Monday, August 20, 2007

File sharing vs, Copyrights

Copyright laws have been the subject of much debate in recent years. With the passing of USA's Digital Millennium law (DMCA) many individuals have become the target of lawsuits from large and powerful media corporations. These corporations are now testing the boundaries of the mandate given to them by the U.S. legislator. On the other side of the debate (and perhaps the law) are the File sharing networks, allowing the mass distribution of digitized content, often copyrighted. This discussion is an attempt to make the case for both sides.

FileSharing – The file sharing industry have been a major pain for the RIAA , they have been trying to shut down any network they can. They got Napster, Kazaa, and recently Edonkey as well. Of course, the donkey network is still alive thanks to the Emule team. And the torrent network is very active. Also, the newsgroups are a source of content – its still file sharing, just not bandwidth/disk space/p2p sharing. While the law may unjustly support the prosecution of people who distribute copyrighted content, it has nothing to do with p2p file sharing itself. This technology has many different uses.

Copyrights – you can't seriously argue that the file sharing networks are a harmless tools for sharing original or non-copyrighted content. File sharing network transfer consists almost entirely of copyrighted materials – movies, music, games and other software. A tiny percentage of the data transferred is free information, such as open source software distribution.

FileSharing – well, I’m sure you know the "guns don’t kill people…" argument. The fact that file sharing network CAN be used for transferring copyrighted content is not reason to eliminate those networks. I’m sure you would also love to see rewritable digital media eliminated, along with hard drives, TiVo, flash-memory based devices and practically anything else that can be used to copy copyrighted content. But you can't start banning technology just because it might be used for illegal activities.

Copyrights - guns are used primarily to kill people. Much in the same way file sharing networks are used primarily to "share" copyrighted content. The difference is that guns are heavily regulated in most countries. The same goes for drugs – they can be used legally and illegally. Legal use of drugs is heavily regulated – you need a prescription to get any drug that might be addictive, and you are monitored while using it. None of this can be said for the file-sharing networks. They are completely unregulated. In fact, they are almost impossible to regulate – you need to penetrate many layers of anonymity before you can find out who is the person sharing material you have copyrights for. The RIAA does not have the legal authority to regulate file sharing networks, and even if the laws where changed to include regulation such regulation would probably be technologically impossible. The only real option is to seek legal action against providers of file-sharing services and against users of such networks who share material they don’t own the copyrights for.

FileSharing – so your argument is that if we can't regulate something, then we should ban it completely? This is a very problematic argument – first of all how do we define the limits of file sharing, is it the applications? The protocols? The concept? Second, many things cannot be regulated – the internet itself cannot be regulated. Should we bad website construction tools or website hosting because these things can be used to publish child pornography?

Copyrights – well, first of all, I am not saying that anything that cannot be regulated should be banned. Second, I am not saying that anything that might be used for immoral or illegal purpose must be banned or regulated – but I do think that in the particular case of file sharing networks, the primary use of existing technology is the illegal, immoral sharing of copyrighted material. Should the situation change – either by finding a way to regulate file-sharing networks, or by a comprehensive change in the type of materials shared on these networks, then I would have no problem with the technology itself. But as long as the primary use of these networks remains what it is today, I consider the providers of such services to be accomplices to these illegal activities.

FileSharing – this brings us to another major point of the argument – I can't argue with the statement that sharing copyrighted material is an illegal activity – there are laws in many countries that define such acts to be illegal. As soon as you manage to create a strong lobby supporting such laws - you make such activities illegal. In the 1920's the United States banned the production, transport and sale of alcohol. By instituting prohibition, the US government made a very popular activity illegal, and in the process made many people felons, giving rise to powerful criminal organization that still exist today. The argument made against the use of alcohol was its immoral nature, in the same way that copying copyrighted material is said to be immoral today.

Copyrights – the fact that many people wish to consume alcohol or share copyrighted material does not make such activities morally correct. I do not wish to defend prohibition, as I do not consider the consumption of alcohol to be immoral or to be a catalyst of immoral activities. I do wish to point out that alcohol use IS regulated - in many countries there is a limitation on the legal drinking age. As for stealing copyrighted martial – I don’t see how the immorality of such activities can be questioned.

FileSharing – by using the word "stealing" you effectively called millions of people world wide "thieves". I doubt that many members of the file sharing community would agree with that categorization. And yes – I do believe actual thieves would agree to call themselves "thieves". Theft and stealing is a concept generally reserved for physical property. By replicating copyrighted material the owner of the media in question does not lose anything – unlike actual theft – the theoretical offense is made here not against the owner of the physical media (if such media exists) , but against the owner of the copyrights to the material recorded on the media. When talking about theft you should demonstrate that one side has gained something, while the other side lost something. If no one lost anything, then how can you argue that something was stolen?

Copyrights – I do not agree that there was a "theoretical" offense, and that no one lost anything. If a person wants to use or own materials created by other people , it is reasonable to require that this person be given permission by the author to do so, if by paying for the permission, or by some other means acceptable to the author of the work in question. The loss here is not theoretical , its very real – when you download copyrighted material and enjoy the product without paying for the right to do so – a right other people DID pay for – you are denying the author appropriate compensation for the time, effort and creativity he invested.

I feel I cannot end this discussion with a clear conclusion, as there are valid points to be made for both sides. I also can’t keep arguing with myself forever :)

Join us next time for another argument of me vs. myself. And please feel free to suggest subjects for discussion.

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