What’s wrong with copyright?

by billso on Friday, 5 October 2007

Nilay Patel has posted his lat­est install­ment of Know Your Rights on Engad­get. Today’s sub­ject: why copy­right law is so complicated.

Patel dis­cusses the judg­ment in the RIAA peer-to-peer law­suit against Jam­mie Thomas of Brain­erd Min­nesota. Thomas was “found liable for copy­right infring­ment for shar­ing music online”, and was ordered to pay US$220,000 in dam­ages, as reported yes­ter­day in Engad­get , the New York Times , the Reg­is­ter, Wired and CNET. Thomas claims she will try to pay the award her­self, and she will not ask for finan­cial help. Then again, she won’t refuse dona­tions, either. Declan McCul­lagh posted his com­ments on CNET, and claimed that the judg­ment was far too high.

Set­tle with the RIAA… or else

Thomas had refused an ear­lier set­tle­ment offer from the RIAA. Sev­eral defen­dants have paid the indus­try orga­ni­za­tion an aver­age of US$4,000 to avoid a trial.

Fed­eral Dis­trict Court Judge Michael J. Davis issued a key rul­ing in the case that tipped the scales towards the music indus­try. Davis ruled that the record com­pa­nies and the RIAA did not have to prove that any songs had been trans­mit­ted from Thomas’ com­puter. Thomas had made 24 music files avail­able for shar­ing, and that act qual­i­fied as infringement.

Thomas didn’t help her own case when she gave dif­fer­ent answers about her computer’s hard drive. It was obvi­ous that she had replaced her hard drive. The indus­try lawyers claimed Thomas know­ingly wiped out evi­dence of her file-sharing activities.

The defen­dant also denied that she had a Kazaa account. Kazaa is a pop­u­lar file-sharing ser­vice. Lawyers pre­sented evi­dence that a Kazaa user­name was linked to the IP address of Thomas’ computer.

I do get ques­tions from stu­dents about how to down­load free music and video from the Inter­net. My usual answer is to find a legal source. There are plenty of sites like Legal­Tor­rents that offer free, licensed music for down­load. Many artists post free down­loads. There’s an unend­ing stream of give­aways and pro­mo­tions that give users a few free downloads.

Rip your CDs

There are also ser­vices that will rip or con­vert a user’s music CDs to music files. If you bought the CD, you do have the right to con­vert the songs to dig­i­tal files, as long as you do not share the files.

I’ve used one ser­vice, Music­Shifter, to con­vert most of my CD col­lec­tion to FLAC files. It took about 2 weeks from start to fin­ish, using USPS Pri­or­ity Mail. That’s much quicker than rip­ping the CDs one-at-a-time into iTunes on my own computer.

I could have ordered MP3 files, but FLAC files use a loss­less open source encod­ing stan­dard. This page on etree.org has a good dis­cus­sion of how FLAC works. It’s triv­ial to con­vert a FLAC file to MP3 or another format.

While the Thomas judg­ment may be over­turned or mod­i­fied, it’s more expen­sive to down­load unli­censed music today than it was last week.

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  • ms

    Dis­ney Copyright

    If you have not yet seen this on youtube, take a peek. It is a very inter­est­ing and infor­ma­tive pre­sen­ta­tion explain­ing of copyright.…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUPsfYJONrU

  • http://billso.com billso

    That is one of my favorite clips. It’s also an excel­lent les­son on “fair use”– the doc­trine that is often cited when review­ers, blog­gers, stu­dents, fac­ulty and oth­ers post, pub­lish, or use small por­tions of copy­righted material.

    The video was assem­bled by Buck­nell pro­fes­sor Eric Faden for his courses.

    The video is 10 min­utes long, but it’s worth the time. After all, “this is about” “money”. (Boing­Bo­ing, AssortedStuff.com)

    Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity has a down­load­able ver­sion of the video.

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