Friday, April 24, 2009

The Copyright Czar Is Coming

There have been many posts on this blog concerning intellectual property and copyright (see Is Stealing Music Wrong and Is Paying for Music Wrong for the the philosophical arguments). As many of you know, before leaving office George W. Bush signed the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act creating a cabinet-level copyright czar charged with implementing a nationwide plan to combat piracy. This position will function in a similar fashion as our current drug czar (the current director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy) who is charged with implementing a nationwide plan to combat illegal distribution and consumption of drugs. The Obama administration will be the first to select a copyright czar (strangely appropriate since Biden is known for coining the term "drug czar" back in 1982 in reference to the director of the ONDCP).

A glance at our past discussions on this topic revealed a divided stance on the topic of whether or not copyright infringement, specifically dealing with digital media, constitutes theft. However, at a recent MPAA dinner Joe Biden was quoted as saying, ""It's pure theft, stolen from the artists and quite frankly from the American people as consequence of loss of jobs and as a consequence of loss of income." He continued to say that copyright infringement "strangles creative juices."

Since the copyright czar will obviously influence the shape of copyright enforcement in the United States, both sides of the copyright argument have sent letters to President Obama encouraging him to choose wisely. The content industry, including the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America are pushing for someone from their own ranks (an RIAA lawyer, for example) that will be sympathetic to their cause. The Copyright Alliance, along with 40 other groups representing intellectual-property holders, recently sent a letter to Obama that intellectual-property protection stimulates creativity and creates jobs.

As we often delineate in philosophy club, there is an important difference between legality and ethics. However, in our culture, politics and law are where the philosophical rubber hits the road (to quote Todd Furman). Biden has made it abundantly clear that copyright infringement is theft and that it stifles creativity. Our laws may soon reflect this view. Ethically, however, the debate continues.



Steve Gimbel said...

Here's a twist, suppose you are copying it for your own institutional use? Our college is phasing out VCRs in its classrooms in favor of DVD1 players. but we've got years' worth of video cassettes we've bought for showing in classes. The library says that it would be illegal for them to transfer the videos onto disk because they only paid for the tape, not the DVD.

Did they purchase the tape or purchase the right to watch the content of the tape at any time they choose and that requires an extra step of changing media and sticking it into machine 2 rather than just plugging it into machine 1, why should that matter?

Josh said...

Strangely enough, you could create one archival copy if it was a computer program, according to current copyright law. There is no other provision in the Copyright Act that specifically authorizes the making of backup copies of works other than computer programs even if those works are distributed as digital copies.

Isn't that crazy?

According to copyright, you purchase format not necessarily content. As long as technology continues to evolve new formats, we will find ourselves continually buying back our own movie and music collections.

If only there was some grass roots digital initiative that allowed movie and music lovers to find their previously purchased albums in new formats for free...

The Pirate Bay

Anonymous said...

The four founders of The Pirate Bay were convicted by a Swedish court last week. They were fined a tidy sum, and were sentenced to a year in jail.

All the pirate bay is a giant search engine that points to sites that contain music and movies to download.

In protest, people have created pirate google to prove a point.

The Pirate Google

Why jail the founders of The Pirate Bay but not the founders of Google since either can be used to find copyright-protected torrents?

Anthony said...

Unless they shut down the internet, intellectual property is a thing of the past. For better or worse.

For those of you who are older, you may remember the internet in general is much more closed than it used to be since the main search and media corporations consolidated. Legislatively, the Fairness Doctrine will do much to restrict internet information further.