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Posted by on Dec 24, 2008 in Media | 4 comments

End the Copyright War

Larry Lessig likens the Hollywood content industry’s battle against “peer-to-peer piracy” to the failed prohibition era battle against “intoxicating liquors.” Lessig believes that prosecuting online file sharing is turning a generation criminal:

The copyright industry has used every legal means within its reach (and some that may not be so legal) to stop Internet “pirates” from “sharing” copyrighted content without permission. These “copyright wars”—what the late Jack Valenti, former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, called his own “terrorist war” in which apparently the “terrorists” are our kids—have consumed an ever growing amount of legal resources. The Recording Industry Association of America alone has sued tens of thousands of individuals. These suits allege millions of dollars in damages. And schools across the nation have adopted strict policies to block activity that the Supreme Court in 2005 declared presumptively illegal. […]

[T]he single certain consequence from this battle has been one our government is strangely oblivious to: its rendering a generation criminal. A concerted campaign by rights holders, politicians, school administrators, and increasingly parents has convinced kids that their behavior violates the law. But that law breaking continues. We call our kids crooks; after a while, they believe it. And like black marketeers in Soviet Russia, they live life getting comfortable with the idea that what seems “obvious” and “reasonable” to them is a crime. They get used to being criminal.

This fact is deeply corrosive. As with Prohibition, it is profoundly corrupting. And over time, it will only weaken our kids’ respect for the law.

For its part the RIAA said last week it was abandoning its legal strategy of suing individuals for copyright infringement in favor of having the ISPs do the policing for them. Some of the ISPs are refusing to cooperate.

As to the RIAA claim that it has not initiated new litigation for months, Ray Beckerman at Recording Industry vs. The People was unable to find any evidence backing it up. Rather, he pointed to dozens of RIAA lawsuits filed within the past few weeks.

Cara Duckworth, an RIAA spokeswoman, e-mailed Wired’s Threat Level to say any suits recently filed were already in the “pipeline” for months.

Clearly, the war is not over. Rather, the battle lines have shifted some.

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  • Dave_Schuler

    An absurd and manifestly unjust law is weakening respect for the law. A good start at reform would be to repeal the 1999 Copyright Extension Act.

  • I’m torn here. On the one hand, I respect the right of creators to control their work. On the other, the ridiculous awards and demanded settlements do not endear the MPAA or the RIAA to me either. I agree that copyright goes on way too long nowadays, but let’s face it, kids aren’t downloading stuff from the 1930s and 1940s that should be public domain by now.

    • sh0ter

      Kids aren’t, but tech savvy adults are.

  • DLS

    Don’t forget an end to other bad laws against things like shoplifting and other forms of theft. Things cost too much! (Congress can start first by arbitrarily rewriting mortgage contracts without the lenders’ consent.)

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