Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

the good old days

Charlie Stross:

As for the intellectual property, I try not to get too worked up about it. There’s a lot of people angsting about piracy and copying of stuff on the Internet, publishers who are very, very worried about the whole idea of ebook piracy. I like to get a little bit of perspective on it by remembering that back before the Internet came along, we had a very special term for the people who buy a single copy of a book and then allow all their friends to read it for free. We called them librarians.

(Via Jessamyn.)

9 comments:

  • This is a typical soundbite misdescription and wholly unreasonable concept of what copyright protects and how libraries function. Copyright grants sole rights to copy the protected work to the rights holder but does not prohibit loaning or reading or listening to that protected work. It's not really that hard to understand, but as long as people muddy the field with misinformation, end-users are more likely to believe they have a right to make digital or analog copyies, which is just plain illegal except in special circumstances that don't apply in most cases.

  • Here's something I'm wondering about ethics-wise. I bought years ago cassette tapes of an unabridged reading of "The Lord of the Rings." I wanted to listen to it again recently, but no tape player still functioning in the house. I go to the public library, check out the exact same recording on CDs. I copy the CDs onto my computer, transfer the files to my mp3 player and listen to it. CDs returned to the library. I'm done now, and don't think I've done anything wrong and I'm just about to delete all those files from my computer and player -- must I? Alternatively, I think it would be OK for me to copy the cassettes I bought into digital form and save them for future use since I already purchased them -- not reselling the tapes or anything, keeping them in my vault, etc. But can't I just save that step and keep the files I have already?

  • Michael Straight said...

    Brutus,

    So you're okay with me loaning my Rodrigo Y Gabriela CD to a friend. But what if I'd bought the album on iTunes? Can I loan him my mp3 files? Do I have to delete them from my hard drive until he's done "borrowing" them? (And how thoroughly? Must I use a special program to make the files unrecoverable by an undelete utility?) Or would it be okay for me to just refrain from listening to the tracks until my friend is done listening to them and deletes them from his hard drive? (Am I required to verify that he has deleted them?)

    It's this kind of thing that is making it hard for a lot of people to accept the line you (and the law) are trying to draw between loaning and copying. It just seems ridiculous.

  • It's interesting that the iTunes terms & conditions explicitly allow for burning songs to CD: "(v) You shall be authorized to burn an audio playlist up to seven times. . . . You shall be entitled to export, burn (if applicable) or copy (if applicable) Products solely for personal, noncommercial use." The question here is, What does "personal" mean? If you burn a CD and give it to a friend, or to your sister, is that "personal"? One might think so, but the terms go on to say "Any burning (if applicable) or exporting capabilities are solely an accommodation to you and shall not constitute a grant or waiver (or other limitation or implication) of any rights of the copyright owners in any audio or video content, sound recording, underlying musical composition, or artwork embodied in any Product." This all strikes me as calculatedly vague — and perhaps it has to be vague, because nobody understands what copyright law means in a digital age.

  • This comments thread shouldn't erupt into a copyright forum. So I'll be brief. Copyright law clearly hasn't kept up with copying technology. Tape machines and photocopiers (both analog) were bad enough, but new digital media has basically swept copyright aside for most end-users because of the radical ease of making exact digital copies. You can loan a book, tape, CD, or iPod, but you can't copy an mp3 to your friend's iPod. The iTunes license for personal use copies doesn't read as vague to me, but I understand copyright law better than most. See my blog: http://brutus.wordpress.com/2008/05/11/an-intellectual-property-primer/

  • Ben Flannery said...

    I actually like the paragraphs after that quote better (although they lack the librarian reference). The next few paragraphs are a better description of our current conundrum, in my opinion.

  • Brutus, that's a very fine summary — thanks for the link — but note that it doesn't address the key concept in the iTunes T&C, which is "personal noncommercial use." This is the real sticking point, I think. It's not going to be obvious to the average user what the limits of "personal" are. Just me? Me and my immediate family, so that I can burn a CD and give it to my son? Me and my immediate family and close friends, so I can burn a CD and give it to my BFF?

  • Of course my primer -- written over a year ago -- can't be expected to address your current question. It merely provides a few modest definitions of IP rights while demonstrating how very old these doctrines are.

    As to your immediate concern (personal use), the salient phrase in the iTunes license you quoted is that permission to copy is "solely an accommodation to you and shall not constitute a grant or waiver" of rights. This is the selective nonenforcement of rights referred to in my blog. Apple, like other copyright holders or licensees, recognizes that the genie is out of the bottle and can't be put back. Clarifying the precise conditions under which copying (or infringing, if one is less charitable) is permissible would be the subject of a fairly detailed seminar.

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