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RIAA Grinds Down Individuals in the Courtroom

michael posted more than 9 years ago | from the this-isn't-a-court-of-justice,-son,-this-is-a-court-of-law dept.

The Courts 680

Iphtashu Fitz writes "The Associated Press recently reviewed many of the copyright infringement lawsuits that the RIAA filed against individuals charged with illegally sharing songs on P2P networks. According to the article over 800 of the targeted individuals have settled for approx. $3000 in fines. One man in California had to refinance his house to pay his $11,000 settlement. Many of the defendants are unwilling to face the possibility of even higher fines by fighting the suits in court despite the fact that it could resolve important questions about copyrights and the industry's methods for tracing illegal downloads. It seems that even some of the judges presiding over these cases question the RIAA's tactics. 'I've never had a situation like this before, where there are powerful plaintiffs and powerful lawyers on one side and then a whole slew of ordinary folks on the other side,' said U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner, who blocked the movement of a number of these cases in her courtroom for months. She wanted 'to make sure that no one, frankly, is being ground up.'"

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Stop listening to music, addicts! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031937)

Copying without permission is illegal. Just don't do it!

Re:Stop listening to music, addicts! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031988)

driving above the speed limit is illegal. Just don't do it! Someone, please explain this to the driver of the 18-wheeler tailgating me!!

Re:Stop listening to music, addicts! (2, Informative)

volsung (378) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032000)

Posting to Slashdot while driving is also illegal in some states.

Re:Stop listening to music, addicts! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031998)

If it is illegal, then I would like to see them doing this in criminal court. I would bet that the jury would asked for $20 fine per CD and done with this.

Re:Stop listening to music, addicts! (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032031)

Don't confuse what is legal and what is right. It would have been illegal for my ancestor's slaves to run away or disobey (I happen to be a distant descendant of a very wealthy slave trader), but that doesn't make it wrong.

Re:Stop listening to music, addicts! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032090)

So you are comparing enforcing copyright laws to slavery? Why not just call them a right wing nazi (even though nazi's were LEFT WING SOCIALISTS) and conclude your idiotic argument?

Re:Stop listening to music, addicts! (1, Insightful)

nwbvt (768631) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032046)

Advising people not to pirate music is modded -1 Troll? Thats just sad mods.

First Post? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031941)

Ohh yea.. thats right.. First Post

Once again, protest with your money (5, Insightful)

secolactico (519805) | more than 9 years ago | (#10031947)

Let me re-state what I've said before: If you do not agree with what RIAA is doing, stop supporting it. Sadly, this means stop supporting artists affiliated to it. Quit cold turkey. Do not buy their CDs. Do not attend their concerts. Do not request their songs on the radio. And do not download/share their songs on the Internet.

Go on and protest their actions. The louder, the better. But stop supporting them, or your cries will fall on deaf ears.

Re:Once again, protest with your money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031975)

They've already noticed and are now trying to compensate falling sales with profitable lawsuits.

Re:Once again, protest with your money (3, Insightful)

bigman2003 (671309) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032024)

Do you really think that getting $3,000 is PROFITABLE?

The only reason they do this is to deter other people from sharing music. I don't think they really care about the awards here...just the publicity.

Re:Once again, protest with your money (5, Insightful)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032138)

Exactly my view; it's all about the deterance factor and I very much doubt that their lawyer's costs run to less than $3000 per case unless they are on-staff. The RIAA has already shown that they are not afraid to take their blood money from 12 year old girls and grandmothers, just to emphasise that no one is expempt as well. True, the former's costs were actually met by a third party, but that does not change the fact that the RIAA still expected payment.

What I'm curious about though, is that all the cases I've read about do seem to be very much canted in favour of the RIAA. The defendents are almost always financial unable to fight the case and there is also almost always clear cut copyright infringement. Is this merely media bias, or does the RIAA get to pick and choose its cases once they know who the mark is to better meet their goals of deterrence?

As I understand it, the RIAA usually files a John/Jane Doe case to subpoena the evidence needed to establish their victim's identity. Supposing that J. Doe turns out to be a very wealthy and outspoken proponent of fair use and realistic copyright laws who quite probably would be prepared to fight them in court. Issues of whether they would or not aside, could the RIAA make some excuses and "opt out" of the case at that point, or not?

Re:Once again, protest with your money (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031992)

Exactly. I am vociferously opposed to copyright law, and hold that there should be a "doctrine of first communication" that prevents anyone preventing you passing on information.

But fact of the matter is there are now absurd huge quantities of _really good_ stuff available perfectly legally for free on-line, often from bands in your locality that you can toddle on to live shows for too - there's simply no need to support the old monopolies by continuing to give them mindshare. This is a bit like with software - software piracy _helps_ microsoft and autodesk, because they stay as the "standard". Recirculating the crap that the old monopolies put out preserves their mindshare.

Stop listening to crap, download [] and start rating. Pretty soon, you'll have a better and more novel and varied music collection than the old companies could hope to provide.

Re:Once again, protest with your money (5, Funny)

EpsCylonB (307640) | more than 9 years ago | (#10031996)

Do not buy their CDs. Do not attend their concerts. Do not request their songs on the radio. And do not download/share their songs on the Internet.

Yes dad.

Re:Once again, protest with your money (5, Insightful)

turnstyle (588788) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032016)

"Let me re-state what I've said before: If you do not agree with what RIAA is doing, stop supporting it."

This is the correct approach.

The Grokster ruling basically reinforces the notion that the only people that rightsholders can sue at this point are the endusers.

Personally, I agree that you shouldn't generally hold a technology accountable for how some may misuse it. Along those lines, the EFF themselves used to suggest that the RIAA should be suing infringers [] .

On the other hand, I think Kazaa is just a scuzzy operation, and I'd rather see them get sued than a bunch of end-users. But the Grokster ruling means that's not going to be the way it works, at least not for now.

If you don't like the RIAA, don't buy their stuff, and don't copy it. Go find new independent artists, and support them directly.

Re:Once again, protest with your money (0, Troll)

SQLz (564901) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032041)

Yeah, out of the ten thousand+ people that read your post, 1 will actually do it. Assuming he/she spends $500/year on RIAA related stuff, you just cost the RIAA $500. I bet they have more money between the cushions of the couch in the reception area.

Re:Once again, protest with your money (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032057)


A concerted effort to totally curtail ALL buying for a single month to send a message to the RIAA.

There will be one of two outcomes:
1. There IS NO widespread call for action. [put up or shut up!]
2. Send a message to the RIAA that there is widespread dissatisfaction and a larger protest will come in the future.

I agree that people should not steal songs. I don't care that RIAA sues those who do. I DO care that they get laws passed that curtail your ability to perform legal acts on your own equipment.

That makes as much sense as limiting cars to the lowest speed limit to ensure that NO ONE can possibly exceed the speed. Perhaps, even banning cars to eliminate all those highway deaths.

Frankly, I doubt that there is even a plurality of users willing to forego their "fixes", even for a month. If so, suck it up!

Re:Once again, protest with your money (5, Insightful)

PeeAitchPee (712652) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032088)

Typical Slashdot holier-than-thou karma-whoring. The issue behind this article is NOT about whether or not you're supporting the RIAA and its artists -- it's that the punishments being meted out don't fit the "crimes" (which in this case don't even have to be proven), and that big media is fucking up normal citizens' lives for no reason other than to buy time for a failing business model.

(I feel better now. ;-> )

This already has started... (5, Insightful)

ScottGant (642590) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032119)

CD sales are down...the RIAA is in panic mode. Many people already HAVE stopped supporting them which is why they're suing people left and right.

The cat is out of the bag...the horse has left the barn....the _________(insert favorite metaphor here). The MP3 Genie is out and they can't put it back in. Sorry, but it's a losing battle.

The industry will change...this is a fact. The RIAA doesn't like this because they're basically going to stop making the huge mark-up on the CD/Record Market they had cornered. But their monopoly is crumbling, and it's crumbling more and more as the day wears on. Their trying to plug the leaks but the whole dam is falling all around them.

Is this good or bad? I honestly don't know, but it's going to be an interesting thing to witness! We've seen it many times in the past here, when a business is failing, the last-ditch effort is to issue lawsuits.

Want to support a band/artist? Go see them in concert OR send money to them directly...and I mean directly TO them...not to the management/record company. Will people send off a check to Chili-Peppers? Don't know, stranger things have happened.

Can I mod this +6? (3, Insightful)

edremy (36408) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032131)

I get so tired of the groupthink whining here at /. about the evil RIAA, the horrible costs of CDs and how piracy really isn't theft anyway.

Don't like the RIAA's tactics? Don't like how they rip off artists and sue their customers? Then don't buy from them. It's simply not that hard- buy used CDs if you must, get freely downloadable music from any of a dozen sources, go listen to a local unsigned band and buy their CDs. I've bought exactly one RIAA album in the last three years, and that was because I was curious about iTunes. I still get to listen to interesting new stuff all the time.

As far as file sharing, folks, as the law as written, file sharing of copyrighted works is illegal. No matter how you spin it (It's not theft, it's not wrong...), it's still illegal. If you think this is wrong, you have two options

  1. Don't do it
  2. Do it and take your lumps. That may mean losing your house when the RIAA sues you into oblivion. Too bad- you're engaged in civil disobedience, and that has consquences. If enough people disobey, eventually the laws will change, but that doesn't mean people don't get hurt. For far more serious examples, look up the US civil rights movement or Ghandi's struggle against the British.

