Archive for April, 2010

Fair Use and Copyright…

April 29, 2010

The grey area which represents the limits of fair use has created contention in the intellectual property arena for some time. The permissions to use copyrighted material within the boundaries of a certain type of usage is governed loosely by certain guidelines. The argument continues; when are people infringing on copyright and when does it fall within the category of fair use? Although these guidelines can be adhered to with some degree of clarity, it appears debate will inevitably arise due to the conflict of goals and self interest between different parties. From recent cases, it seems fair use is still not concrete enough to allow users firm rights to fairly use and publish material owned by a party who opposes this idea. Right now it really boils down to the content owners not only understanding of the terms of fair use but understanding its place in modern society and embracing it.

Youtube has been under some heat for this very reason in the recent Hitler parodies case in which Constantin Films, through Youtube’s content ID system, pulled down Youtube clips of a parodied Hitler Scene, to which it owns the rights to the original film. We can see the same argument- disgruntled Youtube users and uploaders who believe (and fairly so) that the way they have used this video is within the boundaries of fair use, whilst Constantin Films hold an evident contrariness  of the same matter. Whether or not fair use should be determined by the owner of the content is debatable. Youtube’s imposition of a content ID based system has summoned a somewhat hostile response from creators and users.  YouTube acknowledges that uploaders are usually the types people rights holders should be embracing but argues that content owners have the right to account for fair use of its own content. YouTube’s attempt to solicit some sort of happy medium in an area which is not clear has created problems, but is there another way to address this problem to satisfy everyone?

YouTube is in a difficult position as a platform provider for (almost) free expression. Achieving balance as an intermediate body between consumers, creators and owners of content is indeterminable challenge- there are high expectations for YouTube to provide a space where people can express themselves in the spirit of creativity, community and common interest in the grounds of fair use for both users and consumers, whilst big media companies which are still coming to terms with the web 2.0 phenomenon are trying to hold what is theirs, close to their chest.

Part of problem as I see it is the long history in strict copyright standards and enforcement prior to the internet revolution and a longstanding history of piracy which has been difficult to control, has given rise to longstanding practice of enforced protectionism, which is still embedded in modern business psyche of many. Piracy is an issue so aggressively defended but remains an ever growing issue which can’t be stamped out that, naturally, rights owners are protective of their work and strongly associate fair use with copyright breach. What is needed is a widespread shift in attitude and culture in order to re-establish norms in this area which are more flexible and cohesive to accomodate today’s online economy in order to support the innovation and proliferation of sharing ideas and expressing oneself in innovative and new ways.

But for all the industries and companies which have been using the same aggressive tactics to suppress fair use to this day, there have been rapidly rising numbers of forward thinking organisations, businesses, artists, individuals, programmers and so on… which now advocate and participate in movements such as Lessig’s Creative Commons.  Multitudes of other open source projects exist on the internet which understand that building on existing creation is actually a new way of creating and expressing oneself and should not be quelled. This new culture of building and sharing information is invaluable in terms of social enrichment, nurturing innovation and even growing economies. It seems that cultural shift is indeed happening and although very quickly gaining momentum, it is has not yet caught up with expeditious pace of web 2.0 although, hopefully eventually, it will.

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BitTorrent Users Beware.

April 23, 2010

Recently I’ve been reading about the lawsuits being carried out on what looks to be like up to 50,000 Bit Torrent users by the U.S Copyright Group.

These unfortunate individuals have been descended upon by lawyers of the group – who, in this case, represent a coalition of independent film makers – and have been given two choices, either pay up in an out of court settlement or pay (through the nose) for legal fees to defend themselves in court. A few people have chosen the former, to avoid litigation’s excessive costs. But really in either case it sees the charged putting up some big money to pay for their ‘errors’.

Although the scope of the charges involves only a few fairly obscure art-house movie titles, the problems that arise from actions such as this are multifarious. A primary and most evident concern would certainly be the precedent set for other corporate media companies to begin asserting the same agressive actions on a prodigious scale- we could see these cases move from 50,000 to the hundreds of thousands.

This story isn’t the first of it’s kind, in late 2003, the American Recording Industry sued 261 people for sharing music on Peer to Peer (P2P) networks – needless to say this resulted in some severe public backlash, and essentially music industry heavy weights alientated its market, the very thing which supported these corporations in the first place. Surely, with the adoption of the same coercive and aggressive tactics, history is bound to repeat itself? I guess we can then assume why Motion Picture Association of America may be interested, but also wary of using these methods to address the issue.

The technology used, sourced from Guardaley IT, pinpoints real time downloads to particular I.P addresses. I don’t know much about this technology but it seems that amongst an array of ways a user could be misidentified, I.P addresses can be faked by hackers, leaving someone in the hot-seat with no idea how they may have landed there. Although I doubt how frequently this may occur it certainly brings an element of ethics into question.

And speaking of ethics we have to wonder now at issues of privacy, personal safety and accountability in the realm of the internet if this kind of initiative is adopted. And how many of users can be held accountable? If you speak in terms of general usage almost anyone and everyone who is sharing material on a P2P network could be held responsible- this would involve millions of people. In regards to individual user safety and privacy, users should know that I.P addresses being handed over by some ISPs are apparently being handed over at a price, according Mark Gibbs from PC World Online- up to $60 per account. Not only then is there incentive for entertainment corporates to bring forth action, but ISPs will have a strong financial incentive to give out private information at a cost. To be profiteering from information given out over legal matters, to me, seems grossly unethical.

In the context of modern digital culture, it seems once again big companies are using suppressive initiatives to try and exert control over the digital movement which shows no signs of slowing or even being able to be subdued. Instead this will only serve to add to the dysphoria of regular internet users who are already concerned for their safety and privacy in their online lives and as  mentioned before could only result in considerable consumer backlash. Surely this cannot be a solution to the issue of copyright and if the film industries think it is- it certainly is not one with much foresight.