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article imageOp-Ed: Is copyright more trouble than it's worth?

By Alexander Baron     May 7, 2012 in Business
Bristol - After a rap artist is left out of pocket over a copyright claim, is it time to look again at a law that has become both unenforceable and a threat to our freedoms?
Rapper Tony Soloman who uses the stage name Dappa Dred, brought an action against a Bristol company that he claimed uploaded a video of one of his songs without his permission. He lost the case, and then lost an appeal at the Court of Appeal in London. As anyone who knows anything about civil litigation will tell you, that will have run up an expensive bill of costs.
The case was reported in the local press, but the Court of Appeal judgment goes into considerably more detail, and being a legal finding of fact, is to be given more weight than a mere press report - Linda Carty supporters take note! The 45 paragraph judgment can be found here.
On the other side of the world, a far more expensive copyright case ended likewise in defeat for the plaintiff when the High Court of Australia ruled that the ISP iiNet had not been a party to copyright infringement by its customers who had downloaded things they shouldn't have. The full judgment can be found here, but for us mortals, this BBC summary report should suffice.
Although Soloman v Bristol Film Studios Ltd is small beer in comparison, both these cases illustrate the futility of trying to police the Internet for copyright violations. There are though, people for whom the pursuit of the futile - and often the totally innocuous - is profitable indeed, and sinister for the rest of us. One example of this is the recent case which led to the US authorities seizing a domain for over a year, at the end of which the site was exonerated of any wrongdoing.
Let's be clear about this, there are times when the Internet is used for criminal activity, and that must not be permitted. This can include but is not limited to money laundering - not the ludicrous allegations made against leading poker websites by the FBI and DOJ, but stolen funds, fraud, etc, such as those exposed by Dominic Littlewood.
The existing criminal laws are more than sufficient to combat this sort of activity, what we do not need are new Draconian laws - SOPA or anything else - foisted onto the American public, the British public, or anyone else on the specious grounds of protecting our children or protecting copyright.
In dismissing Tony Soloman's appeal, Lord Justice Lewison ruled very sensibly at paragraph 17 (citing another case) that: “The cost of the exercise will have been out of all proportion to what has been achieved. The game will not merely not have been worth the candle, it will not have been worth the wick”.
For most of us most of the time, cost means money, but it can of course be determined in all manner of other ways, time for example. Wasted time can mean wasted money and much more, this is why people who waste police time can end up not just in court but in prison. While the police are investigating crimes that never happened, real crimes are going uninvestigated, and dangerous criminals are left to roam free to hurt or perhaps even kill innocent people.
Sometimes we may want to achieve something but give up on it because the cost is too high. If you want to become a marathon runner but suffer from arthritis or some other complaint, the cost of achieving your goal will be pain and very likely serious injury, so better take up something less demanding. Likewise, the cost of policing copyright is far too great for all of us. The fact is that everybody who uses the web downloads copyrighted or even pirated material; there is no way to avoid it. How can you possibly check that every video you play on YouTube or every picture you look at does not belong to someone else? And what are you supposed to do if you do discover that you have been playing music you have no right to play?
The universality of the Internet and copyright infringed and pirated material means that if the authorities are to act against it, they can do so only extremely selectively. And selective prosecution is an abrogation of the rule of law. So what is the solution? The solution is to admit the truth that is staring us all in the face, namely that the title of this article is a rhetorical question.
While no doubt Tony Soloman feels genuinely aggrieved at Bristol Film Studios Ltd, there is equally no doubt that as a YouTube user he will at some point have been guilty of doing what he took umbrage at - him and a billion or two of the rest of us. A law that is unenforceable or at best enforceable only extremely selectively is no law at all, so all copyright and trademark laws should be scrapped, at least as far as the Internet is concerned. This does not mean the abolition of the concept of intellectual property, nor that people should not be recognised as the authors of their own, unique works, of course they should, but the rule should be that once it is on the web, it is fair game for anyone to use. Does this mean no one can make money from their work anymore? Most definitely not, but there is another way they can and should be paid.
The Internet is an enormous producer of wealth, but what it does not produce is money. With two exceptions, every dollar, every cent any of us earns, is paid, is given, wins, or even steals, comes from someone else. These two exceptions are governments and the banks. Governments can and do create their own money - usually they mint it or print it. The rest of the money in existence, around 97% of it, comes from the banks. But banks produce nothing, they offer a book-keeping service, and a storage service (security) and they do other things like insurance (including the PPI rip off), but they don't actually produce wealth. They don't grow corn, or can vegetables, or manufacture kitchen utensils.
Because banks don't create wealth but the Internet does, the power to create money should be taken away from the banks and given to the Internet. Exactly how this should be done is a problem for the tech guys, but clearly a real increase in wealth should be accompanied by a real increase in purchasing power. In the old days, when people used to buy CDs - and for those of us who have been on this Earth longer than most, vinyl - we would go into a record shop, make our purchases, and part of that money would go to the record company, part of that to the band or artist concerned, and so on. Nowadays, when you download something, what should happen is the Internet - YouTube, Google or whatever - should create this money that reflects the new wealth that has been created, and give part of it to the record company, the artist, the person who uploaded it, or the publisher - in the case of a newspaper that is read on-line by millions of people.
Copyright is dead! Get over it, and start paying the people who produce the wealth with newly created, debt-free money. The solution really is so simple. So why can't anyone else see it?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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