When people are about to download content from the ‘net that is copywritten, many often ask ‘will I get caught doing this?’ For many, the response is ‘no’ and then continue to download that episode of Seinfeld or whatever. Given that there are so many people downloading, and that record companies in the US have claimed to have abandoned filing new lawsuits against individuals, then things (in North America) appear to be getting better.
At issue, however, is that filing lawsuits is big money, and in Europe especially it looks like Digiprotect has moved in to assume first-mover advantage. Digiprotect gets “the legal rights from the companies to distribute these movies to stores, and with these rights we can sue illegal downloaders. Then we take legal action in every country possible, concentrating on the places where such action will be profitable” (Source). They avoid demanding too much money from infringers, on the basis that few judges like the idea of imposing million dollar fines on individuals – usually opting for suits demanding in the vicinity of 500 Euros. This amount of money ‘teaches’ individuals and provides enough money to keep the employees paid. No staff member has a fixed salary – they are paid according to the ‘cases’ that are won. The actual method of determining the financial burdens are based on the business expenses, profit, and money to be distributed to artists. In effect, the company sets up a honeypot and then sues whomever it is profitable to sue.
I’m perhaps a bit idealistic, but I think that there are clear contemporary demonstrations of democracy ‘working’. Today’s example comes to us from Europe, where the European Parliament has voted to restore a graduated response to copyright infringement that pertains to when and how individuals can be disconnected from the Internet. Disconnecting individuals from the ‘net, given its important role in citizens’ daily lives, can only be done with judicial oversight; copyright holders and ISPs alone cannot conspire to remove file sharers. This suggests that any three-strike policy in the EU will require judicial oversight, and threatens to radically reform how the copyright industry can influence ISPs.
What might this mean for North America? If policy learning occurs, will we see imports of an EU-style law on this matter? Do we want our policy actors to adopt an EU-model, which could be used to implement a three-strike rule that just includes judicial review at the third strike? In Canada, with the tariffs that we pay, there are already permissible conditions for file sharing – do we really want to see strong American or WIPO copyright legally enforced on our soil?
Lawrence Lessig is the founder of the Creative Commons, which effectively allows for a more nuanced (and reasonable) approach to copyright – it establishes particularized rights for different audiences to use your work in different ways. The aim is to allow people to license work so that citizens can use facets of their culture to create new parts of their culture – as an example they can modify images and songs to produce something new, without their modification being labeled a copyright infringement. You’ll note that this blog is under a CC license.
Music, Mashup, and Meaning
There have been a number of particularly stunning documentaries in the past few years that attempt to grapple with the notion of copyright. Of the ones that I’ve seen, Good Copy, Bad Copy(and it’s a free download!) is likely about the best – it examines the role of mashup in music and the role of copyright as it applies to film. Mashups tend to involve taking multiple tracks of music and overlaying them in new and interesting ways – this also tends to act as a method of ‘culture jamming’, insofar as messages are playfully appropriated and modulated in ways that diverge from the cultural direction of the original works of music. As an example, you might hear a song about war with deep and potent lyrics laid atop an electronic dance beat, transforming both of the works in important and substantial ways.