Re:Once again, protest with your money (1)

ZenPirate (562047) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032136)

Right on, man. That's the best answer to this problem.

Class-Action Defense? (5, Interesting)

G4from128k (686170) | more than 9 years ago | (#10031950)

I wonder if it is legally possible to mount a class-action defense? The defendants could then pool their resources for lawyerage, expert witnesses, etc. If a class of parties can act as a plaintiff, why can't a similar structure be used in defense?

Re:Class-Action Defense? (1)

Everleet (785889) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032003)

For one thing, the plaintiff decides who is on each side (along with the claims of the suit, etc.). Legally these are all separate cases...I don't know if there's any history to support one or more courts merging (and thus rewriting) a group like that.

This seems like new territory to me, but IaNaL.

Re:Class-Action Defense? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032113)

but IaNaL.

Then why not shut up?

Re:Class-Action Defense? (2, Interesting)

lurker412 (706164) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032007)

I don't understand what the defense would consist of. An individual might argue that he had been incorrectly identified, but I am not sure you could apply this argument as a group.

Re:Class-Action Defense? (1)

Maul (83993) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032018)


This is an excellent idea. Unfortunately, I've never seen legal precedent for large scale defense in this case.

It would probably take one of the defendents to get a clever lawyer first, and have the lawyer file a motion that all the RIAA lawsuits get combined into one. Not sure if that is really possible, though.

The RIAA would fight tooth and nail to prevent it, even if it is possible, however. If "class action" defense could happen, it would probably spell the end of their lawsuit campaign.

Re:Class-Action Defense? Class-Action Defeat. (4, Insightful)

turnstyle (588788) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032037)

er, just about every case so far has either settled for about $3000, or lost for about $5000-$10000.

Is that the sort of "class defense" you had in mind?

Re:Class-Action Defense? (1)

Joffrey (242525) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032054)

As someone already mentioned, there really aren't any defenses... that's why most are settling.

However, for those who may not have actually done it (maybe had an open wireless connection, or the neighbor kid that you kindly let borrow your computer from time to time, etc.), it must be quite disheartening:

From the article:

>>>>> Still, the California consultant who recently agreed to pay the largest settlement in any of the lawsuits, $11,000, urged Internet users not to take solace in rare procedural victories.

"It scares me," Plank said. "For anyone fighting any of these lawsuits -- unless they have nothing to lose -- the only thing to do is settle. You have no power against these people."

Fantastic... settle with coupons (4, Funny)

hagbard5235 (152810) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032066)

And if they loose, the each member of the class could provide a coupon to the RIAA for $5 off a CD...

RIAA targets... (4, Insightful)

dmayle (200765) | more than 9 years ago | (#10031951)

The sad thing, I think, is that those of us who would be brave enough to stand up in court aren't participating in the types of activities likely to get them targeted.

A lot of the people who are doing this probably don't own copies of the songs to begin with, which makes it tough for them to stand up for themselves.

What really needs to happen is that someone with an extensive music collection, and the desire to fight this, needs to leave various P2P applications open 24/7 with access to their vast, legal music collection, so that someone will notice.

Re:RIAA targets... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031956)

That would be legal how?

Re:RIAA targets... (1)

sqlrob (173498) | more than 9 years ago | (#10031973)

It's not []

Re:RIAA targets... (1)

whiteranger99x (235024) | more than 9 years ago | (#10031980)

What really needs to happen is that someone with an extensive music collection, and the desire to fight this, needs to leave various P2P applications open 24/7 with access to their vast, legal music collection, so that someone will notice.

Umm, isn't that WHY the RIAA is going after people in the first place? That is, I'm assuming you mean leaving the MP3s open to P2P programs that you ripped from your own CDs for others to download.

Re:RIAA targets... (1)

gusgizmo (796465) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032015)

This would be kick-ass thing for a good number of people to do, that happen to have access to large internet connections. Place free music (in terms of liberty of use), free software, and free literature on one of the more popular file-sharing networks that average file-swappers use. This way, it could be shown that p2p has legitimate uses. Of course, this is what bittorrent provides, but only people of moderate skill and experience on the net use bittorrent (as far as I know).

Re:RIAA targets... (4, Interesting)

LoadWB (592248) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032033)

It is a response I have made in the past to their "we are losing money because of the downloads."

Horseshit, try again.

The person who has nothing but downloaded MP3s and CD-Rs burned from downloaded MP3s was NOT going to buy the album in the first place. Instead, the person would have bummed a copy off of a friend who had purchased it.

IMO, downloading MP3s is no different than when we used to trade tapes at the skating rink or youth center. These tapes were often made from the radio (remember sitting with your finger on the PAUSE button?)

The facts are that MP3s are LOW quality (completely horrid, as far as I am concerned,) and CD-R media has a finite life-span. Anyone who is genuinely concerned about their music is willing to buy the CD/tape/LP/8-track if only for the quality of the sound.

I started out in digital music back with the music rack that came with some sound card back in early days of Windows 95. I would use a friend's Win95 computer to sample a track mono, 8-bit at 11kHz, then upload that to my Amiga at 2400bps over the phone. I would convert it to IFF with Fibonacci-Delta compression and play the songs back later when I felt like it. I got about 1MB per 1 minute of music. The playback was usable, but still horrrible. To me, a 44kHz 16-bit MP3 at 192kb/s sounds just the same. I would rather buy the CD and listen to it in the CD player. Not quite as portable, but at least hi-hats are not turned into high-frequency slosh, and vocals do not sound as is sung through a fan.

One big question I have is, for the purpose of non-profitable distribution, can an MP3 even be considered the original product? Because that seems to be part of the argument.

More questions which could be asked in court, on the record, and give the US legal system a chance to decide once and for all what is allow, and where the limitations lie.

Re:RIAA targets... (5, Insightful)

Flaming Foobar (597181) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032097)

The person who has nothing but downloaded MP3s and CD-Rs burned from downloaded MP3s was NOT going to buy the album in the first place.

That's just silly. A person who has a 1000 downloaded albums clearly loves music and would have VERY PROBABLY bought at least a few of them if that was the only way to get them. And when the users of P2P are calculated in millions, that amounts to a HUGE amount of albums, even if there are some who indeed wouldn't have bought any.

IMO, downloading MP3s is no different than when we used to trade tapes at the skating rink or youth center. These tapes were often made from the radio (remember sitting with your finger on the PAUSE button?)

You don't see a difference between a degraded one-off versus hundreds of millions of 1:1 digital copies?

The facts are that MP3s are LOW quality (completely horrid, as far as I am concerned,)

320 kbps MP3's are completely acceptable, in my opinion.

Re:RIAA targets... (1)

Everleet (785889) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032038)

We are talking about copyrights here. It's generally considered that the person sharing the file is the one performing unauthorized copying and distribution. Downloading is probably illegal too, but they don't go after it so much.

Re:RIAA targets... (0, Flamebait)

Flaming Foobar (597181) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032044)

What really needs to happen is that someone with an extensive music collection, and the desire to fight this, needs to leave various P2P applications open 24/7 with access to their vast, legal music collection, so that someone will notice.

What exactly would you achieve with that? I fail to see what's insightful about this.

People who share files are breaking copyright law. No matter how much you'd like your music for free, it ain't gonna happen before that law goes away, which isn't anytime soon.

Re:RIAA targets... (1)

marsonist (629054) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032047)

The problem is, the RIAA isn't suing people for downloading the music. They are suing the people for sharing it. If I had 100 songs on my computer they could, at best, say that each song required the purchase of a separate $18 CD. Meaning a total theft of $1,800. Whereas the same 100 songs shared to the masses could amount to theoretical losses limited only by "cost per song" x "bandwidth" x "time" Regardless of if you own the music or not, sharing it out to the masses is going to leave you scrounging for cash like every other person who got caught.

Re: Those who stood up... (1)

turnstyle (588788) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032085)

"What really needs to happen is that someone with an extensive music collection, and the desire to fight this, needs to leave various P2P applications open 24/7 with access to their vast, legal music collection, so that someone will notice."

Go for it!

PS: those who stood up (and didn't settle) lost more money.

Re:RIAA targets... (1)

nwbvt (768631) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032105)

I hate to tell you this but the court would rule against him. Owning the CDs does not give you the legal right to give copies out to the rest of the world.

Re:RIAA targets... (1)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032116)

Just like how most lawyers who are deciding whether to take a civil case or not look for "deep pockets" in the potential defendants to see if there's any money to be had, the RIAA seems like they're doing enough background research to assure that they only sue "empty pockets", people for whom a $5000 loss would drive them into bankruptcy, and most certainly couldn't fund a $20,000 defense.

If anybody surprises them and mounts a defense that can withstand a RIAA paperwork dump, the RIAA quickly retreats out of fear losing a case in the courtroom would become a model for which other defendants could mount a less expensive defense.

In short, the RIAA is playing the game to win thousands of small fights, while backing down from any high-stakes challenge.

Re:RIAA targets... (1)

dmayle (200765) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032120)

Okay, everyone seems to be missing the point of my post, so let me try to explain a little more clearly.

What's really at question here is whether or not having a P2P application open, with access to your files, is considered a violation of copyright.

