Friday, October 03, 2008

EFF gives updated perspectives on RIAA, MPAA litigation: DMCA issues matter more that we think


Electronic Frontier Foundation has noted that the deluge of RIAA lawsuits against consumers started about five years ago, in 2003, and is running out of steam. The editorial is “RIAA Lawsuit Campaign Losing Credibility: EFF Releases Comprehensive Report on Five Years of File-Sharing Litigation,” link here. The editorial contains a secondary link to the detailed report, “RIAA v. The People: Five Years Later”.

The story suggests a desperate, out-of-control attempt to protect copyrights with many “innocent” victims. In a number of cases, people have been sued for activities of other household members. In some cases, people already owned legal copies of the CD’s. People typically get sudden phone calls (as if from bill collectors) demanding settlements. They are tracked down by IP address from their ISP’s through legal mechanisms supposedly authorized by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It’s possible for errors to occur, and for ordinary users to have to pay to defend themselves when they actually did nothing. EFF is urging that attorneys and judges insist that RIAA actually prove in every individual case. This whole episode does sound like an argument for tort reform.

EFF has urged that the industry adopt a voluntary collective license program.

EFF also discusses the litigation by the MPAA against RealDVD software, “Why MPAA Should Lose Against Real DVD,” link here.

Once again, we get to the issue of people making copies of DVD’s and CD’s “for their own use.” In fact, every DVD you rent from Netflix or Blockbuster contains an FBI copyright warning. If you wanted a permanent copy, then you have to pay a purchase price rather than a rental price, although for used DVD’s from Netflix the purchase price is not much more. I can remember back in the early 1960s making analog open reel tape copies of records (from direct jack links to the amplifier) with a friend, and we justified it “morally” by the fact that we each bought lots of classical records. There are some arcane arguments in this case as to whether the motion picture industry is entitled to the “presumption of irreparable harm” and as to whether RealDVD illegally circumvents the DMCA.

Most of us have seen the warnings against camcorder or cell photo photographing of movie images in theaters. A few people have actually been arrested and prosecuted. Now, a theater, according to its property rights, may prevent customers from bringing such instruments onto its property. But it all sounds silly. Thirty seconds of “Transformers” does not threaten the market for the film and in more ordinary copyright context might be “fair use”. Because I hope to make a movie of my own material myself some day, I can see both sides. It seems, however, that copyright law is consistently much tougher with images and video than text -- or is it: maybe that’s partly what the YouTube litigation is about. Potentially, there is a lot at stake for ordinary speakers and bloggers in the long run.

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