Copyleft, copytheft and copyright

I wouldn’t normally weigh in on copyright law. I’m not a lawyer and I’ve never used BitTorrent. I think it’s becoming increasing apparent however that copyright law is misapplied or at least misguided.

Wired magazine carried a story this week about a student arrested for modifying games consoles (http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/08/game-console-jailbreaking-arrest/).
With the owner’s permission he opened up consoles and inserted a chip that would bypass the encryption on disks used with the console. This would allow the use of pirated games as well as perfectly legitimate (so called homebrew) applications, for example Linux. The student in question now faces around ten years in prison, essentially for using a soldering iron.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the chip he installed ultimately performs a mathematical operation. It would be difficult to formulate a concept of justice that would imply that certain types of mathematics are outlawed. Can you imagine being arrested for possesion of a mathematical textbook which detailed the workings of such a chip? A mathematical operation at the end of the day is the same whether it’s instantiated in silicon or not.

This is ultimately the problem of copyright in a digital age. I own a DVD player, I’d rather like to be able to play imported DVDs on it. Legally speaking, I can’t. It’s illegal for me to do so. The DMCA states “no person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.” There is an important point here. My DVD player is my property. If I want to open it up, or tinker with it, or spray paint it blue then there shouldn’t be any law stopping me. I’m a big fan of David Lynch and unfortunately for me, Series Two of Twin Peaks was never released in the UK. I had to get the American import version and then *ahem* mod my DVD player. Go ahead and lock me up for ten years.

Copyright law should exist to protect creativity not proftits.Jammie Thomas Rasset was fined for nearly $2million after 24 counts of copyright violation. One of the songs she downloaded was by Richard Marx who issued the following statement:

“As a longtime professional songwriter, I have always objected to the practice of illegal downloading of music. I have also always, however, been sympathetic to the average music fan, who has been consistently financially abused by the greedy actions of major labels. These labels, until recently, were responsible for the distribution of the majority of recorded music, and instead of nurturing the industry and doing their best to provide the highest quality of music to the fans, they predominantly chose to ream the consumer and fill their pockets.”

I for one am not suggesting that piracy is okay. I believe that musicians, videogame developers and actors should make money from their art. The issue here is the middlemen. The people in the past who made money from the physical distribution of the work (CDs, DVDs etc) are still playing catch-up, they still haven’t grasped the market for wide digital distribution. They still sell products essentially crippled by digital rights management (DRM) so that if you buy a product it might not work on your DVD player or might inexplicably stop working if you upgrade your operating system or computer.

2 thoughts on “Copyleft, copytheft and copyright

  1. actually, if you wanted to play imported dvds on your dvd player you wouldn’t need to open it up. Most dvd players have to be capable of playing all regions incase they are used on a boat in international waters (a cruise ship for example).

    All it generally takes is typing in a code while in the general menu. I found the code for my dvd player by googling the make/model number*. It was the very first link!!

    * – though being a very legal wibsiter I of course haven’t used it… oh no not I!! ;o)

  2. Well said — you have pointed out the iniquities in copyright law. None of us condone the theft of created material, but the industry criminalises all consumers to protect its interests.
    Recently Amazon US deleted some title for its Kindle e-book reader, and removed them from the machines of subscribers who had paid for & downloaded them! Granted they gave credit to those affected, but who owns this machine you have paid ~$200 for?

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