Friday, August 24, 2012

Copyright is a Contaminant - A Glimpse at the Bleak Future for Copyright Protection

Copyright is a contaminant, an impediment to free global access and the progress of digital commerce.

This isn't some radical hacker's viewpoint.  This is the prevailing view in academia among copyright scholars and students, according to a fascinating MUST READ article in the July 23 issue of Fortune Magazine.

Roger Parloff's article, MegaUpload and the Twilight of Copyright, is amazingly well-written, well-researched, and frightening as hell for copyright holders.   

The starting point is the criminal prosecution of internet multi-millionaire Kim Dotcom (not the name he was born with) and his MegaUpload file "locker" business consisting of enough servers to store three times the content of the Library of Congress.

Dotcom's business is to provide lockers for uploading and downloading content.  His lawyers equate the business to Dropbox and other cloud storage services.  But the reality is that over 90 percent of its customers only download -- movies, music, television shows and ebooks.  And none of the people downloading pay anything other than download fees to MegaUpload.

But prosecutors may have a hard time convicting Dotcom.  The Supreme Court's hallmark 1984 decision in Sony v. Universal Studios effectively immunized providers from liability for illegal use by customers provided that the product could have a legitimate use.  That was the case that tried to hold Sony responsible for its customers using Beta videotape to copy Universal's movies.

The principle set out in Sony has remained unchanged.  And the much touted Digital Millennium Copyright Act did not change this principal of law, and in fact has done little to add protection to those holding copyrights.

Parloff's article goes in to a great discussion about the contrasting positions of those who seek more copyright protection, and the growing majority who view copyright as a "contaminant."  It's war.  Lined up on one side are those who create and distribute content, every one from Disney, Dreamworks, the entire recording industry and the big five publishing houses, to the solitary author self-publishing her first book.  Lined up on the other side are the distributors, not just Kim Dotcom and some computer genius in his college dorm, but also Google, Paypal, and AT&T.  But also lined up with the distributors are the tens of millions of users whom the distributors serve -- those people who have become accustomed to finding any content they want for free on the internet.

The Dotcom / MegaUpload case will be worth following.  But the increasing view appears to be that copyright is a "containment."   It is an increasingly dominant view in business, academia and in the eyes of the general public which downloads millions of  illegal files every month.  This cannot help but be troubling for anyone who is involved in writing or the creative arts. 

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