Scrabulous, who in the ultimate display of up-yours, have launched Wordscraper. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more say no more.

Where there were squares, now there are circles. BINGO!

Bottom line: go play Wordscraper. I’ll be waiting to challenge you. Support Rayat and Jayant."

In what way is ripping someone else’s game off "original"? Why should I support people who steal other people’s original ideas, then demand a ransom to sell those ideas back to their originators?

The success of Scrabulous is entirely down to two things: Scrabble being a brilliant game, and the popularity of Facebook. Rayat and Jayant don’t deserve my support – they simply leeched off other people’s ideas. I’m glad Hasbro ended up giving them nothing, and I hope that their new game fails.

To put it another way: suppose the situation was reversed? Suppose that Joseph invented a board game, and that Hasbro then slavishly copied it band launched a Facebook version before he launched his own? Would he be happy if he had to pay Hasbro to buy back what’s essentially his own game?

Of course not. People are being blinded by the fact that it’s a big company defending its game against a tiny one. And everyone supports the little guy, right?

Not in this case. If you support originality, and want to see more good original work, don’t support rip-offs.

It’s not OK to steal content, even if you’re The Daily Mail

Back when I was a proper journo, I went on a course about media law. One of the basics – the very, very basic elements – was that all pictures are copyrighted and you are likely to get sued if you just grab one and use it. For photographers, pictures are their living and they don’t take kindly to having them taken without paying.

When untrained individuals grab an image, that’s understandable. Copyright law is not something taught in schools, and a lot of people presume that because you can right-click on a picture and "save as…" it’s ok to do so. They’re wrong, of course, but being wrong because you don’t know any better is at least understandable.

For a professional publication to do the same thing, though, isn’t just a mistake: it’s corporate theft. And that’s why The Daily Mail stealing Giles Turnbull’s photo isn’t something that should be treated lightly.

I’m hoping that Charles Arthur, who’s been (rightly) vocal about web sites stealing The Guardian’s content, will pick up on this too. After all, we’re not talking about peanuts here: the cost of buying an image like Giles’ from a picture library could be several hundred pounds.

Kid Rock: Copyfighter

Link: BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Kid Rock boycotts iTunes over pay.

"The performer – whose real name is Robert Ritchie – said his record company Atlantic had asked him to "stand up for illegal downloading" a few years ago because it told him "people are stealing from us and stealing from you".

"And I go: ‘Wait a second, you’ve been stealing from the artists for years. Now you want me to stand up for you?’ I was telling kids – download it illegally, I don’t care. I want you to hear my music so I can play live."

Paul Carr on Mike Arrington and copyright

Paul Carr writes a brilliant response to Mike Arrington’s idiotic post on reforming copyright law (by which he means "killing it"):

"But for all the fancy talk about “finding new business models” to
“remove friction”, which is the thrust of Arrington’s argument (in the
same way as Rohypnol – and try not to wince at this simile too much -
removes the friction from sexual assault), these new business models
haven’t been found yet. Which current alternative model, if not
controlled distribution through enforced copyright law, could support
the creation of even a single episode of the Office or thirty seconds
of The West Wing?

Merchandising? Give me a break. Does even the most ardent of West
Wing fans really want a talking Martin Sheen action figure (”Dammit
Toby!” / “‘unfunded mandate’ is two words”) or an Emily Proctor doll
with realistic moving arms? 

Product placement? Yeah – but let’s go the whole hog and rename The
Office to ‘Staples’ and create a new franchise called ‘CSI: Pizza Hut’.

Tickets to live performances? Two front row tickets to ‘The Wire: The Musical’, please."

Arrington will undoubtedly win lots of credits from the freetards for claiming that watching YouTube is "natural behavior" (like we were doing it in the stone age). But unless he actually has a contribution which shows how the economics works, he’s wasting our time.