Wednesday, June 06, 2007

EFF attorney weighs in on copyright infringement on campus, and challenges music industry


Fred von Lohmann, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, has an interesting op-ed “Copyright Silliness on Campus” in The Washington Post today (June 6) on p. A23, at this link.

I’ve taken up the controversy over lawsuits against home users (and college students) for illegal downloads and copyright infringement on this blog, on May 17 and March 30. (Check the archive links.) Lohmann makes the interesting comment, “At its heart, this is a fight about money, not morality.” Lohmann suggests that the music industry arrange with universities to set up accounts (charged on student fees) that would allow unlimited downloads that don’t expire, and that work on all devices (including iPod) and don’t run into copy protection and DRM. Some music companies and movie studios are beginning to experiment with elimination DRM copy protection, and that may be an encouraging sign.

But students should not simply have this taken care of for them by schools. They should know what they are paying for. Otherwise they will have the idea reinforced that all content is essentially “free”.

One thing that confounds this problem is that so many content providers (myself included) do offer a lot of free content on the Internet, in order to be “noticed.” This is the “free entry” mechanism. This helps encourage the notion that stuff is “free.” One of the concerns in the MGM v. Grokster case (decided 2005) was that the downstream liability issue could spread to other issues, like ISPs (although provisions of the 1996 CDA might have prevented that). Fortunately, the Court kept the downstream liability provisions narrow, to apply to businesses whose model depending upon encouraging infringement.

Music providers and movie studios need to work on providing work legally and packaged in ways that consumers want. They have been intransigent on this in the past (with over priced CD’s and the lack of availability of singles, but this has been changing). Netflix and Blockbuster certainly make high quality movie viewing available at home legally for low prices, and the issue is getting DVD’s made of more films and getting them out as soon as the theatrical runs are over. I am still waiting for the DVD of “Camp Out” (about a summer camp for gay Christians, as a reply to “Jesus Camp”), which I missed the one theatrical screening of.

On June 7, NBC4 in Washington DC reported that lala.com has a new model to compete with iTunes, and has paid a huge royalty to the music industry in order to offer instant "free" songs, intending ad revenue or making targeted music sales. Maybe this idea will help resolve this problem.

Update: 6/7/2007

Two important postings on other blogs:
Trademark Dilution Revision Act of 2006 passed.

Substitute teacher convicted for endangering minors because of a malware problem on a school system's network

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