SOPA Too Much Copyright


"This disconnect between the public's view of copyright and fair use and what should and should not be prosecuted, versus the 'copyright maximist' view of the law, is our generation's Prohibition," says Ben Huh, CEO and founder of Cheezburger and a loud voice in the recent backlash to SOPA and PIPA, two congressional bills aimed at curbing internet piracy.

Copyright exists to "promote the useful arts" according to the Constitution. But is it still doing that? And should the government protect so-called "intellectual property" in the same way it protects other forms of property? posed these questions to Ben Huh, as well as a professor and a movie studio representative. 

Tom Bell, a law professor specializing in property law, has serious reservations about attempts by groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to equate property and copyright through ad campaigns admonishing viewers with messages like, "You wouldn't steal a car. Downloading pirated movies is stealing."

"As soon as we start using [the word] 'copyright' for 'property,' we start taking less seriously our property rights for things like cars and houses," says Bell. "When you steal a candy bar or a car, you've left somebody without something to eat or something to drive."

But the MPAA's head content protection counsel, Ben Sheffner, thinks that piracy is a major problem that needs to be stopped. 

"If this kind of piracy is allowed to run rampant, it'll deprive the public of the next great film," says Sheffner. 

So, if the purpose of copyright is to incentivize the creation of artistic works, is it still doing its job? The data points to today's copyright regime doing little more than enriching the corporations with the strongest lobbyists.

"Is there a market failure in the production and dissemination of expressive works?" asks Bell. "I don't think there's any risk that we're going to run out of songs, or books, or movies, or software any time soon."

While the MPAA and other entertainment industry trade groups have bemoaned the effects of rampant internet piracy on creative output, the numbers tell a different story. Research shows more music and books produced than ever before between 2005 to 2010, production of feature films growing by a factor of more than 4 in 14 years, and the number of video game companies exploding by a factor of 18 in the span of three years.

Still, the MPAA stands behind Chairman Chris Dodd's statement, made in the heat of the SOPA battle, that the U.S. could look to China's site-blocking laws as a positive example of anti-piracy regulation.

"If site blocking broke the internet, the internet would've been broken a long time ago," says Sheffner. "There's ways to implement these narrowly tailored remedies that really cut off these 'worst of the worst' web sites."

Written and produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Tracy Oppenheimer and Weissmueller. "The Day the LOLcats died" written and performed by LaughPong. Additional music:"Thomas Kinkade Pays His Respects to Walt Disney" by Der Christer Schytts; "Twinklebox" by Ephemetry; "Betty Boop" by Ergo Phizmiz; "Frog Legs Rag Tag" by James Scott; "Mickey Impression" by thehottestguy23.

Approximately nine minutes.

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  1. I "virtually" used to know Tom Bell--corresponded with him back in my academic days. Sharp guy and definitely a libertarian (used to be with Cato).

    1. It was either him or another Catonian who tried to get me to write a paper on the tensions between copyright and the First Amendment.

      Given the wording and structure of the Constitution, copyright is secondary to the prohibitions of the First Amendment in regard to speech regulation. The Copyright Clause is, after all, permissive ("Congress shall have the power to. . . ."), the First Amendment is not.

      Of course, since the Founders clearly thought there was room for copyright when creating the prohibitions on speech regulation, there is an intent for both to coexist. But safety valves are needed to avoid direct conflicts--copyright only protects the expression of ideas, not ideas themselves; fair use allows for certain uses, regardless of copyright rights (in theory more than in practice), etc. In recent decades, those safety valves have been rusting from lack of use, mostly because of ever-increasing protections of copyright via law and inconsistent and not completely predictable application of the fair use exceptions.

      1. The RIAA and MPAA have done everything they possibly could over the last couple of decades to destroy the very idea of "fair use".

        1. Which is the whole problem. Copyright has to operate within certain limitations or it will run afoul of speech and other rights and exceed its purpose ("to promote the progress of science and useful arts").

          Like I've said here before, copyright (and other IP) protections should be set at 6; instead, they're set to 11.

          1. I've said in the past that copyright protection should be very strong, but fair use protection should be even stronger.

            Of course, the ever expanding Disney-protection racket is a huge problem as well. But that not really a copyright protection. That's a straight-up influence pedding problem involving a billion dollar enterprise and weak-kneed politicians.

            1. ...not really a copyright protection problem.

              Preview, my friend.

            2. Don't mess with The Mouse?

            3. I strongly agree with this. I have no problem fining or somehow penalizing someone who is legitimately infringing copyright (e.g. downloading a movie or song to their home computer). But as it stands, I could 10 times over recklessly endanger the public safety by driving 150mph on the freeway, and I would still have to pay less than the cost of infringing one song. That is where the lunacy begins.

              1. You can't copy right ideas or intangible concepts.

                People's brains aren't the "original" creator's property either.

      2. The Copyright Clause is, after all, permissive ("Congress shall have the power to. . . ."), the First Amendment is not.

        Very interesting point I had not thought of. I've certainly modified (toward "6", not "11") my views of copyright significantly, esp since coming to H&R and seeing all the different views.