It's vaguely akin to leaving a stack of CDs out in the front lawn. (Assuming you trust everyone to not take your CDs, just browse, listen to them, and then return them to you.) If If I want to do it, I feel that should be my prerogative. If someone wants to take those CDs and copy them, I feel that's an entirely different copyright issue, and based entirely on what is considered fair use.

What I think is a big problem with the targetted users is that many of them probably acquired the majority of their music without purchasing it, and think they are being taken to court for having copies of the songs they haven't paid for.

Now, you and I both know that what the RIAA is pursuing with these suits are people who are sharing music, and the question is whether that is legal or not.

So, my original proposition still stands. Someone who has a large music collection, and wants to fight this, should share their music collection on as many P2P networks as they can, so they can get a chance to find out once and for all whether just sharing music you own is considered an infringement of copyright.

And in other news... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031954)

Shoplifters caught with a new video surveillance system have to pay for the items they stole. Boo hoo.

huh? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031961)

'I've never had a situation like this before, where there are powerful plaintiffs and powerful lawyers on one side and then a whole slew of ordinary folks on the other side,' said U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner

the honourable Nancy Gertner has presided over, by her own admission, numerous drug related trials. US government vs crack addicts seems pretty similar to me.

Re:huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031997)

You have got to be kidding me. The US Government does not send in its "A" team against a crack addict. Also, it is not the US Government that prosecutes crack addicts. It is local, either city, county or sometimes state prosecuters.

re: huh? (1)

vena (318873) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032010)

She's apparently a vocal opponent [] of the drug war. i would say US government vs marijuana smokers though, as it'd resonate more with the audience here :)

Re:huh? (0, Flamebait)

ryanmfw (774163) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032026)

You're right. Those poor poor crack addicts. All they were doing was breaking the law. Really, why does the government have to be so down on them, man? It's not like laws are important. Just let it go man.

On a sidenote, when was it a crime to preside over drug related trials? With all of this "by her own admission" stuff, you'd think it was.

Re:huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032043)

"by her own admission" == i could find no sources other than her own words to confirm her involvement in numerous drug related trials.

and for the record, as pointed out by the poster above you, she is a vocal opponent of the drug war and your sarcasm is quite silly in her defense.

Re:huh? (2, Insightful)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032126)

Judges have little to no control over what kind of trials they're assigned to preside over. That decision is usually made by a clerk who strives to maintain a random process of assigning incoming cases to available judges on a random basis.

If you want to make a statement on her credibility or lack there of, how about saying something about her behavior when presented with such cases in her court...

Make a reality show out of this... (5, Funny)

SledgeHBK (148480) | more than 9 years ago | (#10031964)

Get some money hungry lawyers (I know, redundant), to start representing these guys and make a show out of it.

Blech, never mind. It's the diet pepsi talking.

Re:Make a reality show out of this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031969)

maybe pepsi would sponsor such a show. hehe, sounds good to me :)

Re:Make a reality show out of this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032011)

And drug cases are criminal, this is not.

Against intellectual property (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031965)

There is a strong case for opposing intellectual property. Among other things, it often retards innovation and exploits Third World peoples. Most of the usual arguments for intellectual property do not hold up under scrutiny. In particular, the metaphor of the marketplace of ideas provides no justification for ownership of ideas. The alternative to intellectual property is that intellectual products not be owned, as in the case of everyday language. Strategies against intellectual property include civil disobedience, promotion of non-owned information, and fostering of a more cooperative society.

The original rationale for copyrights and patents was to foster artistic and practical creative work by giving a short-term monopoly over certain uses of the work. This monopoly was granted to an individual or corporation by government. The government's power to grant a monopoly is corrupting. The biggest owners of intellectual property have sought to expand it well beyond any sensible rationale.

There are several types of intellectual property or, in other words, ownership of information, including copyright, patents, trademarks, trade secrets, design rights and plant breeders' rights. Copyright covers the expression of ideas such as in writing, music and pictures. Patents cover inventions, such as new substances or articles and industrial processes. Trademarks are symbols associated with a good, service or company. Trade secrets cover confidential business information. Design rights cover different ways of presenting the outward appearance of things. Plant breeders' rights grant ownership of novel, distinct and stable plant varieties that are "invented."

The type of property that is familiar to most people is physical objects. People own clothes, cars, houses and land. But there has always been a big problem with owning ideas. Exclusive use or control of ideas or the way they are expressed doesn't make nearly as much sense as the ownership of physical objects.

Many physical objects can only be used by one person at a time. If one person wears a pair of shoes, no one else can wear them at the same time. (The person who wears them often owns them, but not always.) This is not true of intellectual property. Ideas can be copied over and over, but the person who had the original copy still has full use of it. Suppose you write a poem. Even if a million other people have copies and read the poem, you can still read the poem yourself. In other words, more than one person can use an idea--a poem, a mathematical formula, a tune, a letter--without reducing other people's use of the idea. Shoes and poems are fundamentally different in this respect.

Technological developments have made it cheaper and easier to make copies of information. Printing was a great advance: it eliminated the need for hand copying of documents. Photocopying and computers have made it even easier to make copies of written documents. Photography and sound recordings have done the same for visual and audio material. The ability to protect intellectual property is being undermined by technology. Yet there is a strong push to expand the scope of ownership of information.

This chapter outlines the case against intellectual property. I begin by mentioning some of the problems arising from ownership of information. Then I turn to weaknesses in its standard justifications. Next is an overview of problems with the so-called "marketplace of ideas," which has important links with intellectual property. Finally, I outline some alternatives to intellectual property and some possible strategies for moving towards them.

Problems with intellectual property

Governments generate large quantities of information. They produce statistics on population, figures on economic production and health, texts of laws and regulations, and vast numbers of reports. The generation of this information is paid for through taxation and, therefore, it might seem that it should be available to any member of the public. But in some countries, such as Britain and Australia, governments claim copyright in their own legislation and sometimes court decisions. Technically, citizens would need permission to copy their own laws. On the other hand, some government-generated information, especially in the US, is turned over to corporations that then sell it to whomever can pay. Publicly funded information is "privatised" and thus not freely available.[1]

The idea behind patents is that the fundamentals of an invention are made public while the inventor for a limited time has the exclusive right to make, use or sell the invention. But there are quite a few cases in which patents have been used to suppress innovation.[2] Companies may take out a patent, or buy someone else's patent, in order to inhibit others from applying the ideas. From its beginning in 1875, the US company AT&T collected patents in order to ensure its monopoly on telephones. It slowed down the introduction of radio for some 20 years. In a similar fashion, General Electric used control of patents to retard the introduction of fluorescent lights, which were a threat to its sales of incandescent lights. Trade secrets are another way to suppress technological development. Trade secrets are protected by law but, unlike patents, do not have to be published openly. They can be overcome legitimately by independent development or reverse engineering.

Biological information can now be claimed as intellectual property. US courts have ruled that genetic sequences can be patented, even when the sequences are found "in nature," so long as some artificial means are involved in isolating them. This has led companies to race to take out patents on numerous genetic codes. In some cases, patents have been granted covering all transgenic forms of an entire species, such as soybeans or cotton, causing enormous controversy and sometimes reversals on appeal. One consequence is a severe inhibition on research by non-patent holders. Another consequence is that transnational corporations are patenting genetic materials found in Third World plants and animals, so that some Third World peoples actually have to pay to use seeds and other genetic materials that have been freely available to them for centuries.

More generally, intellectual property is one more way for rich countries to extract wealth from poor countries. Given the enormous exploitation of poor peoples built into the world trade system, it would only seem fair for ideas produced in rich countries to be provided at no cost to poor countries. Yet in the GATT negotiations, representatives of rich countries, especially the US, have insisted on strengthening intellectual property rights.[3] Surely there is no better indication that intellectual property is primarily of value to those who are already powerful and wealthy.

The potential financial returns from intellectual property are said to provide an incentive for individuals to create. In practice, though, most creators do not actually gain much benefit from intellectual property. Independent inventors are frequently ignored or exploited. When employees of corporations and governments have an idea worth protecting, it is usually copyrighted or patented by the organisation, not the employee. Since intellectual property can be sold, it is usually the rich and powerful who benefit. The rich and powerful, it should be noted, seldom contribute much intellectual labour to the creation of new ideas.

These problems--privatisation of government information, suppression of patents, ownership of genetic information and information not owned by the true creator--are symptoms of a deeper problem with the whole idea of intellectual property. Unlike goods, there are no physical obstacles to providing an abundance of ideas. (Indeed, the bigger problem may be an oversupply of ideas.) Intellectual property is an attempt to create an artificial scarcity in order to give rewards to a few at the expense of the many. Intellectual property aggravates inequality. It fosters competitiveness over information and ideas, whereas cooperation makes much more sense. In the words of Peter Drahos, researcher on intellectual property, "Intellectual property is a form of private sovereignty over a primary good--information."[4]

Here are some examples of the abuse of power that has resulted from the power to grant sovereignty over information.

