On Friday, CNet reported that Judge Stephen Wilson, a federal judge in Los Angeles, ruled that file-sharing software is legal and the companies who make such software, Streamcast Networks and Grokster, are not liable for copyright infringement that takes place using their software. And on Thursday, Wired ran the story of a federal judge that upheld his earlier ruling in January against Verizon saying that First Amendment protections concerning anonymous expression do not conflict with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998.
Two landmark cases involving the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) shaping the course of legal battles between the copyright holders and the people infringing on those rights... wait... neither of those cases actually included the alleged culprit of the piracy action in question: the end user doing the file sharing. Though two very important issues are being argued: the question whether file sharing technology is legal since it has both legal and illegal uses; and the question of surrendering upon demand the identity of an individual on the Internet for alleged suspicious activity.
I believe I support the former with reasoning that it should be consumer right to make copies of anything purchased or having been granted license for the sole purpose of using that information in any personal use. Copyright becomes infringed upon when said licensees provide access to this licensed information for others thereby circumventing further licensure.
And while I believe that there must be some accountability that end users have with respect to providing download access, via file sharing software or otherwise, to files containing information with copyright, I am apprehensive to blindly support either decision based on the question of the larger implications they have on personal privacy issues and on the constitutional right we all share of being innocent until proven guilty. Furthermore, the DMCA has been increasingly used for purposes that Congress did not necessarily intend. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a paper on Unintended Consequences: Four Years under the DMCA which shows how the DMCA has been invoked against consumers, scientists, and legal competitors.
What must we give up, as a society, to protect the right to financial gains of the copyright holder? It's beginning to sound like a case where the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. I shall therefore remain skeptical in my assessment and acceptance of decisions affecting these issues.
Thanks to Jake at 8bitjoystick.com for the graphic, and for a similar rant over the RIAA stranglehold on the current state of radio.