Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Copyright Gone Mad: DMCA and the Drive to Make a Pay-Per-View World

Expanded from my Google+ post earlier today

YouTube Flags Democrats' Convention Video on Copyright Grounds | Threat Level | Wired.com:

'via Blog this'

Another demonstration of the insanity and destructive nature of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act.) If you have newsworthy content and upload it, automated software will decide it is copyrighted, flag it, and it will automatically be taken down. This time, it's the Democratic party's video of its own convention. A few days ago, it was the livestream of the Hugo Awards ceremony. A few weeks ago, it was NASA's own livestream of the Curiosity landing.

YouTube apologizes for the inappropriate flagging of the Den convention, but claims neither the livestream nor the video were affected, a ludicrous statement given the number of people who saw the takedown notice and were unable to watch because of it. Ustream claims that ChiCon didn't tell them that theirawards show included clips from the nominated shows. And the group that filed the takedown notice on NASA's own coverage of the Curiosity landing claimed it was an honest mistake.

The problem here is that large content distribution companies believe they should collect a fee every time we read, view, or listen to something. First sale, the legal principle that once you have bought something, you own that instance of it--that sofa, that copy of that book, that recording of that song--and have the right to gift or resell it, is old, well-established, and under assault if any part of the item you want to resell or trade is manufactured outside the US.

Fair use, the old, well-established, much-used legal doctrine that you may quote or excerpt limited portions of a copyrighted work for purposes of review and criticism, or record a program to watch it later at a more convenient time, or many other examples that have zero real impact on the rights-holder, is under assault by the provisions of the DMCA that make it a criminal offence to circumvent Digital Rights Management (DRM) in digital copies of creative works. The practical, everyday effect of this is that you can't count on being able to port that (digital) book you just bought to a different device. Currently I own a Nook; if I bought a Kindle, I would not be able to (legally) move most of the digital books I theoretically "own" to my new device.

Public libraries, which have been lending books and other materials to the public for almost two centuries in this country, have found themselves locked in a struggle with publishers, who are increasingly resistant to selling digital books to libraries at all. One major publisher announced a terribly generous deal in which the libraries would have to re-purchase another license to each title after it had "circulated" twenty-six times. The was based on the stated, utterly fatuous, claim that print books are worn out and need to be replaced after being lent twenty-six times. I realize I'm part of a relatively small subculture in which having a few thousand mass market paperbacks in my private library, which are in no trivial number of cases fifty or sixty old and have been read many more than twenty-six times, but anyone who has visited a library recently and look at what's on the shelves and circulating knows that the claim of twenty-six circulations being the norm before a book has to be withdrawn or replaced is  based either in ignorance or sublime dishonesty.

And recent high-profile but all-too-common events demonstrate that even distribution of your own content without payment crossing the virtual palms of these corporate "people" are at risk from a system heavily tilted to assume guilt of copyright infringement on the unsupported word of a corporate "person"--or even the protocols of automated bots that are programmed to be extremely aggressive in sending automatic takedown notices for anything that even vaguely resembles something that might be the corporate "person's" property.. 

This has to stop. We need to reinstate a sane copyright system, that gives reasonable protection to real content producers without choking off the free exchange of ideas and innovation.