Intellectual Property in the Digital Age: We Need New Reasonable Laws to Abide
Note: Our blog was originally intended for one topic, but as a recent change of plan, the students have been assigned new topics. From now on my blog will focus on ‘Intellectual property in the digital age’. Please still feel free to give me feedbacks on my old topic as I would still love to learn more about data mining and data warehousing, but my responses will probably not come in the form of a text post.
Disclaimer: This post is written by a student who is taking an introductory informatics course in college and who is also still learning about the subject herself. Any suggestions, comments, and corrections are welcome in the form of asking and reblogging. All hypothetical examples used in this post are exactly what is it – hypothetical.
When we characterize movies, songs, and books as “property,” we evoke visceral metaphors of freedom and independence: “my parcel of land versus your parcel of land.” But the digital explosion is fracturing theses property metaphors. “My parcel of land” might be different from “your parcel of land,” but when both parcels are blown to clouds of bits, the clouds swirl together. The property lines that would separate them vanish in a fog of network packets.
When thinking about the term ‘intellectual property’, copyrighted materials comes to mind, be it music or movies or softwares. And lawsuits, therefore piracy. These terms we hear on a regular basis, sometimes from the media, and sometimes from our own private conversation. This is how pervasive this issue is. Chances are, among our tech-savvy generation, the majority of us have pirated something at one point or another. Little did we know (or that we know but just don’t care enough to stop), there had been copyright wars going on heatedly in and out of court rooms. (1)
If the act of illegal downloading is, well, illegal, then why does people still do it? The psyche behind this question is also the motivator of the countless wars: money.
The minimum damages that the court must award for infringement is $750 per infringing act.
This means the damage a record company can sue an individual for $750 per song downloaded. At a time before the internet technology explosion, “per infringing act” seemed reasonable. Yet nowadays a 20GB iPod, roughly storing four thousand songs, would be “grounds for minimum damages of $3 million”. (1) It seems quite outrageous to me. Technology have been developing and advancing exponentially, and the law is struggling to keep up with it. Many legislative efforts ends up restricting technological and artistic innovations that are made possible by the internet and its sharing property.
Not all lawmakers understands the new digital frontier, and a lot of times they make decisions and restrictions that are overbroad and therefore jeopardizes the robust and vibrant future of public culture. (2) The laws can be characterized as an overbroad set of restrictions with ridiculous amounts of specific exceptions. The copyright law runs 200+ pages and includes things like:
- You can’t make a public performance of a musical work unless you’re an agricultural society at an agricultural fair.
- You can’t freely copy written works, but you can if you’re an association for the blind and you’re making an edition of the work in Braille (but not if the work is a standardized test).
- A radio station can’t broad cast a recording without a license from the music publisher, but it doesn’t need a license from the record company–but that’s only if it’s an analog broadcast. For digital satellite radio, you need licenses from both (but there are exceptions). (1)
The list goes on and on. Something about these laws needs to be done, and that something is preferably an entire reinvention of even the concepts of copyright laws. According to Wikipedia, “The development of digital media and computer network technologies have prompted reinterpretation of these exceptions, introduced new difficulties in enforcing copyright, and inspired additional challenges to copyright law’s philosophic basis.” (3)
So where to start?
Steve Jobs had started it for us in February 2007. He wrote an open letter to the recording companies’ executives, in hope that they will “relax” the licensing restrictions. In order to comply to the law, Apples had to install a measure named digital rights management (DRM) on all of its iTunes music. Because of DRM, many things were impossible to do legally, including but not only having the music you bought on iTunes transfer to your other music-playing devices. (4) (To read more about DRM) Although the industry does not agree with Jobs the slightest, a trend started. From Musicload (5) to the British Entertainment Retailers Association (6), many voiced out against DRM, and by next year the majority of the largest music labels (including EMI, Warner, and Universal) were all using Amazon to release their music. (1)
The industry is changing its attitude, slowly but surely, to keep up with the technological trend and the individuals who constitutes the public. What is still an obstruction are the laws that are still in place, protecting copyrighted material in its arcane way, and desperately needs to be adjusted and improved.