The neem tree is used in India in the areas of medicine, toiletries, contraception, timber, fuel and agriculture. Its uses have been developed over many centuries but never patented. Since the mid 1980s, US and Japanese corporations have taken out over a dozen patents on neem-based materials. In this way, collective local knowledge developed by Indian researchers and villagers has been expropriated by outsiders who have added very little to the process.[5]

Charles M. Gentile is a US photographer who for a decade had made and sold artistic posters of scenes in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1995 he made a poster of the I. M. Pei building, which housed the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. This time he got into trouble. The museum sued him for infringing the trademark that it had taken out on its own image. If buildings can be registered as trademarks, then every painter, photographer and film-maker might have to seek permission and pay fees before using the images in their art work. This is obviously contrary to the original justification for intellectual property, which is to encourage the production of artistic works.

Prominent designer Victor Papanek writes: "...there is something basically wrong with the whole concept of patents and copyrights. If I design a toy that provides therapeutic exercise for handicapped children, then I think it is unjust to delay the release of the design by a year and a half, going through a patent application. I feel that ideas are plentiful and cheap, and it is wrong to make money from the needs of others. I have been very lucky in persuading many of my students to accept this view. Much of what you will find as design examples throughout this book has never been patented. In fact, quite the opposite strategy prevails: in many cases students and I have made measured drawings of, say, a play environment for blind children, written a description of how to build it simply, and then mimeographed drawings and all. If any agency, anywhere, will write in, my students will send them all the instructions free of charge."[6]

In 1980, a book entitled Documents on Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1968-1975 was published by George Munster and Richard Walsh. It reproduced many secret government memos, briefings and other documents concerning Australian involvement in the Vietnam war, events leading up to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, and other issues. Exposure of this material deeply embarrassed the Australian government. In an unprecedented move, the government issued an interim injunction, citing both the Crimes Act and the Copyright Act. The books, just put on sale, were impounded. Print runs of two major newspapers with extracts from the book were also seized.

The Australian High Court ruled that the Crimes Act did not apply, but that the material was protected by copyright held by the government. Thus copyright, set up to encourage artistic creation, was used to suppress dissemination of documents for whose production copyright was surely no incentive. Later, Munster and Walsh produced a book using summaries and short quotes in order to present the information.[7]

Scientology is a religion in which only certain members at advanced stages of enlightenment have access to special information, which is secret to others. Scientology has long been controversial, with critics maintaining that it exploits members. Some critics, including former Scientologists, have put secret documents from advanced stages on the Internet. In response, church officials invoked copyright. Police have raided homes of critics, seizing computers, disks and other equipment. This is all rather curious, since the stated purpose of copyright is not to hide information but rather to stimulate production of new ideas.[8]

The following examples show that the uncertainty of intellectual property law encourages ambit claims that seem to be somewhat plausible. Some targets of such claims give in for economic reasons.

Ashleigh Brilliant is a "professional epigrammatist." He creates and copyrights thousands of short sayings, such as "Fundamentally, there may be no basis for anything." When he finds someone who has "used" one of his epigrams, he contacts them demanding a payment for breach of copyright. Television journalist David Brinkley wrote a book, Everyone is Entitled to My Opinion, the title of which he attributed to a friend of his daughter. Brilliant contacted Brinkley about copyright violation. Random House, Brinkley's publisher, paid Brilliant $1000 without contesting the issue, perhaps because it would have cost more than this to contest it.[9]

Lawyer Robert Kunstadt has proposed that athletes could patent their sporting innovations, such as the "Fosbury flop" invented by high jumper Dick Fosbury. This might make a lot of money for a few stars. It would also cause enormous disputes. Athletes already have a tremendous incentive to innovate if it helps their performance. Patenting of basketball moves or choreography steps would serve mainly to limit the uptake of innovations and would mainly penalise those with fewer resources to pay royalties.

The US National Basketball Association has sued in court for the exclusive right to transmit the scores of games as they are in progress. It had one success but lost on appeal.[10]

A Scottish newspaper, The Shetland Times, went to court to stop an online news service from making a hypertext link to its web site. If hypertext links made without permission were made illegal, this would undermine the World Wide Web.[11]

These examples show that intellectual property has become a means for exerting power in ways quite divorced from its original aim--promoting the creation and use of new ideas.

Critique of standard justifications

Edwin C. Hettinger has provided an insightful critique of the main arguments used to justify intellectual property, so it is worthwhile summarising his analysis.[12] He begins by noting the obvious argument against intellectual property, namely that sharing intellectual objects still allows the original possessor to use them. Therefore, the burden of proof should lie on those who argue for intellectual property.

The first argument for intellectual property is that people are entitled to the results of their labour. Hettinger's response is that not all the value of intellectual products is due to labour. Nor is the value of intellectual products due to the work of a single labourer, or any small group. Intellectual products are social products.

Suppose you have written an essay or made an invention. Your intellectual work does not exist in a social vacuum. It would not have been possible without lots of earlier work--both intellectual and nonintellectual--by many other people. This includes your teachers and parents. It includes the earlier authors and inventors who provided the foundation for your contribution. It also includes the many people who discussed and used ideas and techniques, at both theoretical and practical levels, and provided a cultural foundation for your contribution. It includes the people who built printing presses, laid telephone cables, built roads and buildings and in many other ways contributed to the "construction" of society. Many other people could be mentioned. The point is that any piece of intellectual work is always built on and is inconceivable without the prior work of numerous people.

Hettinger points out that the earlier contributors to the development of ideas are not present. Today's contributor therefore cannot validly claim full credit.

Is the market value of a piece of an intellectual product a reasonable indicator of a person's contribution? Certainly not. As noted by Hettinger and as will be discussed in the next section, markets only work once property rights have been established, so it is circular to argue that the market can be used to measure intellectual contributions. Hettinger summarises this point in this fashion: "The notion that a laborer is naturally entitled as a matter of right to receive the market value of her product is a myth. To what extent individual laborers should be allowed to receive the market value of their products is a question of social policy."

A related argument is that people have a right to possess and personally use what they develop. Hettinger's response is that this doesn't show that they deserve market values, nor that they should have a right to prevent others from using the invention.

A second major argument for intellectual property is that people deserve property rights because of their labour. This brings up the general issue of what people deserve, a topic that has been analysed by philosophers. Their usual conclusions go against what many people think is "common sense." Hettinger says that a fitting reward for labour should be proportionate to the person's effort, the risk taken and moral considerations. This sounds all right--but it is not proportionate to the value of the results of the labour, whether assessed through markets or by other criteria. This is because the value of intellectual work is affected by things not controlled by the worker, including luck and natural talent. Hettinger says "A person who is born with extraordinary natural talents, or who is extremely lucky, deserves nothing on the basis of these characteristics."

A musical genius like Mozart may make enormous contributions to society. But being born with enormous musical talents does not provide a justification for owning rights to musical compositions or performances. Likewise, the labour of developing a toy like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that becomes incredibly popular does not provide a justification for owning rights to all possible uses of turtle symbols.

What about a situation where one person works hard at a task and a second person with equal talent works less hard? Doesn't the first worker deserve more reward? Perhaps so, but property rights do not provide a suitable mechanism for allocating rewards. The market can give great rewards to the person who successfully claims property rights for a discovery, with little or nothing for the person who just missed out.

A third argument for intellectual property is that private property is a means for promoting privacy and a means for personal autonomy. Hettinger responds that privacy is protected by not revealing information, not by owning it. Trade secrets cannot be defended on the grounds of privacy, because corporations are not individuals. As for personal autonomy, copyrights and patents aren't required for this.

A fourth argument is that rights in intellectual property are needed to promote the creation of more ideas. The idea is that intellectual property gives financial incentives to produce ideas. Hettinger thinks that this is the only decent argument for intellectual property. He is still somewhat sceptical, though. He notes that the whole argument is built on a contradiction, namely that in order to promote the development of ideas, it is necessary to reduce people's freedom to use them. Copyrights and patents may encourage new ideas and innovations, but they also restrict others from using them freely.

This argument for intellectual property cannot be resolved without further investigation. Hettinger says that there needs to be an investigation of how long patents and copyrights should be granted, to determine an optimum period for promoting intellectual work.

For the purposes of technological innovation, information becomes more valuable when augmented by new information: innovation is a collective process. If firms in an industry share information by tacit cooperation or open collaboration, this speeds innovation and reduces costs. Patents, which put information into the market and raise information costs, actually slow the innovative process.[13]

It should be noted that although the scale and pace of intellectual work has increased over the past few centuries, the duration of protection of intellectual property has not been reduced, as might be expected, but greatly increased. The US government did not recognise foreign copyrights for much of the 1800s. Where once copyrights were only for a period of a few decades, they now may be for the life of the author plus 70 years. In many countries, chemicals and pharmaceuticals were not patentable until recently. This suggests that even if intellectual property can be justified on the basis of fostering new ideas, this is not the driving force behind the present system of copyrights and patents. After all, few writers feel a greater incentive to write and publish just because their works are copyrighted for 70 years after they die, rather than just until they die.

Of various types of intellectual property, copyright is especially open for exploitation. Unlike patents, copyright is granted without an application and lasts far longer. Originally designed to encourage literary and artistic work, it now applies to every memo and doodle and is more relevant to business than art. There is no need to encourage production of business correspondence, so why is copyright applied to it?[14]

Intellectual property is built around a fundamental tension: ideas are public but creators want private returns. To overcome this tension, a distinction developed between ideas and their expression. Ideas could not be copyrighted but their expression could. This peculiar distinction was tied to the romantic notion of the autonomous creator who somehow contributes to the common pool of ideas without drawing from it. This package of concepts apparently justified authors in claiming residual rights--namely copyright--in their ideas after leaving their hands, while not giving manual workers any rationale for claiming residual rights in their creations.[15] In practice, though, the idea-expression distinction is dubious and few of the major owners of intellectual property have the faintest resemblance to romantic creators.

