Two tales of copyright idiocy crossed my inbox yesterday. The first, by Techdirt’s Mike Masnick tells the tale of the Village People’s Victor Willis, who has regained the right’s to many of his band’s famous songs under the ‘termination rights’ clause, which allows artists to regain copyright of their songs after 35 years, no matter to whom they had assigned it. Willis, as Masnick reports, is trying to use his new ownership rights to stop the current version of the band from performing songs such as YMCA for which they are known.
The second story comes my way via BoingBoing, who reports on a study coming out of Australia which shows that ‘three strikes’ laws (which give authorities the power to cut households off from internet service after three copyright violations) don’t actually reduce piracy. “There is no evidence demonstrating a causal connection between graduated response and reduced infringement. If ‘effectiveness’ means reducing infringement, then it is not effective,” the article says.
So what do these two stories have in common? They both showcase an upsetting, but not entirely trend we’re seeing toward the abandonment of common sense where intellectual property is concerned. Take the case of Mr. Willis, for instance. Okay, so he now owns the songs again. Great! So, why does that mean he has to stop letting the band use it, exactly? As the classic children’s song says, ‘it’s mine, but you can have some.’ Charge a licensing fee if you want to, that’s your prerogative as ‘owner’ of the copyright. But why lock it up completely, just because you can?
Similarly, when the three strikes laws first came out, the tech media was filled with objections to them, and not because tech journalists particularly like or support piracy either. There were just so many holes in these legislations, for instance, that they have no provision for ascertaining just who amongst the potentially numerous users of an IP address had done the allegedly dirty deeds. Add to that the fact that there are numerous non-infringing uses for torrent software which these monitoring programs lack the sophistication to distinguish between, and that many of the laws presume guilt and not innocence, in a reversal of the standard judicial process, and you’ll see why many found them problematic. Now, if they actually did help solve a big problem, maybe that would be worth it. But if this study is showing they don’t?
Nobody—not here at Teleread, anyway—would ever say ‘yay, piracy!’ But bringing some common sense into the discussion is called for sometimes. And asking for reasonable consumer rights does not equate to having it in for artists and authors.