Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: copyright (page 1 of 3)

Required reading: GoldieBlox versus The Beastie Boys

Like everybody else on the Internet, I’ve been following the dispute between GoldieBlox and The Beastie Boys, or to put it more as I see it, the fight that GoldieBlox picked with The Beastie Boys in order to generate publicity. For a really excellent rundown of the questions of law, check out Andy Baio’s fairhanded take. For the argument that questions of law aside, GoldieBlox doesn’t really deserve the strong outpouring of support they’ve gotten from the rabble, read Felix Salmon.

Piracy is about user experience, revisited

Last month, I wrote a post arguing that people illegally download content because it’s convenient, not just because it’s free. Along comes The Oatmeal to make the point in cartoon form. We should all cast a dubious eye on businesses that want to generate scarcity where it doesn’t really exist.

Wait, people are getting paid for file sharing?

It turns out I had no idea how file sharing actually works these days. I mean, I know how BitTorrent works, but I didn’t know how sites like the recently terminated MegaUpload worked. TorrentFreak has a good post explaining how they work — specifically how people get paid for sharing copyrighted material — and the effect that the MegaUpload shutdown has had on other sites in the same business. In short, a lot of content has been taken down as a result because people don’t want to go to jail. Interesting stuff.

The movie industry accelerates its push toward irrelevance

Here’s a new one — in order to drive people away from watching movies on Netflix, Warner Bros has struck a deal that prevents users from adding them to their queue for 28 days until the DVDs have been on sale for four weeks. Users have to wait another four weeks after that to actually get the movies from Netflix. Anybody think this is going to wind up being a money maker for the film industry? It surely does not ingratiate Warner Bros or Netflix with me. (Via Matt Drance.)

Piracy is about user experience rather than cost

Fred Wilson exposes the truth about piracy — all too often it’s about convenience rather than money. Many people download illegally or watch pirated streams because it’s the easiest (or frequently, only) way to get the content they’re after rather than because it’s saving them a buck or two. Sports is a great example — I am a huge University of Houston fan, and often the only way to see their football games where I live is to find illegal streams online. I’d gladly pay, but there is no legitimate way to see them. That’s a pretty huge market failure.

On a related note, I agree with Matthew Yglesias that piracy isn’t even the appropriate term for this sort of thing.

Update: Every company that makes money selling access to content that can be digitized, whether it’s software, movies, television shows, music, or live performances, should organize a contest for employees to go out and find the most convenient method to get a copy of whatever it is they sell, through legal or illegal means. The only rules should be that the means should be available to the public, and they could stipulate that cost is not an object. I think most would be shocked to find that perhaps outside the world of software and music, the contestants who use illegitimate means would win the race almost every time.

Update: Here’s a post from music site Bandcamp that gets at what I was saying.


Here’s the minimum you need to know about the E-Parasite act that was recently introduced in the House.

In 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act went into effect. In order to give copyright holders immediate recourse in fighting copyright infringers, the bill gives those copyright holders the right to send takedown notices to service providers who are hosting allegedly infringing content. If they speedily comply with these notices, the service providers can avoid legal liability for copyright infringement by their users or customers. This is referred to as a “safe harbor” provision, but it’s basically extortion.

The right to send takedown notices is subject to massive abuse. The Center for Democracy and Technology published a report on the abuse of these notices related to political speech. In 2009, Google reported that 57% of the takedown notices it received were from businesses targeting competitors, and 37% were not valid copyright claims.

Most of the time, the subjects of the takedown notices lack the financial resources to defend their rights, so once a site has been subjected to a takedown notice, it just disappears regardless of whether they were actually infringing on someone’s copyright or not.

The DMCA works well enough if infringing content is hosted by someone who will respond to a takedown notice. Now the copyright industry wants to be able to prevent users from accessing material they deem to be in violation regardless of where it’s hosted. To that end, there are two new bills floating through the houses of Congress, both of which would require that US network operators blacklist any sites that are deemed to be in the piracy business by blocking DNS lookups for their domains. That’s what this is all about.

Earlier this year, the Senate took up PIPA — the Protect Intellectual Property Act. This week’s news is that a corresponding bill has been introduced in the House which is even worse. Both bills implement the blacklist scheme described above, and are of course full of loopholes and vague definitions that would make them even more ripe for abuse than the DMCA already is.

James Allworth explains that the bill basically creates a Great Firewall of America. Even people like Fred Wilson who describe the DMCA as an “excellent compromise” (as opposed to an ongoing travesty) see that this bill is massively worse. Over at TechDirt, Mick Masnick digs into the details of the bill and provides the full text as well.

Now is the time to contact Congress about the bill. Opposition to it is widespread and crosses the partisan divide, so don’t assume anything based on party affiliation.

The limited practical applications of fair use

Andy Baio explains how he got sued by the photographer who took the iconic cover photo of Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue after he used a pixellated version on the cover of a CD he produced. He felt he had a good defense under the principle of fair use, but in practical terms, that doesn’t matter:

Anyone can file a lawsuit and the costs of defending yourself against a claim are high, regardless of how strong your case is. Combined with vague standards, the result is a chilling effect for every independent artist hoping to build upon or reference copyrighted works.

Here’s what the Constitution says about intellectual property:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

I think it makes sense to look at every intellectual property law and court case with this test in mind: does the statute promote the progress of art or science? I think it’s tough to argue that Andy Baio paying damages to the photographer in this case passes that test.

In related news, the Patent Office is considering changing the rules so that the first person to attempt to patent an invention will have priority in the process over the first person to actually create the invention in question. This is great news for patent trolls and big companies, but it doesn’t even come close to passing the Constitutional test.

Update: Here’s another example. Apple (and many other companies) apply for tons of patents, many of which never make it into products at all. Does an invention that is never turned into a product promote the progress of science or the useful arts? I would argue it does not.

File sharing doesn’t seem to diminish creativity

Just as background, here’s what the Constitution says about intellectual property:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The Constitution makes it clear that copyright and patents exist not to make sure that people can profit from their creations but to encourage innovation and creativity. Researchers at the University of Kansas have found that the number of creative works being produced have increased since file sharing became available. It’s important to keep this in mind when people talk about strengthening copyright laws or escalating copyright enforcement. Piracy may be unethical, but it doesn’t seem to be stifling the production of creative works.

The most implausible aspect of Glee

Turns out the most implausible aspect of Glee is that they could perform all of the popular songs they do without paying for the rights to do so:

The fictional high school chorus at the center of Fox’s Glee has a huge problem — nearly a million dollars in potential legal liability. For a show that regularly tackles thorny issues like teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse, it’s surprising that a million dollars worth of lawbreaking would go unmentioned. But it does, and week after week, those zany Glee kids rack up the potential to pay higher and higher fines.

Balkinization guest blogger Christina Mulligan walks readers through the absurdity of modern copyright statutes using examples from Glee.

Viacom’s YouTube hypocrisy

So copyright giant Viacom is suing YouTube for failing to take the necessary steps to prevent copyrighted material from being distributed through the site. But as it turns out, ViaCom has been secretly uploading its own content to the site for marketing purposes, using third parties and fake names to cover its tracks. Here’s the kicker:

Viacom’s efforts to disguise its promotional use of YouTube worked so well that even its own employees could not keep track of everything it was posting or leaving up on the site. As a result, on countless occasions Viacom demanded the removal of clips that it had uploaded to YouTube, only to return later to sheepishly ask for their reinstatement. In fact, some of the very clips that Viacom is suing us over were actually uploaded by Viacom itself.

Via Daring Fireball.

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