Digital (Music) Copyrights and Laws

Digital (Music) Copyrights

The Good/The Bad

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What’s it all about, Alfie …….?  That is pretty much how I began writing this article—not knowing what it was all about.  So, what is internet piracy?  Let’s rewind here for a moment, back to Circa 1990s:  Originally, the concept of internet piracy began as a free exchange of information between people via the internet.  As the decade progressed, the monetary gain became apparent; and as is the case with any endeavor involving the almighty dollar, individuals saw the potential for huge financial gains—especially, with music sharing.  And, so it began.  For those around at that time, I am sure you will remember the most popular and user-friendly “Napster.”  (Personally, I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread!)  Even I, a computer novice back then, could easily create hundreds of songs on CDs or save to my computer.  For those of you too young or for any who were not yet familiar with the wonders of Cyber Space at the time, this is the format of the infamous 90’s Napster.  Lists and lists of every type of music at your fingertips—all for free!

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Alas, like all things “too good to be true,” Napster access was brought to a screeching halt in 1999 with the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America)  vs.  Napster lawsuit for copyright infringement.  Napster was ordered to cease and desist allowing the sharing of copyrighted material for free.  What happened next was predictable:   Services, known as Peer-2-Peer, were jumping on the band wagon; i.e., Morpheus, Kazaa and Grokster—some of the most popular ones of the time—were found not liable for what their users transmitted via their network.  Uh, oh, thought the RIAA.  None of their efforts against any of the companies, including the forerunner  Naptster, slowed or stopped what the RIAA called  the “illegal” transfer of copyrighted material via the internet.   What next?

The Second Generation of RIAA Lawsuits – Not being able to hold the companies liable, the RIAA began to go after the users who actively and consciously shared copyrighted material over P2P networks.  This was meant to curtail individuals making large (or small) sums of money by copying and reproducing, but was not supposed to aim at a child who wanted to watch a movie or any innocent person who wished to share a song with a friend.  It was no longer safe to share music and movies over the internet.  People began to despise the RIAA.  The good news (I believe) is that as of 2008, the FBI and the RIAA stopped bringing new lawsuits against individuals engaging in P2P sharing.   Now, everything’s good, right?  Not quite.  Enter DRM.

            Digital Restrictions Management technology restricts users’ traditional rights to control the movies, music, literature, software and technology they purchase on a computer by the installation of hardware checkpoints and interlocks into computer hardware that would normally operate as the hardware’s owner intends.  The majority of computer users, like myself, are unaware of the dangerous potential of having hardware in their computer that is intended to enforce the desires of a particular industry.   The acceptance of DRM, while it may deter those that illegally make a profit from copying, it also can mean that we will have no control over our own computers—No fair use. No purchase and resell.  No private copies.  No sharing.  No backup.  The good news is that most of the world’s technological software leaders do not embrace DRM.  This is not to say that the economic leaders feel quite the same, which is never in the public’s best interest—not when financial gains are at stake.   When RIAA says it wants total access to everybody’s computer to enforce music copyright, something is wrong.  Isn’t it wrong for copyright law to be used to target individuals who download music, and used out of context, as they have no legal link with the person/company holding copyright.  

Congress   – To try to balance the public interest with copyright protections:

“The main object to be desired in expanding copyright protection accorded to music has been to give the composer an adequate return for the value of his composition, and it has been a serious and difficult task to combine the protection of the composer with the protection of the public, and to so frame an act that it would accomplish the double purpose of securing to the composer an adequate return for all use made of his composition and at the same time prevent the formation of oppressive monopolies, which might be founded upon the very rights granted to the composer for the purpose of protecting his interests.” (H.R. Rep. No. 2222, 60th Cong., 2nd Sess., p. 7 [1909]).

Also, Apple’s Steve Jobs called on the music industry to eliminate DRM in an open letter titled Thoughts on Music.

For a prime example:  I purchase and download songs from Amazon.com.  When I was having a party a few months ago, my friend Dan was going to DJ.  He knew that I had a number of songs, in particular, that I liked.  Therefore, he asked me to make a file.   Some I had saved, others I went to Amazon.com and paid for about twenty additional songs.  I placed all of my requests in a file and had expected to burn a CD.  He said it would be easier if I just put them on a flash drive.  I did so.  I had paid for them.  I shared with my friend, the DJ (it was not an outside professional DJ), so that they would play on his equipment.  It never occurred to me as being unethical or illegal.  I was not making a profit.  I did not circumvent and download free music.  There really needs to be better guidelines and laws to define and separate the fair use and illegal use.  To date there are not.

Finally, in any of my research it appears that all of the present (and past) efforts to stop the pirates who are abusing and making financial gains have been totally unsuccessful.  It seems to only stifle the individual who would like to share a song or a movie, etc. with a family member or friend…!  In closing, perhaps the words of Samuel Clemens sums it up best. 

Only one thing is impossible for God:

To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.

Mark Twain

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6 Responses to Digital (Music) Copyrights and Laws

  1. sharechair says:

    Napster was a lot of fun while it lasted!! 🙂

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