Thursday, May 11, 2006

You can't copy that!

We are used to hearing that you are not allowed to copy music, films, books, or pictures. They are copyrighted. The owners' rights must be protected.

Fair enough... So what's copyright?

It's the right to control how works are reproduced, for a limited time.

And what's it for? Why do we allow people to control what other people do with books or CDs they have bought?
It's about justice, and pragmatism: Justice, because it's only fair that the author of a work should be allowed a reasonable chance to profit from it; and pragmatism, because if it's profitable, then more useful or beneficial works are likely to be produced.

But don't you buy the book, or CD, or DVD, or whatever?
Yes, and No. You own the physical copy, but you have only a license to use the music or software or whatever. And that license is very limited.

What about us, the consumers? Do we have any rights? Or researchers? They can't stop you from quoting them, can they?
No. There is something called fair dealing (in the UK) or fair use (in the US). It allows copies of part of a work to be made for study purposes, for example. Or parody. The rules vary. In the US you may be explicitly allowed to make a copy to listen to on your car hi-fi. In the UK, you may not be (we really could do with a formal statement of a sane and fair set of rights here).

So what's wrong with that?
Not very much - the basic principle is fair. Except that...

  • In the UK the consumer's rights are very limited. This should be fixed!

  • The copyright term keeps getting extended. In the USA it started as 17 years. It's been increased 11 times, most recently by 20 years. And it's never been decreased. That is pointless and bad:
    • Pointless because an extra 20 years of revenue on works produced by dead people won't give them an incentive to be more artistic or creative or whatever - it's just a handout to copyright holders (rarely the original artists);
    • Bad, because the public domain - the works we CAN use freely - becomes that much poorer, as all that content is suddenly snatched out of our hands.

  • A cunning trick called DRM (digital restriction methods, or digital "rights" management) is being planned by content distributors - film & TV studios, record companies, etc - to control even more what you can do with your CDs, your DVDs, your TV and video even.

    You know how you can record TV or even Radio programmes, to watch at your leisure? Or if you are studying them? Well, with new digital radio and high-definition TV, they want to be able to stop you. And your TV that you paid for will do the enforcing.

    Never mind whether you have a legal right to make a recording - at the whim of the content company, they will be able to turn off your recorder, or delete the recording automatically after you've made it.

    If you're still on holiday when your recording of Eastenders or Dr Who "expires", or if you're an historian who wants a record of what the Prime Minister actually told the country, too bad!

  • Greedy corporations - the people who called the video recorder the "Jack the Ripper" of entertainment, and tried to ban it - will decide what you can watch, and when you can watch it. "They" will own your TV & video, not you.

    That can't be good for innovation, for cheap and competitive gadgets that help you control how you watch TV or listen to music. It will protect today's technology and today's businesses with the might of the criminal law (using our taxes to pay for it all), and it will stifle progress.

  • And best of all, even if you have a legal right to make a copy, it will be a criminal offence to try to get round any sneaky DRM that might stop you from making those legal copies. It already is in the USA. You could go to jail for something you're legally entitled to do.

They will tell you it's about stopping piracy, but it isn't (and it won't work - the pirates have a way round all of this). It's about control. And it's about abolishing fair use, so the studios and record labels can charge you more and more money for less and less access to your films & music.

It isn't fair!

And guess what's being made compulsory in the next version of the globalisation treaties that shape our laws?

It's not protection for consumers, that's for sure!

1 comment:

Monique said...

I was fine with big brother watching me, but now the brat is dictating, editing and deleting parts of my life?! I've experienced some of this DRM when I have recorded TV and then tried to burn it to DVD - can't be done. Are there motivations beyond $$ for these copyright policies? hmmm you got me thinking...

ps - good to have you blogging again :-b