Copyright, Copyjoke, go to jail!?!

Larry Lessig brought up some interesting points in his video as regards creativity and the copyright licensing for music:

Everyone wants to use their favourite song in their videos.  A glance at a random YouTube video would probably uncover some sort of copyright infringement with music, videos or pictures.  So, by law, a large percent of the world’s population are criminals.  Does that make sense?
When something in the world doesn’t make sense, it usually means that something needs to be changed.  For example, if all of the students in a class fail a test, the problem most likely lies with the test itself so the teacher needs to re-evaluate the test and find some sort of solution rather than failing all of the students on the test.  Similarly, we need some way for the average person to be able to use and remix their favourite music in creative ways as Larry suggests in his talk, rather than throwing everyone in jail.
Take a moment and do a search to try to find out the legal way to purchase and remix music (there is one because Hollywood movies do it all of the time).  The problem is that the expense of getting legal rights to remix your favourite music is unreasonable for the average consumer.  The average person also has no idea how to go about getting legal permission to use a song, and waiting to get a response from different companies to get permission just doesn’t cut it with today’s microwave/internet culture.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has some suggestions to use collective licensing similar to what the radio stations do.  The cost would have to be reasonable for the average consumer.  It’s not a bad idea, but I’d prefer to be able to pay an extra licensing fee for the music I want to remix when I buy it, rather than having to pay some sort of flat fee every month because I’m not remixing music everyday or every month for that matter.  However, their solution would give me access to a lot of music for a cheap price.
This topic is very pertinent to all of our classes because the students often want to put their favourite music into their slideshow presentations or videos.  Personally, I like the idea of asking the students to buy the music they want to use and letting them remix, but technically, that is still illegal.  Somebody really needs to update the copyright laws. 
Also, related to Larry Lessig’s story with the farmer’s wanting to sue the pilots of the planes for trespassing because of the damage to their chickens, the article from Electronic Frontier Foundation references a point in time where the music industry wanted to sue radio stations for playing their music (which resulted in the collective licensing laws we have now).
I am very happy to see that Apple finally removed digital rights management (DRM) from the music they sell through ITunes.  That makes it easier for people to buy the music they want to remix (with DRM, it wasn’t possible to re-use the music anywhere so people were either getting the music without even buying it which is a worse scenario for the music industry than simply remixing, or else they were cracking the DRM – a bit of a complex losing battle).  I guess if the courts see enough cases of average people being fined excessively and thrown in jail, they’ll eventually push the lawmakers to change the laws, but it would be nice to see a little more proactiveness.



  1. koppm said,

    March 23, 2009 at 7:20 am

    Hey Alan – great post. I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, I agree that the laws are antiquated and make no sense in our world. But I wonder if the current structure of the laws themselves is the problem. As I mentioned in my blog post, the laws are based on the immutability of private property and individual ownership. Perhaps in our Internet Age we need to rethink the value of private property and personal ownership? Perhaps society would benefit from communal good rather than individual profit? As you said, the current laws actually stifle innovation, and I think that’s a very lucid point. A lot of private-property-ites would say that, without a profit motive, there is no incentive for creating or producing. But I think that is categorically incorrect. Many people are driven by a different type of “profit-motive” – that of the love to create, manipulate, and share – certainly a more communal approach to the idea of creating. And one that I think makes more sense.
    I also wanted to say that I had some students do a history presentation in my class where they collected and edited footage from WWII and added in their own narration as a way of answering a research question I had posed to them. It was a perfect example of students “re-mixing” digital content, and it was probably illegal since they did not obtain permission to use the footage. But the end result was a brilliant demonstration of my students’ ability to evaluate, synthesize, and present information in a meaningful context. So, the copyright laws, had they been followed, would have actually stifled learning.
    Thanks for the great post!

    Mike K

  2. teachermac said,

    March 24, 2009 at 7:05 am

    Yes, your classroom example is case and point for what Larry Lessig is talking about. That is the direction I’d like to go as a teacher as well.
    As for the ownership laws, to be the devil’s advocate and be a little more fair to the other side, I remember an episode of Little House on the Prairie where Charles Ingalls starts making some great furniture. He starts his own little business out of his shed and his business catches the eye of a wealthier furniture maker. This furniture maker goes to Charles and pays him a lot of extra money to get the next piece of furniture off the line, so of course, Charles agrees. The rich furniture maker takes apart Charles furniture and then has his factory duplicate Charles piece of furniture. In the end, no one buys from Charles anymore because the rich furniture maker was selling the same furniture cheaper than what Charles could sell his for. This example brings in a few issues, but it illustrates one of the fears which helped issue copyright laws into existence – the idea of protecting the little person from losing their great ideas to the big richer person. Copyright laws can help level the playing field, but do examples like this justify the need for copyright laws? Are there other solutions to these fears of ‘what if we didn’t have copyright/patent laws’?

  3. April 23, 2009 at 1:19 am

    Did you hear of the ruling in Sweden regarding the creators of PirateBay? They’ve been fined 2.4 million pounds and sentenced to one year in jail, despite the fact that they’re not hosting any of the files, only providing the means for others to connect to each other and share their files.

    I recently heard about a new site called Pirate My Film which will allow people to self-publish, seek prior financing of their projects (and offer it to others, becoming an investor in the process) and more. I’m a little hazy on the details, but it sounds like an initiative to by-pass the major media corporations and the founders are promoting a boycott on the big corporations.

    Interesting initiative.

  4. April 23, 2009 at 1:20 am

    Hm, I included a link, but must have mistyped the HTML:

  5. teachermac said,

    April 23, 2009 at 3:18 am

    Very interesting. I’ll be curious to see what happens with Pirate Bay. That really is one of the top torrent sites.
    On a personal note, YouTube recently removed the audio on one of my videos (the video can be seen with no sound now) because it contains a song distributed by Warner Music Group (this is a Warner Group problem, not a YouTube problem). I did a search which seems to suggest that Warner had a previous relationship with YouTube which went sour so now Warner is taking it’s vengeance by enforcing the letter of the law. I just think that is so sad. If this were to continue happening on a grand scale, I would definitely join sites like Pirate My Film. Maybe one day the solution to this will be known as the Internet Revolution. There’s only so much that the average joe will take before taking personal action.

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