The marketplace of ideas

The idea of intellectual property has a number of connections with the concept of the marketplace of ideas, a metaphor that is widely used in discussions of free speech. To delve a bit more deeply into the claim that intellectual property promotes development of new ideas, it is therefore helpful to scrutinise the concept of the marketplace of ideas.

The image conveyed by the marketplace of ideas is that ideas compete for acceptance in a market. As long as the competition is fair--which means that all ideas and contributors are permitted access to the marketplace--then good ideas will win out over bad ones. Why? Because people will recognise the truth and value of good ideas. On the other hand, if the market is constrained, for example by some groups being excluded, then certain ideas cannot be tested and examined and successful ideas may not be the best ideas.

Logically, there is no reason why a marketplace of ideas has to be a marketplace of owned ideas: intellectual property cannot be strictly justified by the marketplace of ideas. But because the marketplace metaphor is an economic one, there is a strong tendency to link intellectual property with the marketplace of ideas. As discussed later, there is a link between these two concepts, but not in the way their defenders usually imagine.

There are plenty of practical examples of the failure of the marketplace of ideas. Groups that are stigmatised or that lack power seldom have their viewpoints presented. This includes ethnic minorities, prisoners, the unemployed, manual workers and radical critics of the status quo, among many others. Even when such groups organise themselves to promote their ideas, their views are often ignored while the media focus on their protests, as in the case of peace movement rallies and marches.

Demonstrably, good ideas do not always win out in the marketplace of ideas. To take one example, the point of view of workers is frequently just as worthy as that of employers. Yet there is an enormous imbalance in the presentation of their respective viewpoints in the media. One result is that quite a few ideas that happen to serve the interests of employers at the expense of workers--such as that the reason people don't have jobs is because they aren't trying hard enough to find them--are widely accepted although they are rejected by virtually all informed analysts.

There is a simple and fundamental reason for the failure of the marketplace of ideas: inequality, especially economic inequality.[16] Perhaps in a group of people sitting in a room discussing an issue, there is some prospect of a measured assessment of different ideas. But if these same people are isolated in front of their television sets, and one of them owns the television station, it is obvious that there is little basis for testing of ideas. The reality is that powerful and rich groups can promote their ideas with little chance of rebuttal from those with different perspectives. As described in chapter 2, the mass media are powerful enterprises that promote their own interests as well as those of governments and corporations.

In circumstances where participants are approximate equals, such as intellectual discussion among peers in an academic discipline, then the metaphor of competition of ideas has some value. But ownership of media or ideas is hardly a prerequisite for such discussion. It is the equality of power that is essential. To take one of many possible examples, when employees in corporations lack the freedom to speak openly without penalty they cannot be equal participants in discussions (see chapter 5).

Some ideas are good--in the sense of being valuable to society--but are unwelcome. Some are unwelcome to powerful groups, such as that governments and corporations commit horrific crimes or that there is a massive trade in technologies of torture and repression that needs to be stopped. Others are challenging to much of the population, such as that imprisonment does not reduce the crime rate or that financial rewards for good work on the job or grades for good schoolwork are counterproductive.[17] (Needless to say, individuals might disagree with the examples used here. The case does not rest on the examples themselves, but on the existence of some socially valuable ideas that are unwelcome and marginalised.) The marketplace of ideas simply does not work to treat such unwelcome ideas with the seriousness they deserve. The mass media try to gain audiences by pleasing them, not by confronting them with challenging ideas.[18]

The marketplace of ideas is often used to justify free speech. The argument is that free speech is necessary in order for the marketplace of ideas to operate: if some types of speech are curtailed, certain ideas will not be available on the marketplace and thus the best ideas will not succeed. This sounds plausible. But it is possible to reject the marketplace of ideas while still defending free speech on the grounds that it is essential to human liberty.

If the marketplace of ideas doesn't work, what is the solution? The usual view is that governments should intervene to ensure that all groups have fair access to the media. But this approach, based on promoting equality of opportunity, ignores the fundamental problem of economic inequality. Even if minority groups have some limited chance to present their views in the mass media, this can hardly compensate for the massive power of governments and corporations to promote their views. In addition, it retains the role of the mass media as the central mechanism for disseminating ideas. So-called reform proposals either retain the status quo or introduce government censorship.

Underlying the market model is the idea of self-regulation: the "free market" is supposed to operate without outside intervention and, indeed, to operate best when outside intervention is minimised. In practice, even markets in goods do not operate autonomously: the state is intimately involved in even the freest of markets. In the case of the marketplace of ideas, the state is involved both in shaping the market and in making it possible, for example by promoting and regulating the mass media. The world's most powerful state, the US, has been the driving force behind the establishment of a highly protectionist system of intellectual property, using power politics at GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Courts may use the rhetoric of the marketplace of ideas but actually interpret the law to support the status quo. For example, speech is treated as free until it might actually have some consequences. Then it is curtailed when it allegedly presents a "clear and present danger," such as when peace activists expose information supposedly threatening to "national security". But speech without action is pointless. True liberty requires freedom to promote one's views in practice.[19] Powerful groups have the ability to do this. Courts only intervene when others try to do the same.

As in the case of trade generally, a property-based "free market" serves the interests of powerful producers. In the case of ideas, this includes governments and corporations plus intellectuals and professionals linked with universities, entertainment, journalism and the arts. Against such an array of intellectual opinion, it is very difficult for other groups, such as manual workers, to compete.[20] The marketplace of ideas is a biased and artificial market that mostly serves to fine-tune relations between elites and provide them with legitimacy.[21]

The implication of this analysis is that intellectual property cannot be justified on the basis of the marketplace of ideas. The utilitarian argument for intellectual property is that ownership is necessary to stimulate production of new ideas, because of the financial incentive. This financial incentive is supposed to come from the market, whose justification is the marketplace of ideas. If, as critics argue, the marketplace of ideas is flawed by the presence of economic inequality and, more fundamentally, is an artificial creation that serves powerful producers of ideas and legitimates the role of elites, then the case for intellectual property is unfounded. Intellectual property can only serve to aggravate the inequality on which it is built.

The alternative

The alternative to intellectual property is straightforward: intellectual products should not be owned. That means not owned by individuals, corporations, governments, or the community as common property. It means that ideas are available to be used by anyone who wants to.

One example of how this might operate is language, including the words, sounds and meaning systems with which we communicate every day. Spoken language is free for everyone to use. (Actually, corporations do control bits of language through trademarks and slogans.)

Another example is scientific knowledge. Scientists do research and then publish their results. A large proportion of scientific knowledge is public knowledge. There are some areas of science that are not public, such as classified military research. It is usually argued that the most dynamic parts of science are those with the least secrecy. Open ideas can be examined, challenged, modified and improved. To turn scientific knowledge into a commodity on the market, as is happening with genetic engineering, arguably inhibits science.

Few scientists complain that they do not own the knowledge they produce. Indeed, they are much more likely to complain when corporations or governments try to control dissemination of ideas. Most scientists receive a salary from a government, corporation or university. Their livelihoods do not depend on royalties from published work.

University scientists have the greatest freedom. The main reasons they do research are for the intrinsic satisfaction of investigation and discovery--a key motivation for many of the world's great scientists--and for recognition by their peers. To turn scientific knowledge into intellectual property would dampen the enthusiasm of many scientists for their work. However, as governments reduce their funding of universities, scientists and university administrations increasingly turn to patents as a source of income.

Language and scientific knowledge are not ideal; indeed, they are often used for harmful purposes. It is difficult to imagine, though, how turning them into property could make them better.

The case of science shows that vigorous intellectual activity is quite possible without intellectual property, and in fact that it may be vigorous precisely because information is not owned. But there are lots of areas that, unlike science, have long operated with intellectual property as a fact of life. What would happen without ownership of information? Many objections spring to mind.


Many intellectual workers fear being plagiarised and many of them think that intellectual property provides protection against this. After all, without copyright, why couldn't someone put their name on your essay and publish it? Actually, copyright provides very little protection against plagiarism.[22] So-called "moral rights" of authors to be credited are backed by law in many countries but are an extremely cumbersome way of dealing with plagiarism.

Plagiarism means using the ideas of others without adequate acknowledgment. There are several types of plagiarism. One is plagiarism of ideas: someone takes your original idea and, using different expression, presents it as their own. Copyright provides no protection at all against this form of plagiarism. Another type of plagiarism is word-for-word plagiarism, where someone takes the words you've written--a book, an essay, a few paragraphs or even just a sentence--and, with or without minor modifications, presents them as their own. This sort of plagiarism is covered by copyright--assuming that you hold the copyright. In many cases, copyright is held by the publisher, not the author.

In practice, plagiarism goes on all the time, in various ways and degrees,[23] and copyright law is hardly ever used against it. The most effective challenge to plagiarism is not legal action but publicity. At least among authors, plagiarism is widely condemned. For this reason, and because they seek to give credit where it's due, most writers do take care to avoid plagiarising.

