ACTA SOPA, cinema, my music, politics, society, Ze Internet

About Law and Law Enforcement

I just came across the thoughts on the matter of copyright that Ivan Popov (I assume him to be the sci-fi writer) had in 1998. Although the full version of the text had some naive and very (geographically, as well as culturally) circumstantial arguments, the overall vision for the future problems of copyright and the direction they were about to go has become reality years ago. I choose to translate the opening, because it is very important and also fundamentally true not only for that particular type of law, but for any other type of law.

The history of man show that in order for a law to be adequate and of use to the society, the technology for the effective control over the activities it regulates needs to exist. For example, it is unthinkable to forbid people to put their hands in their pockets. In the best case scenario people would just make sure to hold their hands out of their pockets when they’re near a policeman, while at home they’ll be holding them in the forbidden place all the time. Moreover, no evidence could be produced that they did that. In a worse case scenario the law enforcement will start profitting by racketeering the people using the fact that they could easily accuse them in messing up — sort of like the contemporary traffic police (note: traffic police in Bulgaria is still notorious for using fear of fines and license penalties to trick drivers into bribing them). In worst case scenario the people will abuse the law as well and will start (mis)informing the state about enemies among their neighbours or their co-workers — this and that, they break the law systematically, the community is indignant, signed by — “A large number of people”. Piled up with informant records, the law enforcement agencies will start massive interrogations for “clearing up some circumstances”, they will punish randomly — because there is no way to find the truth — besides, countless cases of the “pocket law” will stack up and obstruct further the juridical system.

Of course, the history knows idiot laws, bans, and ordinations, but those have never survived long and have always become obsolete — namely because of their technological inconsistency.

Now the author obviously does not consider the Big Brother scenario that the copyright business is trying to impose. The government could theoretically track all traffic through all the ISPs and every time you download a song from the Internet they can know about it. But the thing with the copyright law is that it gives you right to own a copy of a particular product: song, book, movie, etc. So if I buy Rihanna’s Umbrella song from iTunes, I can make as many copies of it as I want, so long I don’t distribute them to people. Furthermore, there is an Act that the US voted in 1992 that basically said that if you copy a copyright product and you don’t go out and sell the copies, it’s OK. Now that sets a bit of a gray area of what’s right and what not, but for the sake of my argument here let’s just assume that you can’t copy things that you haven’t paid for. Then only if there are two people who bought Rihanna’s Umbrella song they will be allowed to share it with each other, right? And that’s OK, because it doesn’t matter if you copy an MP3 from your CD or you copy it off the Internet. The question is, even if the government has total access to your traffic data and knows that you’re downloading the Umbrella song, it can’t know if you have the right to own a copy of that song. Not unless there is some universal register of all copyright product sales. And since all people are not guilty until proven otherwise, the government will have to prove that you’ve never bought the song. I think it’s clear that proving that will be at the very least not easy and in no case should it be transferred as something that one should be able to prove at any time like it is with a car, for example.

Furthermore the laws do not handle some special cases that are caused by the abstract nature of the copies and copyright. For example, I received a copy of Robbie Williams’ album Escapology for my birthday years ago. The CD got lost somewhere in my many house moves during my student years in Germany. Now do I own the right to that album or not? And how will I ever prove that this is my album when I have never had a receipt for it? Even if I still had the copy I wouldn’t be able to prove that it’s mine. This puts all copyright issues concerning the ordinary people in a very tight spot when it comes to the Industry’s interests. It appears that the government has to devote a great resource of money and manpower to enforce the copyright law on such a great scale. It most probably will be more expensive than the lost profit it should try to defend. And all that for fat cat industries like the ones that hold copyrights? No, thanks.

This is the kind of shit the Copyright industry has been in for a while, and it’s getting worse. Thus the epic efforts to support SOPA and ACTA, which are half-baked attempts at waving a stern finger at the masses in order to maximise profits.

I think the time has finally come to ask ourselves if the copyright laws just might have started becoming obsolete. And maybe there should be another way of handling these issues. Personally I think the 1992 Act is still a decent solution for a certain period of time ahead, but sooner or later the real questions will come: Where is the border between legal and illegal copying? Should copyright exist when no medium is sold? Is it fair that copyrights last for 50 years? There are also alternative ways to tacle the issue like affordable copyright flatrate packages, i.e. buying the right to download and watch all movies available on DVDs through your ISP tariff — so long you are connected you can download. There are alternatives, but the Industry is not willing to look at them so long there is a chance to squeeze much more money from the people by suing them for thefts of intellectual property.

* Illustration Shawn Willson


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