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The end of copyright protection?
by Rinso
2007-06-14 10:33:12
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The (e-)magazines covering computers and software, report almost daily about claims of copyright infringement. It is probably the “hottest” topic in the cyber world nowadays.

In the past, the production of a creative work consisted of the creative process and the technical production. To copy such a work often took a lot of time, effort and money. It was not practical to make a single copy. You would not copy a whole book with a type writer or even a Xerox machine. So legislation and policing could concentrate on commercial copying.

That ended in our digital age. The arrival of fast and powerful computers and the internet made copying the work of just a few mouse clicks, with costs no more than a few cents for a writeable CD.

The software manufacturers were the first to recognize the thread, so they invented the “End Users Licence Agreement”. When you “buy” software, you don't own the software, you just purchased the right to use it. (with considerable restrictions) Copying is of course forbidden, but it is open for debate if the use of an illegal copy (a present from a friend) is actual a crime. Some countries (i.e. Finland) are now forbidding the possession of illegal copies and the EU is considering implementing this idea also.

When you use your computer to view and listen to films and music, the material is somehow stored on your system. Copyright holders can now claim that you, at least temporarily, possessed the illegal material. If you look at how hard for instance the American record industry (RIAA) is coming down on potential copyright infringement, this idea is certainly not to far fetched.

If legislation is developed for effectively policing this “possession is a crime” philosophy, privacy goes down the drain and we will end up with an Orwellian society. Already judges order web companies to store data of users in such a way that it violates privacy regulations!

Of course there is also a counter movement. The development of free (as in beer and in speech) software and music. Since Microsoft is now pointing its (blunted) arrows at the open source community, one can assume that free software is becoming a serious alternative.

Also other events show that there is a limit to copyright protection. A Finnish court ruling showed that although copying protected software is illegal, the software is considered not protected if the protection system is grossly ineffective. And since it is just a matter of time before any protection is broken, the copiers may have found a loophole.

Listening to the radio or watching TV is allowed. Even taping a program for private use is OK. Nowadays it is easy to do the same with a computer and a CD recorder. It is hard to see that the same process performed with one appliance is allowed and forbidden with an other appliance. And when you record a song or a film, who can tell afterwards if the original source was legal or not. Things offered as “free”, might be an infringement. Do you become a criminal if you believe what you're told?

There is a gross inconsistency between the strict anti-copy regulations and every bodies freedom to use the benefits of our modern society.

The century old copyright laws don't work any more. And all the “repair jobs” cause more confusion and exceptions than clarity. It is time for the politicians to make a choice; either restrict copyright infringement to commercial actions, or take the next step to an Orwellian society.

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