Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘copyright’

Making felons out of bloggers

Posted by Richard on June 3, 2011

Copyright law in this country is already pretty screwed up, and it's obvious that the entertainment industry has Washington wrapped around its little finger. But who would have thought that a bill like S.978 would be given serious consideration?

From time to time, I embed YouTube videos in my posts. As Mike Masnick noted, doing so if this poorly drafted bill passes could get me five years in the slammer:

If you embed a YouTube video that turns out to be infringing, and more than 10 people view it because of your link… you could be facing five years in jail. This is, of course, ridiculous, and suggests (yet again) politicians who are regulating a technology they simply do not understand.

This is so wrong in so many ways. First of all, as Masnick pointed out, the drafters seem to know little or nothing about such things as streaming, linking, and embedding, and they throw in an undefined phrase like "performing by electronic means" without a clue as to what the consequences are.

Secondly, what happened to fair use? When I embed a video on this blog, I don't charge people to watch or listen. How is what I'm doing any different from inviting some people over to my house and playing the same song or video? Or will that soon be a crime, too?

Thirdly, even if this is legitimately a copyright infringement, how in the world does it rise to the level of a felony with punishment comparable to burglary or bank robbery? Why isn't it simply a civil matter?

And furthermore, there's the issue of mens rea. It used to be a well-established (hundreds of years of common law precedent) principle of the law that, to be guilty of a criminal act, you have to have criminal intent. 

The critics of mens rea often pompously declare that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." Nonsense. With laws and regulations with the force of law now running into the millions of pages, how can anyone not be ignorant of the law (or at least a large portion of it)?

The "reasonable person" test should apply. If a video is posted on YouTube and hasn't been taken down at the request of the copyright holder, a reasonable person (like me) can reasonably presume that either it's not subject to copyright or the copyright holder has chosen to allow its dissemination.

S.978 deserves to die an ignominious death. Contact your senators and let them know what you think of this ridiculous bill. 

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$80,000 per song

Posted by Richard on June 29, 2009

I'm a proponent of intellectual property rights (an oft-debated issue in libertarian circles), but copyright law in this country has just gone totally off the deep end. I blame Mickey Mouse. The desire to ensure that no one other than Disney can ever create anything related to Mickey Mouse apparently means that copyright protections will grow into perpetuity.

The RIAA is also responsible for our legal system going to insane extremes protecting copyrights, and they've won another astonishing verdict in one of their lawsuits against consumers: 

A court has ruled that Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a 32-year-old mother of four, must pay $1.92 million in damages to record companies for illegally downloading 24 tracks off of file-sharing services like Kazaa.  This amounts to $80,000 per song.  This is one of the last few lawsuits in the courts pertaining to illegal downloads, as the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has said they will discontinue the suits in favor of working with ISPs to stop illegal downloads. 

Yeah, they've decided all those shysters whose shoes cost more than your computer are getting too expensive. So instead they're going after whatever little shreds of privacy you have left.  

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Are AP stories warrantied?

Posted by Richard on June 20, 2008

If you read any blogs at all, you've probably heard about the AP copyright kerfuffle. First, the AP went after the left-wing blog Drudge Retort for posting excerpts (33 to 79 words) from AP stories. Now, they want you to pay for permission to post excerpts, and the fee schedule starts at 5-25 words ($12.50). Apparently, the concept of fair use is utterly unknown to them.

They have a whole menu (with submenus!) of usage categories and fees. To check it out, go to this interesting story (which I don't dare tell you about because I might use the same words they do) and click Reuse Options above the headline (which I can't quote because it's more than five words). Select Post on Your Website… (that's four words; can't tell you the other two), and on the submenu, scroll down and select Excerpt for Web Use (whew, only four words in that one). Hey, they offer educational and non-profit discounts!

It must be nice being a really big-time blogger who rates media attention, because you can play turnabout. With a little effort, Michelle Malkin found two instances in the last two months when an AP story quoted something from her blog. Since their stories are published in many places, she's calculated (using their fee schedule) that they owe her and one of her commenters $132,125.

Allahpundit wondered:

What’s their game here, seriously? They’re turning themselves into laughingstocks and blogosphere pariahs while drumming up business for Reuters and AFP. If they’re trying to establish some sort of bright line beyond which excerpts can’t go without triggering infringement, then why not just lay down some reasonable-ish policy — two paragraphs maximum, say — and wait for someone to violate it, then sue to see if a court will enforce it? (Suspected answer: Because the court probably won’t and the AP knows it.) I’m mystified by their thought process.

But commenter Tantor had some really great questions about the AP policy:

If you buy words from a story by AP that turns out to be of defective quality or enemy propaganda presented as truth, what is their refund policy? Do you get your money back if the story is fake? Or maybe free words from some story in the future that is true? How long do you have to wait for a true story to appear?

What about fake photos? If AP foists some photoshopped photos from some terrorist sympathizer on you as absolutely true, do you get your money back?

I’ve got a lot of questions about this.

I believe that in many states there is an implied warranty of "fitness and merchantability" even if the seller doesn't offer an explicit warranty. I hope the people who find that they've bought "reuse" rights to one of the AP's many fake news stories will look into that.

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