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Copyright Law

In the modern era, technology has created a flow of information unlike anything humans have seen before. With the ever rising adoption of the Internet and related services, information and file sharing have reached new levels. Where one used to need hours in a library to research a report, it is now possible to spend a single hour online, and gather the same or more relevant research for the same report. With this rise in information sharing comes the ability to share files as well. This flow of information, now in whatever form desired, is only held back by one thing: Archaic Copyright Law.

Laws developed in the early 1700’s are now shaping the legislation and actions of modern corporations and lobby groups. What began with the Statute of Anne1 has now escalated to a legislative behemoth, one capable of leveling any individual to bankruptcy should one violate the laws that have been put forth. Current copyright law, for example, makes the sharing of a video no longer produced by a film company illegal. Even though the company is no longer profiting from this video, the law enforcement arm they employ has managed to convince the court system this steals profit. This “loss of profit” is what drives most cases pursued by the MPAA, RIAA, and other such organizations.

For a group so concerned about profit, these watchdog groups transfer little money from court settlements or damages to the artists whose intellectual “property” has been infringed upon.2 This concept of intellectual property is one that does little to secure the “rights” of the musicians. The concept of intellectual property was originally legislated to ensure the rights of the musicians to control distribution of their own material, but has been seriously twisted over time. With the advent of the recording label lobbying power, copyright law shifted to enable the recording industry to control the music (and money as a result) after it is produced. This idea of a company owning the rights to something, rather than a person, is one that seriously threatens the open flow of information in our world today. In the modern society, the ability to freely access information and media is one that is crucial to development of a solid education. As long as large lobby groups and media watchdogs attempt to control the flow of media to the archaic form of a Compact Disc, this flow is effectively stymied.

The companies that own the rights to music and videos have chosen a legally dubious tactic to defend their intellectual “property,” by suing the very users that used to give them money. Rather than invest the money used on court fees in pushing new music distribution technology, these groups would rather sue their own user base. However, not all fronts of new distribution are as dismal as it seems. Apple and Amazon are both pioneering a new online music store, and the progress there is astounding. The user base now has the ability to purchase a wide selection of music at a rapid rate. However, the recording industry still has their claws sunk deep into this trade, this time in the form of DRM. DRM (Digital Rights Management)3 refers to the locking of a media file to a single user. This seems like a good idea from a surface level, as it allows these media files to be treated much the same as a CD would have been.

DRM runs into problems once one takes a deeper look. A user with multiple computers is not allowed to use the music that they legally purchased on more than five computers, a problem that many families that wish to share their legal music will encounter. Under the DMCA4 (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), attempting to circumvent this DRM is a violation of the copyright. Copyright infringement, under the terms of the DMCA, is as simple as burning one’s own music to a CD in order to re-import it, effectively shedding the DRM. The problems with DMCA laws arises when technology changes. If a new music technology arises in the next several years, and a user wishes to attempt to salvage the DRM locked music they legally purchased in an effort to convert it to the new technology, they are a criminal under the DMCA. However, if they illegally pirate the music, thus circumventing the DRM, they are also a criminal. This gap in logic is one that lawmakers who know little about technology have created.

Only recently have music companies began to allow online music sales to sell music without DRM, but with one caveat: the price is usually higher. A user must pay more money in order to be able to use the music as they please. It is this type of lawyering that holds the music industry back from true open sharing, and from even larger profits. Rather than adopt a new protocol of music transmission, and attempt to gather profits from it, these companies seem to be stuck on suing their way out of the problem. The Peer to Peer technology (mainly pioneered by Bit Torrent5) allows users to share nearly any file at previously unheard of speeds. The more users that have the file, the faster it is to share. This technology hinges on having a single source of who has the file, called a Tracker. If the recording industry opened their own Tracker with a membership fee, as well as ad-supported content, they would be able to reach a much larger user base than they are currently. The majority of users are using Torrent sharing because it’s free, with a very close second unable to get the material anywhere else.6 Would the Recording Industry attempt to gain some profit by pushing this technology forward instead of attempting to sue it into the ground, they would be opening an entirely new revenue stream.

In conclusion, it can be seen that those pushing the laws regarding intellectual property and copyright have little to no clue what the actual population wants.7 These archaic copyright and intellectual property laws are only holding back the flow of media and information. However, all is not hopeless, as several companies are pushing forward more progressive ways to acquire legal media. One can only hope that these companies will keep an open ear to the user base, and attempt to deliver a service worthy of use by the masses.

Please note: This was a paper I was required to write about a year ago. The footnotes did not copy over correctly. If you see a number next to a source, and would like to see the source I used, drop a comment and I’ll get back to you.

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