[LINK] Copyright law caught in its own time warp
tony at tony-barry.emu.id.au
Tue Jul 18 20:29:25 AEST 2006
Copyright law caught in its own time warp
The pirates are everywhere and it's obvious that 19th-century
legislation can't control 21st-century technology.
Often in this column I have written of the threat to the concepts of
copyright and intellectual property posed by the internet and other
digital technologies. When the transmission and copying of digital
material is so easy that it is impossible to police, it is the law
that needs examining, not the technology.
Consider the three following recent events:
Event one. On June 19, Bill Gates, Microsoft's founder and one of the
key defenders of the old 20th-century style of software development
(where private companies develop proprietary software for personal
gain), admitted in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he
watches pirated videos.
Event two. Virgin Records has admitted to downloading a Madonna song
(Hung Up) from a France Telecom website, breaking the DRM (digital
restrictions management) code and reselling it on its own website.
Event three. The French Government has backed down on a controversial
law that would have required Apple to allow music from its iTunes
store to be made available to other portable music players.
When The Journal pointed out to Mr Gates that the material he was
watching was stolen, Mr Gates said, "Stolen's a strong word. It's
copyrighted content that the owner hasn't paid for."
And Virgin said "it had the interests of digital music consumers at
heart". It had to pay a million-dollar fine.
What's it all mean? It means that what I have been saying for the
past 10 years or so is true. The technology and the legal system are
completely out of kilter and the technology will win.
Existing copyright laws, and even the very concept of copyright, are
anachronisms in the digital age.
When Virgin can justify its actions by saying that "we have always
been ahead of the others in posing questions that look to the
interests of consumers", and Apple can accuse the French Government
of "state-sponsored piracy", you have to wonder what is going on.
The absurdity of copyright laws was brought home to us here in
In May, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock announced "commonsense"
changes to Australia's copyright laws that "will maintain Australia's
copyright laws as the best in the world".
Doublespeak. The minister's announcement included a little Q&A
session intended to show how the laws work. Here's a few of the
questions and their answers.
Read it and weep (or laugh - it's like something out of Monty
Python). My commentary is in brackets after each answer.
Question: Does this mean I can record my favourite television or
radio program to enjoy later?
Answer: Yes. For the first time, you will be able to record most
television or radio program at home to enjoy at a later time. This
will allow you to watch or listen to a program as it was made
available to the public at the time of the original broadcast.
(We have all been doing this for years. The legislation doesn't bring
us into the 21st century but the 20th.)
Question: How long can I keep the recording?
Answer: The recording must be deleted after one use. It will not be
possible to use the recording over and over again.
(Well, sorry, but it will be possible, and we will continue doing it,
like we have for years. What the answer should have said is that it
"will remain illegal" to keep the recordings.)
Question: Can I make a collection of copied television and radio
Answer: No. You will not be able to burn a collection (or library) of
your favourite programs on DVD or CD to keep. It will be permitted to
record a program on DVD or CD but only temporarily until you watch or
listen to it for the first time.
(Got that? No collecting of your favourite programs.)
Question: Can I give a recording I have made to a friend?
Answer: No. A recording is for the personal use of the person who
made it. You can invite a friend over to watch or listen to your
recording but you can't lend or give it to a friend to take home with
(Clever, isn't it? Your friend can watch it with you but they may not
watch it alone, or the police may knock on their door.)
Question: Will I be able to copy my music collection?
Answer: Yes. You can format-shift your music collection from CDs,
audio tapes and vinyl to devices such as an MP3 player, X-Box 360 or
home-entertainment PC but only if the original is a legitimate copy
that you own and you format-shift for your personal use in a
different audio format.
(So it is now legal to copy music from your CDs to your iPod. Whoopy-
do. But you can't copy a CD to another CD - it must be in a different
format. "Best copyright laws in the world", remember.)
Pathetic, isn't it? I rest my case.
I am not going to repeat arguments I have previously made about
copyright protecting the publisher, not the artist, or that
intellectual property laws stifle creativity rather than enhance it.
The absurdity of the above events and laws should be enough to
demonstrate that attempts to control 21st-century technology with
19th-century laws are impossible.
But we will continue to see it happening, so long as people refuse to
see the obvious: that copyright is dead in the digital millennium.
-- graeme at philipson.info
phone : 02 6241 7659 | mailto:me at Tony-Barry.emu.id.au
mobile: 04 1242 0397 | mailto:tony.barry at alianet.alia.org.au
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