Sunday, October 19, 2008

Copyright Relativity

An overlooked aspect in the copyright debate is that those who advocate so-called "strong" copyright laws are actually aggrandizing the property rights of those who hold a copyright by diminishing the property rights of the consumer. Previously legal uses of a copyrighted product by the consumer are increasingly being made illegal. The property rights of the consumer to use copyrighted material must be protected.

We are in this predicament today because the public does not have an advocate to protect their property interests. Our political leaders, instead of protecting the public interest have become lackeys of Walt Disney, the Motion Picture Producers Association (MPAA), and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Wikipedia has a nifty graph and article that show how copyright has expanded over the years. Tom Bell also has reviewed how copyright has expanded.

Unfortunately, the corporate spin doctors have successfully characterized the need for "strong" copyright legislation as a method of assuring that content producers are compensated for their work. Clearly this argument has allure. No one wants to deprive the content producers of an income from their work. The logical flaw with promoting "strong" copyright legislation is that it is depriving the content user of reasonable use of the content that the user has bought. The consumer in buying the content also has a significant monetary investment that needs to be protected.

For example, if I buy a book we have well established rights to read the book in the US in Europe, or in Asia; we can read the book at any time; and when we are done with the book we can sell the book. However, the content industry has increasingly tilted the playing field to disable the consumers freedom to use content. For example, DVD disks and players contain region codes so that a DVD coded for the US will not play in Europe. The content industry has attempted to prevent time shifting, the ability of the consumer to save and view content when the consumer wishes versus the time it is offered by the content industry. Finally, the content industry is now asserting that content is never actually sold, but is merely leased/licensed, which has the effect of eliminating the consumers rights in how the product may be used. Ubersoft has a great cartoon series on how End User License Agreements strip the consumer of any legal rights to a product: Grand Unified Interconnected Litigation Theory.

One can make the arguement that the trend in "stronger" copyright law is actually eliminating the concept that products are actually "sold". Many of the products we "buy" (license), such as music and games are tied to Digital Rights Management (DRM) servers. Several stories have recently surfaced that if these servers go down, your entire investment in these products vaporizes. Even Apple has been identified as having a kill switch on their iPhone. With the current trend in how the content industry is attempting to define copyright law, protecting your investment becomes a criminal act. This brings us back to the point that the consumer, by purchasing copyrighted contents, should have rights to use that content. Further, like the content producer the consumer also has significant monetary investment that must be protected. The content industry should not have a unilateral right to whimsically cancel content as they see fit.

From the standpoint of relativity, it is unfortunate that the public debate on "stronger" copyright law avoids the consumer's property right as being equal to that of the content producer. Hopefully, the consumer's property right to use content and the consumer's monetary investment will become recognized.

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