My Take on File Sharing (revisited)

This is an opinion piece. It is intended to make people think, not as legal advice or counsel. Though this is based on my limited understand of US copyright law, I am not a lawyer: I don’t even play one on TV! By continuing to read past this point you agree not to hold Stuart Reedy or any other legal entity responsible for any damages (real or imagined) from use (or misuse) of the ideas and factoids contained within.

The Napster part of the debate is over. Napster has gone legit. Of course, Limewire,  BearShare, Kazaa and others let folks steal music without the slightest trace of worry about intellectual property rights.

That’s right: I said steal! Would you have me use the euphemism “share?” I suppose that does lend a Robin Hood-esque sort of quality: We are stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. (Of course, if you’re too poor to own a computer, you’re S.O.L.) Besides, we’re not actually stealing anything; nothing physical changes hands. Right?

Does that mean it’s OK for me to take any idea you have and represent it as my own? If you invent a new product, then I can share your design with others? If you have an idea that will save your company/organization millions of dollars, then I can share that idea with the boss and get the kudos? Nothing physical is changing hands. Right?

Works created by legal entities are copyrighted to that entity. All one must do is claim that copyright: This is copyright Stuart Reedy 2004-2010: all rights reserved. There. Now it is illegal to copy this or represent it as the work of anyone other than me. If the legal entity–in this case, me–cares to spend some money, this copyright can be registered. This allows the use of the cute little registered symbol: ©. But don’t be fooled, it is a legal copyright whether or not it has been registered.

So, what is a copyright? Well, what does it say? Copy right: The right to copy, eh? So, if someone else holds the copyright on something, only they may copy it. There are some exclusions to this in the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, but those do not include sharing of copyrighted works.

If you really want that song, why not buy the CD or pay for the download and give the artists a little credit? It takes a lot of work to put together even one song. While most artists would be willing to do this for very little money–most of them receive very little–this love of the craft does not preclude their need for food, shelter, clothing, etc. You get paid for what you do, shouldn’t they?

Alternatively, if you really feel that you should be allowed to copy an artist’s work for free, there’s another possibility: write a letter to the copyright holder and ask permission. If you have a legitimate reason to copy the material, they’ll probably let you.

One more little tidbit, and I’ll put away my soapbox for a while.

Let’s suppose you have no reservations about copying someone else’s material. This being the case, you should not be embarrassed by it. I ask, then, that you send me a list of all the songs you’ve copied and I’ll post that list here on, along with your name. No? Gee, wonder why!

NOTE: This blog has been posted online since January 2004 and, as of yet, no one has offered to own up.  I guess people believe it’s only a crime if you get caught.

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