  2. no copyright = no counterfeiting

    knockoffs = original

    1. no verbs = no coherence

      1. No responding = no feeding the sockpuppet

        1. who the eff are you? = who the eff are you?

          1. We know you're a disphit dumbass from Ohio named Urine = We know you're a dipshit dumbass from Ohio named Urine

            1. so almanian carries epi's water?...whilest using the royal wewe

      2. No copyright is more like, more firms entering the market. And you wouldn't even have to need these anti-trust laws.

    2. y = mx + k

  3. Copyright is straight up rent seeking corruption. It is evil in every respect. The harm inflicted by copyright is hard to overstate.

    1. I don't agree with this--I know, I'm a splitter--but I do think it's gone way overboard. I also think that IP protection has done a lot of good, incentivizing the creation of all sorts of good things.

      1. The evidence suggest otherwise. Just look at the sales in art related industries with and without copyright protection. Or just watch this: TED talk about an industry with no copyright:

        1. It doesn't cost a hundred million dollars to roll out a brand new dress like it does with a brand new, safety-critical system that depends on hundreds of thousands of lines of software.

          1. Fashion has traditionally relied far more on the trademark branch of the IP tree, than the copyright branch. They take enforcing their trademark rights very seriously. Not that it's that hard to find fake/counterfeit designer goods anyway.

            1. Absolutely. Even most anti-IP people recognize that trademark infringement is fraud.

              1. This might be true unless the firm is not guaranteeing quality.

                Merely copying a logo is not sufficient.

    2. Agree with ProL. As a musician w/some "Circle C" music, I don't want people taking shit I wrote and making money off it from putting it in a music book without my permission (and compensation to me).

      On the other hand, I've given away so many copies to people, I don't care if anyone PLAYS the music, and I don't begrudge them giving it to friends, etc. Which becomes impossible to "police" (HA!), so...effectively I've given up most (if not all) of my copyright through my own actions.

      So - somewhere in the middle. Definitely don't view it as "evil", but definitely think it needs to be reined in from where it's gotten in the last few years.

  4. I don't want people taking shit I wrote and making money off it from putting it in a music book without my permission (and compensation to me).

    And I don't want anyone fucking my sister. But that's what living in a free society means.

    1. In Russia i pay government to fuck your sister for me.

  5. " our generation's Prohibition"

    Sorry, but no. The War On Drugs is our generation's Prohibition.

  6. "'If this kind of piracy is allowed to run rampant, it'll deprive the public of the next great film,' says Sheffner. "

    It will also deprive the public of the next 10,000 shitty films. Fuck, I can't even remember the LAST great film. Zapruder's maybe?

  7. TED talk about an industry with no copyright:

    1. By the way, reproducing a designer gown from hand drawings made at the runway show and then imposing changes to economize the "copied" gown would not be prohibited under classic copyright protection. This is roughly equivalent to hand drawing a replica of the mona lisa while imposing artistic changes to fulfill your own esthetic and then stamping out a million books. This is not actually forbidden under copyright law as I understand it.

      It starts getting complicated when we talk about derivative works that use characters developed in copyrighted works. But in general, copyright prevents one from making exact copies of a substantial part of a creative work and then distributing that exact copy.

      Re-interpretation of creative works under copyright is not prohibited. Of course, the RIAA and MPAA are trying to destroy the concepts of fair use that allow that re-interpretation.

      1. It doesn't matter if they intentionally copy your work.

        It is imaginary property and I own my brain and all the labor that occurs in my body. I get to copy whatever I want, IP is not a valid form of property.

        The internet proves there is no IP crisis either.

  8. Anyone who keeps using the word "piracy" for what is only (at most) infringement is part of the problem.

  9. This video starts off with Zach making a huge mistake. Copyright does NOT exist to promote the useful arts. The text of the US Constitution is:

    "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. "

    The "Science" part is copyright and the "useful arts" is patents. This is a very common mistake that people make because our language has changed so much in the past 225 years.

  10. Copyrights have a good purpose, but clearly it's gone overboard, you see them arresting the guys in Chinatown for selling knock offs of brand names, but who cares? The actual brand name shit is insanely overpriced with a huge markup and profit margin; protecting the makers of these ultimately trivial things and their ridiculous markups is not a serious matter of public concern

  11. Some thoughts:

    1. A copyright term is now longer than the average human lifespan. In a very fundamental way this is not "limited".

    2. Software is copyrighted for the full 95 year term. This means that DOS 1.0 won't enter the public domain until 2075 or so. There is no meaningful public domain for software. A better regime would be that object code enters the public domain when support stops.

    3. Extending a copyright retrospectively is a legislative taking from the public domain and has utterly no effect on incentivizing content creation.

    4. If only copyrights were treated as property -- property protections seem much weaker; consider rent control.

    We need to dial all of this way back, A good simple first step would be to repeal the Sonny Bono extension. Prospective Congressmen should be asked how they would stand on that simple question.

  12. Besides, it is utterly silly to treat IP like physical property. IP cannot exist as any kind of "property" unless government enforces it (or you keep it secret). You cannot defend a song recording like you can a house.

    Government giveth and government taketh away.

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