Cory Doctorow’s thoughts on the current “copyright war” on the Internet. Well, if every hoster (like youtube or your local cheap hosting company) has to check every single item put on their servers, you get asymptotically rising costs.
Copyright law is strange. In almost every area of law, you have limited liability if you don’t know you’re breaking the law when it is reasonable you don’t know. Not so with copyright law. If you have anything to do with copyrighted material, you’re automatically liable.
The Internet is a strange second exception. Legally the internet is often a safe harbour. (I wasn’t quick enough to write down the legal stuff here). Telecom companies are generic carriers, so they’re only providing bandwidth and don’t legally have to care about what’s on the line. If they have to be liable for what’s being transfered…
Not enough lawyer-hours in-between now and the heat death of the universe to vet all the content that is added to every server
Spam detection isn’t working well enough. And automatically detecting copyright infringement (the second alternative) in videos is a lot lot lot harder. Undoable.
Well, then. Blame the people that made the programs by which copyright infringement is done. Like bittorrent. Well, and NNTP and HTTP and SSL. Basically the whole internet. Uhm, doesn’t work.
Well, then. Blame the search engines like the pirate bay and google and…. Blaming google for providing generic search engine functionality? Not doable. But the US recording industry did go after a student that made a generic-purpose windows network search engine that also found MP3 files (so also those that weren’t mp3’s of professors’ lectures). Not for making that search engine (that is sadly still legal to do), but for having a couple of illegal mp3’s on his machine.
The recording industry proposes a three-strikes approach. On the third time they accuse you, you loose your Internet access. Only accuse: no proof required as proving this is too hard to do. But they’re grown ups, so they’ll behave (like accusing dead people and accusing a 90 year old grandmother for downloading lots of gangster rap…) France’s HADOPI law is an example.
And: that way you punish all the people that use the same Internet account. And the Internet is essential for many people’s work, relations, love, free speech, democratic process, etc.
There are several laws in the works about forbidding you to break protection mechanisms even when you’re entitled otherwise to do it. You’re legally allowed to make a safety copy of a CD. Or to make a copy for your ipod. With such laws, that would be not allowed.
With such laws, free software also has to be outlawed. Such laws need it to be illegal for users to modify software. Software for, for instance, your dvd player should prevent protected content from being moved to non-protected devices. So user-modifiable software like open source ought to be illegal.
Such laws are also potentially boiling down into laws that can send you to jail for making software that could be used to do Wrong Things. Well, you can use python for a lot of things. So working on generic python libraries could put you in jail.
There are groups in most countries that try to keep the Internet free. It is not about allowing copyright infringement. But it is about protecting our rights to be creative (open source software, distributing our own works online, etc). And to protect free speech, democracy and assorted similar important things… You can help and support such groups.
My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.
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