There is an even more fundamental reason why copyright provides no protection against plagiarism: the most common sort of plagiarism is built into social hierarchies. Government and corporate reports are released under the names of top bureaucrats who did not write them; politicians and corporate executives give speeches written by underlings. These are examples of a pervasive misrepresentation of authorship in which powerful figures gain credit for the work of subordinates.[24] Copyright, if it has any effect at all, reinforces rather than challenges this sort of institutionalised plagiarism.


What about all the writers, inventors and others who depend for their livelihood on royalties? First, it should be mentioned that only a very few individuals make enough money from royalties to live on. For example, there are probably only a few hundred self-employed writers in the US.[25] Most of the rewards from intellectual property go to a few big companies. But the question is still a serious one for those intellectual workers who depend on royalties and other payments related to intellectual property.

The alternative in this case is some reorganisation of the economic system. Those few currently dependent on royalties could instead receive a salary, grant or bursary, just as most scientists do.

Getting rid of intellectual property would reduce the incomes of a few highly successful creative individuals, such as author Agatha Christie, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Publishers could reprint Christie's novels without permission, theatre companies could put on Webber's operas whenever they wished and Spielberg's films could be copied and screened anywhere. Jurassic Park and Lost World T-shirts, toys and trinkets could be produced at will. This would reduce the income of and, to some extent, the opportunities for artistic expression by these individuals. But there would be economic resources released: there would be more money available for other creators. Christie, Webber and Spielberg might be just as popular without intellectual property to channel money to them and their family enterprises.

The typical creative intellectual is actually worse off due to intellectual property. Consider an author who brings in a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars of royalty income per year. This is a tangible income, which creators value for its monetary and symbolic value. But this should be weighed against payments of royalties and monopoly profits when buying books, magazines, CDs and computer software.

Many of these costs are invisible. How many consumers, for example, realise how much they are paying for intellectual property when buying prescription medicines, paying for schools (through fees or taxes), buying groceries or listening to a piece of music on the radio? Yet in these and many other situations, costs are substantially increased due to intellectual property. Most of the extra costs go not to creators but to corporations and to bureaucratic overheads--such as patent offices and law firms--that are necessary to keep the system of intellectual property going.

Stimulating creativity

What about the incentive to create? Without the possibility of wealth and fame, what would stimulate creative individuals to produce works of genius? Actually, most creators and innovators are motivated by their own intrinsic interest, not by rewards. There is a large body of evidence showing, contrary to popular opinion, that rewards actually reduce the quality of work.[26] If the goal is better and more creative work, paying creators on a piecework basis, such as through royalties, is counterproductive.

In a society without intellectual property, creativity is likely to thrive. Most of the problems that are imagined to occur if there is no intellectual property--such as the exploitation of a small publisher that renounces copyright--are due to economic arrangements that maintain inequality. The soundest foundation for a society without intellectual property is greater economic and political equality. This means not just equality of opportunity, but equality of outcomes. This does not mean uniformity and does not mean levelling imposed from the top: it means freedom and diversity and a situation where people can get what they need but are not able to gain great power or wealth by exploiting the work of others. This is a big issue. Suffice it to say here that there are strong social and psychological arguments in favour of equality.[27]

Strategies for change

Intellectual property is supported by many powerful groups: the most powerful governments and the largest corporations. The mass media seem fully behind intellectual property, partly because media monopolies would be undercut if information were more freely copied and partly because the most influential journalists depend on syndication rights for their stories.

Perhaps just as important is the support for intellectual property from many small intellectual producers, including academics and freelance writers. Although the monetary returns to these intellectuals are seldom significant, they have been persuaded that they both need and deserve their small royalties. This is similar to the way that small owners of goods and land, such as homeowners, strongly defend the system of private property, whose main beneficiaries are the very wealthy who own vast enterprises based on many other people's labour. Intellectuals are enormous consumers as well as producers of intellectual work. A majority would probably be better off financially without intellectual property, since they wouldn't have to pay as much for other people's work.

Another problem in developing strategies is that it makes little sense to challenge intellectual property in isolation. If we simply imagine intellectual property being abolished but the rest of the economic system unchanged, then many objections can be made. Challenging intellectual property must involve the development of methods to support creative individuals.

Change thinking

Talking about "intellectual property" implies an association with physical property. Instead, it is better to talk about monopolies granted by governments, for example "monopoly privilege." This gives a better idea of what's going on and so helps undermine the legitimacy of the process. Associated with this could be an appeal to free market principles, challenging the barriers to trade in ideas imposed by monopolies granted to copyright and patent holders.

As well, a connection should be forged with ideals of free speech. Rather than talk of intellectual property in terms of property and trade, it should be talked about in terms of speech and its impediments. Controls over genetic information should be talked about in terms of public health and social welfare rather than property.

The way that an issue is framed makes an enormous difference to the legitimacy of different positions. Once intellectual property is undermined in the minds of many citizens, it will become far easier to topple its institutional supports.

Expose the costs

It can cost a lot to set up and operate a system of intellectual property. This includes patent offices, legislation, court cases, agencies to collect fees and much else. There is a need for research to calculate and expose these costs as well as the transfers of money between different groups and countries. A middle-ranking country from the First World, such as Australia, pays far more for intellectual property--mostly to the US--than it receives. Once the figures are available and understood, this will aid in reducing the legitimacy of the world intellectual property system.[28]

Reproduce protected works

From the point of view of intellectual property, this is called "piracy." (This is a revealing term, considering that such language is seldom used when, for example, a boss takes credit for a subordinate's work or when a Third World intellectual is recruited to a First World position. In each case, investments in intellectual work made by an individual or society are exploited by a different individual or society with more power.) This happens every day when people photocopy copyrighted articles, tape copyrighted music, or duplicate copyrighted software. It is precisely because illegal copying is so easy and so common that big governments and corporations have mounted offensives to promote intellectual property rights.

Unfortunately, illegal copying is not a very good strategy against intellectual property, any more than stealing goods is a way to challenge ownership of physical property. Theft of any sort implicitly accepts the existing system of ownership. By trying to hide the copying and avoiding penalties, the copiers appear to accept the legitimacy of the system.

Openly refuse to cooperate with intellectual property

This is far more powerful than illicit copying. The methods of nonviolent action can be used here, including noncooperation, boycotts and setting up alternative institutions. By being open about the challenge, there is a much greater chance of focussing attention on the issues at stake and creating a dialogue. By being principled in opposition, and being willing to accept penalties for civil disobedience to laws on intellectual property, there is a much greater chance of winning over third parties. If harsh penalties are applied to those who challenge intellectual property, this could produce a backlash of sympathy. Once mass civil disobedience to intellectual property laws occurs, it will be impossible to stop.

Something like that is already occurring. Because photocopying of copyrighted works is so common, there is seldom any attempt to enforce the law against small violators--to do so would alienate too many people. Copyright authorities therefore seek other means of collecting revenues from intellectual property, such as payments by institutions based on library copies.

Already there is mass discontent in India over the impact of the world intellectual property regime and patenting of genetic materials, with rallies of hundreds of thousands of farmers.[29] If this scale of protest could be combined with other actions that undermine the legitimacy of intellectual property, the entire system could be challenged.

Promote non-owned information

A good example is public domain software, which is computer software that is made available free to anyone who wants it. The developers of "freeware" gain satisfaction out of their intellectual work and out of providing a service to others. The Free Software Foundation has spearheaded the development and promotion of freeware. It "is dedicated to eliminating restrictions on people's right to use, copy, modify and redistribute computer programs" by encouraging people to develop and use free software.

A suitable alternative to copyright is shareright. A piece of freeware might be accompanied by the notice, "You may reproduce this material if your recipients may also reproduce it." This encourages copiers but refuses any of them copyright.

The Free Software Foundation has come up with another approach, called "copyleft." The Foundation states, "The simplest way to make a program free is to put it in the public domain, uncopyrighted. But this permits proprietary modified versions, which deny others the freedom to redistribute and modify; such versions undermine the goal of giving freedom to all users. To prevent this, `copyleft' uses copyright in a novel manner. Typically copyrights take away freedoms; copyleft preserves them. It is a legal instrument that requires those who pass on a program to include the rights to use, modify, and redistribute the code; the code and the freedoms become legally inseparable."[30] Until copyright is eliminated or obsolete, innovations such as copyleft are necessary to avoid exploitation of those who want to make their work available to others.

Develop principles to deal with credit for intellectual work

This is important even if credit is not rewarded financially. This would include guidelines for not misrepresenting another person's work. Intellectual property gives the appearance of stopping unfair appropriation of ideas although the reality is quite different. If intellectual property is to be challenged, people need to be reassured that misappropriation of ideas will not become a big problem.

More fundamentally, it needs to be recognised that intellectual work is inevitably a collective process. No one has totally original ideas: ideas are always built on the earlier contributions of others. (That's especially true of this chapter!) Furthermore, culture--which makes ideas possible--is built not just on intellectual contributions but also on practical and material contributions, including the rearing of families and construction of buildings. Intellectual property is theft, sometimes in part from an individual creator but always from society as a whole.

In a more cooperative society, credit for ideas would not be such a contentious matter. Today, there are vicious disputes between scientists over who should gain credit for a discovery. This is because scientists' careers and, more importantly, their reputations, depend on credit for ideas. In a society with less hierarchy and greater equality, intrinsic motivation and satisfaction would be the main returns from contributing to intellectual developments. This is quite compatible with everything that is known about human nature.[31] The system of ownership encourages groups to put special interests above general interests. Sharing information is undoubtedly the most efficient way to allocate productive resources. The less there is to gain from credit for ideas, the more likely people are to share ideas rather than worry about who deserves credit for them.

