Thursday, July 27, 2006

Laws and Copy Rights

Everything you do these days is covered by more laws than you could ever know. The chances are that you break one or two (or ten!) every day without even knowing it. The internet started out as a nice friendly, and above all, unrestricted medium of information exchange, but that's fast becoming a thing of the past. I think that 99% of net denizens would agree with me that some control of the net is a good thing to stop sicko porn, stalkers on chat sites, etc, but lately there have been debates over net neutrality, Napster and other file and music services get closed down on a regular basis, China and other countries censor the internet for their own citizens... and the paper-pushers are only just getting started! You think the internet is over-regulated NOW? The bureaucrats, politicians, lawyers and power-trippers have only just discovered the internet. In the last few weeks, Ted Stevens, the Republican fossil who is in charge of regulating it described the internet as 'a series of tubes', and said that his secretary 'sent him an internet' that took a couple of days to get to him because three or four movies were playing on the internet which slowed it down for everyone! This is a man who is possibly more powerful than the President, given he has effective control over the biggest, fastest and most pervasive personal interaction network in world history. Ted Stevens could just be the 'Most Important Man in the World', doesn't know the difference between an email and a worldwide network of computers, and has the power to make laws regarding them both.

On the other side of the coin, perhaps all the legislating in the world is absolutely useless if the power to enforce it isn't there. Sure, you can pass a law saying that all websites about green silly putty are illegal, you can log the IP addresses of people who use them on a regular basis, but if that person lives half a world away and the local gestapo aren't interested in your nicely-worded request for inter-agency cooperation, what can you do?

And the whole thing could just be a no-brainer anyway. Sure you keep running into copyright notices everywhere on the web just as in real life, and even copying a nice picture from Google Image Search is claimed to be a violation of that all-encompassing Copyright Law. But have you ever bothered to actually read it? I checked the US Copyright Act this week and found what could possibly be the biggest shakeup in the entire copyright issue ever - people, prepare to have your entire world turned upside-down and I'm not kidding! You be the judge!

The US Copyright Act, Section 102a1, defines all those things which are covered by copyright, and says:

Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

I draw The People's attention to the words 'tangible medium'. The internet is not a tangible medium. Tangible means you can touch it, it is a firm, definite, physical thing. To say that the computers which hold the data which makes up the internet are the tangible part of it is like saying the words of a book aren't the things protected by copyright, its the binding, paper and glue which make the book up which are covered. Anyone who has ever been threatened with copyright violation take note, and spread the word. The US Copyright Act does not cover the internet.

The US Copyright Act


Grokodile said...

I'm afraid you are mistaken. When you publish material you are not publishing "to the Internet", you are publishing it to a hard disk... which is a tangible medium.

In any case, when technology shifts, laws are most likely to be interpreted in a logical way to support such shifts. Don't get your hopes up or start stealing content or you will be unhappily surprised!

Ricklionhart said...

No, I'm afraid my comment stands. A hard disk may well be a 'tangible' medium, but the data on it isn't, it is a series of magnetic states that can only be accessed by converting those magnetic states to electricity, and basic science teaches us neither electricity nor magnetism are in any way tangible. My article wasn't serious, it was tongue-in-cheek typical blogger stuff, ie finding one single statement which supports the case and running with it, but still its unlikely that you could ever prosecute someone according to the letter of the law. As to laws being interpreted in a logical way, I would suggest you look at laws in the real world not the theoretical one, and see how often that has happened! :)

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