Civilian casulties in the copyright war

Advantage to the copyright owners

The advantage in the long guerilla war fought by the copyright owners to protect their property has swung in their favour.

A US woman was fined $222,000 (£111,000) for the 24 songs the copyright owners said she shared illegally, reports The Times.

She was one of the few out of 26,000 people the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has sued in the past four years to try to defend her case. Most of the others settled almost as soon as the legal heavies of the RIAA sued them.

The copyright owners did not even have to prove that the woman’s hands were on the keyboard when the sharing was taking place.

The RIAA is not only going after individuals. It has also hit the file-sharing site Kazaa with a $100 million damages suit which Kazaa paid.

It is indeed a guerilla war. This is not the end of the war at all. It is just another, this time very public, victory for the copyright owners. People and companies who want to use the material they buy through sharing it will continue to do so.

We are not born with a notion of property. We have to be educated in it. So copyright owners are turning to ever younger people to try and educate them in what the copyright owners consider their rights of property. They are now aiming at primary schools in the USA.

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has proposed that children from 5 years to 8 should be “educated” in intellectual property (IP). The idea, says the ESA, is to “encourage creativity and respect for IP”. The ESA is pushing for it to be included in the curriculum. It has produced colouring books and projects to get the message over.

The ESA says: “At those ages, children are open to receiving messages, guidelines, rules of the road, if you will, with respect to intellectual property.” Presumably the older generations are a lost cause for such an educational initiative. The courts are the best place for them, it seems the copyright owners have concluded.

The next round in the war is the launch of Radiohead’s new album this week with its “honesty box” system. That will do little for the single mother in the USA who is likely to be bankrupted by the recording companies’ actions. Another civilian victim of the long war by property owners.

It is remarkable how the old arguments are constantly used. Note that the ESA’s proposed educational campaign is entitled “encourage creativity and respect for IP”. The “respect for IP” bit comes after the call to encourage creativity. Just as it did in the first copyright act in the world in 1709. It was titled “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned.” But the preamble made clear it was all about property. The preamble said a lot of people had been “of late frequently taken the Liberty or printing…” without the consent of the authors or proprietors. This has led “to their [the authors’ or proprietors’] very great Detriment, and too often to the Ruin of them and their Families.”

It was books and was for 14 years. Now it is a wide range of material as long as 90 years from publication or even 70 years beyond the death of the author. In the long guerilla war the property owners have been the historical winners. But they continue to have to fight their corner or face being overrun by people who want to be creative.

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