For most book publishers, publishing an argument against intellectual property raises a dilemma. If the work is copyrighted as usual, this clashes with the argument against copyright. On the other hand, if the work is not copyrighted, then unrestrained copying might undermine sales. It's worth reflecting on this dilemma as it applies to this book.

It is important to keep in mind the wider goal of challenging the corruptions of information power. Governments and large corporations are particularly susceptible to these corruptions. They should be the first targets in developing a strategy against intellectual property.

Freedom Press is not a typical publisher. It has been publishing anarchist writings since 1886, including books, magazines, pamphlets and leaflets. Remarkably, neither authors nor editors have ever been paid for their work. Freedom Press is concerned with social issues and social change, not with material returns to anyone involved in the enterprise.

Because it is a small publisher, Freedom Press would be hard pressed to enforce its claims to copyright even if it wanted to. Those who sympathise with the aims of Freedom Press and who would like to reproduce some of its publications therefore should consider practical rather than legal issues. Would the copying be on such a scale as to undermine Freedom Press's limited sales? Does the copying give sufficient credit to Freedom Press so as to encourage further sales? Is the copying for commercial or noncommercial purposes?

In answering such questions, it makes sense to ask Freedom Press. This applies whether the work is copyright or not. If asking is not feasible, or the copying is of limited scale, then good judgement should be used. In my opinion, using one chapter--especially this chapter!--for nonprofit purposes should normally be okay.

So in the case of Freedom Press, the approach should be to negotiate in good faith and to use good judgement in minor or urgent cases. Negotiation and good judgement of this sort will be necessary in any society that moves beyond intellectual property.

dear plagiarising bastard. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031983)

if you're going to trumpet Brian Martin's work, do it with a link and a few excerpts.

Against Intellectual Property, Chapter 3 of Information Liberation by Brian Martin []

Uhh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032032)

If Brian Martin is against Intellectual Property, what is the problem if an AC, who is not going to benefit if he gets modded up or down anyway, posts it? Its hypocritical to say that IP is bad and posting an article about why IP is bad is not acceptable.

Re:Uhh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032062)

because Brian Martin isn't against credit where it's due, you ass.

Re:Uhh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032081)

Glad to see that you have reduced argument down to petty name calling.

At least we know you still are intellectually hypocritical.

Re:Uhh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032127)

every AC isn't the same person, ass. i'm not the person who called out the original poster. regardless, your arguement relies on giving an author credit being the same as Martin's criticisms against IP - a position that holds no water if you have any familiarity at all with Martin's argument. in no way does Martin oppose recognition for your work, he opposes keeping your work out of the public domain to the detriment of those who would benefit most. if your argument had a shred of intelligence, i probably wouldn't have called you an ass, but seeing as it's wholly ignorant and confused, you're an ass.

Re:Uhh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032146)

every AC isn't the same person, ass.

I never made such claim and since you are going to call me names instead of posting logical arguments, I refuse to give you any more of my time.


Re:dear plagiarising bastard. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032103)

Uh. why? That's just stupid, the whole POINT is that you shouldn't have to do that. Personally, I think you should be free to post it so long as you don't claim you authored it (that would be fraud/plagiarism, a separate issue from whether you should be barred from passing on the information) - but in this case, no such claim was made, it was an AC post.

Re:dear plagiarising bastard. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032142)

failing to source is the same as claiming you wrote it.

Against intellectual property (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032019)

As one who makes a living from copyrighted works, I must reject your views. Quite simply it's in my best interest to maintain copyright law. Your reasons are just as subjective. This is fine. You are free to have your own opinion. But I disagree. And so do many, many others. I you don't like the law, try to get it changed. I will likewise try to keep the way it is. Let's see who wins.

Re:Against intellectual property (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032086)

Ultimately, those against copyright law will win in the end - you're fighting physics when you try to oppose decentralised information sharing. The socialist and bureaucratic copyright laws just won't be able to keep up.

Note that it wouldn't be the first time increased personal freedom has been bitterly faught by those that stand to gain from restriction - see the american civil war and slavery.

Re:Against intellectual property (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032130)

You are right I can't wait.. When all of the artists that love what they do can't make any money at it and start getting real jobs we won't have to hear about any more of these lawsuits because there won't be any artists to produce the music in question!


Everleet (785889) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032092)

Because expending our energies coming up with a system that's tolerable to everyone is out of the question. No, we'd rather wear ourselves out arguing "yes or no" long after it's been determined that neither of the positions really work.

Fear of standing up for one's self (5, Insightful)

LoadWB (592248) | more than 9 years ago | (#10031974)

This is all to common a theme these days. People are unwilling to stand up against tyranny, which is exactly what this legal campaign is. It's very similar, IMO, to the racketeering of DirecTV against people who had purchased smart card programming equipment.

If people would take a stand against the RIAA/MPAA when it comes a-knocking, a lot of light would be shed on their lair of demons. As said by the original poster, this would be a great chance to publically question the (RI|MP)AA about their calculations and figured, and tactics, and have the answers on record. Even if the individual being sued had a judgement made against him/her, I do not believe it would be anywhere near what the desired settlement would be, and it would finally set a precedence for limiting what could be sought in future cases.

If no one stands up against them, they will continue to rape and pillage the consumer. Think about "A Bug's Life,"; the RIAA/MPAA grasshoppers NEED us ants, and they KNOW we are strong and outnumber them, but somehow they are able to bully us into submission.

Re:Fear of standing up for one's self (2, Interesting)

Flaming Foobar (597181) | more than 9 years ago | (#10031991)

This is all to common a theme these days. People are unwilling to stand up against tyranny, which is exactly what this legal campaign is

No, they're just doing their job. If you aren't happy with their ways, stop buying music. That's the ticket. Soon they'll be bankrupt and the world will be a much better place.

Re:Fear of standing up for one's self (1)

st0rmshad0w (412661) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032096)

No, not really, its just that the concept of equal justice under the law seems to have gone ight out the window.

Re:Fear of standing up for one's self (4, Interesting)

bradword (806343) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032100)

TThere is one major flaw with everyone getting really pissed at the RIAA. Although I think their tactics are low and they are targeting the wrong people, they all have one thing in common. They are all committing illegal activities, and they know it. Although we like to think that just because millions of people are doing it, it somehow makes the action not quite as wrong, stealing music isn't legal.

I am not saying for a minute that I have never done it, but I would know that if I got caught it would be because I was doing something wrong, not just because 'the man' is after me. Same with this DirecTV thing. Their were cheating them out of programming by getting a smart card that was illegal and getting them products for free. Why is it that people think stealing technology is fine? I still can't go to the store and grab some Twinkies off the shelf and it be ok. And please don't give me this 'it doesn't cost them any money for me to share songs or TV' stuff. 'I would have never bought the CD anyways'. Well I don't think the 'I wasn't going to buy that Twinkie anyways' would work in court. You buy the CD for entertainment, and now you are taking it for free.

Again, I have done it myself, but at least I can admit to myself that it is wrong and I could get caught. If I did it would be 100% my own fault.

Actually (1)

yoshi_mon (172895) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032145)

Same with this DirecTV thing. Their were cheating them out of programming by getting a smart card that was illegal and getting them products for free.

Actually the DirectTV smartcard issue was a bit different. They went after anyone who had purchased the gear needed to reprogram the smartcards that they were using regardless of if they used it for that or in some cases even had DirectTV at all!

When the Revolution comes... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10031978)

The RIAA people are going to be the first against the wall.

Will of the People (5, Interesting)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 9 years ago | (#10031981)

Shouldn't it be up to the people to decide the laws, not organizations? When did it come to organizations, companies, being more powerful than the government? The government is suppose to be by, for, and of the People.

Re:Will of the People (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032042)

That ideal has not been a reality since shortly after the Constitution was written.

Re:Will of the People (1)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032065)

One real issue is the American school system not doing enough to grind in certain principles.

Update (1)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032098)

I'll clarify what I meant. There seems to be an overwhelming amount of people who see such sharing as okay. To say each and every person is doing something illegal seems contradictory when the laws which make such things illegal are suppose to be for the People.

Re:Will of the People (1)

nwbvt (768631) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032064)

Don't confuse popular opinions on slashdot with the will of the people. There still is widespread support for intellectual property within the general population.

Re:Will of the People (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032137)

Uh. Really? I haven't seen it recently. I use taxi drivers as a barometer for the mood of "Joe Average" and here (Ireland) NOT ONE supports current intellectual "property" regimes (and yes, they do understand the issues - Joe Average is either very smart in Ireland or humans are pretty smart anyway (and I go with the latter)).

Re:Will of the People (1)

dirk (87083) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032153)

The law is made by the people. The people elect their congress-critters. Yes, said congress-critters listen to companies a lot, because that is where their money comes from, but the companies do not elect them. In the US, the people get the kind of government they deserve, since they elect them. Unfortunatley, most people in thsi country want a crappy government so they vote for the same people over and over again. It also doesn't help that our election system only works with 2 parties, and any more than that means the least popular person will probably be elected.

Case disclosure (2, Interesting)

failedlogic (627314) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032001)

As part of a fair trial, wouldn't the RIAA have to supply a list of the songs it accuses you of downloading? If so, one could go to the store and buy the songs before the trial. Lose the receipts so there's no correlation between the trial date and the date you downloaded the song. Then in court, you prove to the RIAA you already owned copies of the songs.

Better yet, go to a used record store and save some money in the process!

Re:Case disclosure (1)

rootofevil (188401) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032040)

not to mention buying used gets you older looking discs. if they have any that are cracked/scratched beyond usability thats even better, as it lends credibility to the "i had to encode it lest i not be able to use this crappy medium anymore" defense.

but seriously, unless you buy them used, you are just adding fuel to the fire by buying from them at all.

Re:Case disclosure (3, Insightful)

mtempsch (524313) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032056)

a list of the songs it accuses you of downloading?

From the article: "lawsuits that the RIAA filed against individuals charged with illegally sharing songs" (emphasis mine)

Re:Case disclosure (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032060)

As part of a fair trial, wouldn't the RIAA have to supply a list of the songs it accuses you of downloading? If so, one could go to the store and buy the songs before the trial. Lose the receipts so there's no correlation between the trial date and the date you downloaded the song. Then in court, you prove to the RIAA you already owned copies of the songs.

What good would that do? They're suing uploaders, not downloaders. However many copies of the song you own, you aren't entitled to make duplicates for random strangers.

Re:Case disclosure (1)

a_n_d_e_r_s (136412) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032076)

Sorry but sharing a song to _anyone_ is a copyright infringement - even if you own the CD. You may however loan it to a very good pal of yours - but letting anyone download it are infringement.

In other news... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032002)

The RIAA announced today the purchase of a large wood chipper. They insist that it is for the destruction of unsold copies of Chris Gaines and Spice Girls albums, but RIAA watchers remain skeptical.

Wow (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032050)

I've never had a situation like this before, where there are powerful plaintiffs and powerful lawyers on one side and then a whole slew of ordinary folks on the other side.

I guess she's never worked in criminal court.

"being ground up" (-1, Redundant)

Compact Dick (518888) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032051)

... and in the freezer? Just like how I like my women?

The metacase (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032070)

Don't steal music. It's that simple.

Don't support artists that support what you don't like.

Don't be a lame-ass lemming who can't possibly live without the latest 15-minute-hit song.

Wave the flag all you want but nothing will change unless you hit them in their pocketbooks. But you're too weak to do that, aren't you.

Americans don't care about their Constitution; we've proved that by the way we act. The Courts, which also don't care about the Constitution, and are too technically ignorant to accurately grasp the nature and scope of the cases brought before them generally decide along this line:

'Quit disrupting Business. What are you, some kind of fascist?'

We didn't get here overnight and we're not going to get home overnight either, but if you can't bring yourselves to obey even a bad law because it's inconvenient how are you ever going to see the bigger fight, let alone win it?

You're becoming the flaccid little sheep that authoritarian governments dream about.

The metacase revisited (1, Interesting)

linuxislandsucks (461335) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032109)

Copying an mp3 file to replace a cd that you bought is under the fair use requiremnts set up by court cases RIAA particpated in..its legall!!

Copying music mp3 files of music you do not own and do not sell is also allowed uner the fair use guidelines for music..

Warning the 2nd fair use req stated above only applies to music..

Read the cases and law before you leap not after...

Judge isn't too bright (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032079)

'I've never had a situation like this before, where there are powerful plaintiffs and powerful lawyers on one side and then a whole slew of ordinary folks on the other side,' said U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner

This judge hasn't seen many cases. The situation she describes is very common in lawsuits & criminal trials (especially death penalty cases).

Bout time (5, Funny)

mehaiku (754091) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032082)

I am so happy to see that fine, upstanding corporate citizens such as the RIAA, are finally having their day in court. Our society will never be able to progress and move forward until the plebeian consumers finally understand their proper place in society. This example serves to prove why corporations should finally be given the right to vote in elections, according to how much money they attribute to the economy. Only when the corporations move forward, can the rest of our society follow.

Equal Protection under the Law (5, Interesting)

RocketScientist (15198) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032083)

OK, here's my little mini-rant on the topic of legal protection and public health care.

Nowhere in the Constitution of the United States or the amendments thereto is there a guarantee for health insurance. Or a guarantee that the government will take care of your doctor and drug bills when you get old. Nowhere. Go, read it, I'll wait.

Done? OK, but you'll notice in several places a reference to "equal protection under the law".

Don't socialize medicine. Socialize the legal profession. There's a constitutional basis for it, or at least more of a constitutional basis for it than socializing medicine. Give everyone equal protection in a court of law, something these people (and people accused of drug offenses) don't have.

Let's have lawyers like the Canadians have doctors. Let's have Johnnie Chochran representing some rich white kid who downloaded music from whatever kids are downloading with these days, and let's have it cost him absolutely nothing.

Re:Equal Protection under the Law (1)

nwbvt (768631) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032148)

I hate to tell you this, but your idea has already been implemented. Everyone has a right to a lawyer, and if you cannot afford your own the court will apoint you one. No, it most likely will not be Johnnie Chochran, as you don't have a right to a specific lawyer (that would violate Johnnie Chochran's rights).

Re:Equal Protection under the Law (2, Funny)

Draknor (745036) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032151)

I think this is a wonderful idea! Unfortunately, I don't have much faith that it would ever happen, since lawyers tend to be a very powerful lobby, not to mention that many of our Congress-critters are lawyers, and trying to "socialize" them would produce probably the loudest screams for "free market!" and "capitalism!" that this country has ever heard.

Still, it's fun to dream about :)

Gee (4, Insightful)

nwbvt (768631) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032087)

People who broke the law are forced to pay fines. Its almost as if they were not supposed to break the law in the first place.

Bring it on mods.

gathering evidence (1)

SQLz (564901) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032099)

I was wondering, even though its P2P, is it legal for the RIAA to gather evidence how they do? Maybe I don't mind some people in my computer but I don't want the RIAA poking around in my files without my permission.

False Positives (1)

thermopylae300 (583506) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032123)

How would one go about giving their P2P bots false positives? I don't share any files illegally, but I think it would be amusing to see them accuse someone of doing it that actually wasn't.

How it ought to be done (2, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032134)

I would change copyright law to model punishment for not-for-profit file sharing violations on traffic speeding.

For speeding, (which is arguably a more serious offense than file sharing because lives are put at risk) we have a system where people are caught and given a ~$100 fine on the spot. They can choose to drag it out in court later, but most don't.

Some items:

Cars have license plates. Likewise, IP addresses shouldn't necessarily be deep secrets. Put in place a system for instant subpoena of a suspected offending IP to obtain the user account.

Only cops hand out traffic tickets. Likewise, a copyright holder would have to work through law enforcement authorities to initiate any action against suspected violators. Remove all civil liability for small-time file sharing; make it purely a petty misdemeanor. An enforcement officer would verify that the copyrighted files in question were indeed available on the IP address in the complaint.

To prevent abuse of the above system, the suspected account owner would need to be notified in real time whenever such a subpoena is issued. This would detail who was requesting the IP address info and what for. This would be similar to the speeding system, where you usually can plainly see the police car with the radar on the side of the road once you get close enough.

If the suspected activity is confirmed, law enforcement authorities would mail out a ticket for ~$100. The fine would provide the funds to pay for this system. If the suspected infringer voluntarily pays the fine, it's the end of the story.

If the suspected infringer goes to court to defend himself and is found to have been falsely accused, they would be eligible for compensation of ~$5000 from the accuser. This would prevent excessive abuse from the **AA.

I think that this kind of system would essentially halt illegal file sharing (at least within the borders of a single country) without causing undue stress on anyone or violating too many civil rights. To me it makes a lot more sense than trying to make examples by handing out harsh punishments to a small handful of unlucky suspects.

Legal defence insurance? (4, Informative)

Teun (17872) | more than 9 years ago | (#10032155)

Where I come from (The Netherlands) lots of people, if not most, have a Legal Support Insurance.
The Insurance might decline certain cases for example for gross misconduct but usually you've got some support when needed, typically for less than 50 Euros per year.

In cases like this it is not uncommon for such insurances to bundle their efforts, sometimes including consumer organisations, to get a more fundamental ruling.

Of course littigation on the scale we now see in the USofA is not (yet) as common/rampant in Europe.

It's about sharing, not downloading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10032157)

So many in this thread seem to think that these lawsuits are becouse of downloading. The truth is that in many countries (most scandinavian countries for example) downloading is perfectly legal. It's sharing/uploading/distributing material that you do not have a legal right to distribute that gets you in trouble. I have to say that as much as i sympathize with the small guys that get sued for sharing their music collection, they are still breaking the law. A 20dollar pricetag on a cd still does not give anyone the legal right to distribute that cd without permission from the the holder of the copyright (in most cases in the USA its prolly the RIAA). So basicly i'm saying, tough luck. You break the law knowingly distributing stuff you don't have the right to distribute, you get sued. That's the risk you take. Ofcourse the RIAA is trying to "bully" people to get it to stop. If that is an effetive method is a totally different question. If it's right that music costs so much is also a totally different question. The question at hand is that people distribute stuff that they don't have the right to distribute. I wonder how quickly people at slashdot would react if it were software that would get distributed that way... (specially software that pays their bills)...

Just my 2 euros... flame away...
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