Copyright infringement is a big deal. I mean, a really REALLY big deal. A “cease and desist or our army of lawyers will sue you and everyone associated with you for your entire life savings” big deal. And for the longest time, many people have felt that they were (or should be) exempt from copyright restrictions. Unfortunately, they weren’t and/or aren’t. The following stuff is cautionary in nature based on facts. If you want to see my personal opinion on this I’ll mention that at the bottom of this posting.For many of you that stay up to date with tech news the first thing you thought of when reading the above paragraph was “stealing MP3s.” Yeah, people distributing copies of music without permission is a big chunk of the pie, but there’s more to it than just that.
Infringement in the arts…
Look at Andy Warhol if you don’t believe me – his most famous works were all appropriated pop culture references, and most (if not all) of them were copyrighted by others. If he tried to do today what he did then (assuming he was still alive), he might need to put all his profits into legal expenses.
Infringement in Education…
But wait, there’s more! Did you know that a lot of copyright infringement happens in school? Unfortunately, it does. There is a “fair use clause” that allows educators to do a little more, but the shield of fair use isn’t as big as some teachers think it is.
Want to show a movie in class? Well you can probably get away with short clips preceded and followed with class discussion, but if you would rather just turn off the lights and hit play you’re providing a public viewing. You know that little FBI warning you fast-forwarded through? Yeah, you just broke federal law and made you and your school liable. There are some tapes that when purchased include permission for viewing in their entirety in an educational setting, but I doubt Disney’s “The Lion King” is one of them.
Want to photocopy a book for your students? Last I heard you’ve got two choices: Copy no more than a chapter at a time and disposing of (NOT reusing) the copies when you’re done, or making sure you have an actual book for EVERY set of copies you make. Making 25-30 copies of a book you borrowed from the library can get your principal very angry at you if you get caught, and believe me people have been caught. (Some substitutes turn teachers/schools in for a small finder’s fee.) When in doubt ask your Media Specialist (or Librarian for you old-schoolers) or Technology Coordinator. They may deal with copyright law on a more frequent basis than you do.
So what’s my opinion on copyrights / file sharing / etc.?
I think some people are a little too zealous with their opinions. On one hand, the copyright holders sometimes go out of their way to enforce their intellectual property rights. Disney has served papers on teachers who put Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” on “Welcome Back” signs in September. Some CDs are modified so they won’t play in computers. I don’t think these steps are necessary (and in some cases they can be bad PR), but those companies have the right to do things like that – it’s their products, after all.
On the other hand, those that promote the breaking of copyright laws seem to say “Let us do what we want or we’ll do whatever we want anyway!” Seriously, I’ve heard people interviewed who said they didn’t agree with the price of something so that’s why they downloaded it illegally. If you try that at Walmart they’ll haul you away in cuffs, and rightly so. A thief is a thief, whether it’s a 25 cent pack of gum, 99 cent song, or a $1,000 stereo system. Oh, and saying it should be ok because the person you robbed is rich will at best make the judge laugh at you for acting like you have a below average intelligence. “…and justice for all” includes the rich too, you know.)
As for me…
I am an artist. As an artist, I would feel greatly offended if someone else made a profit off of my creations without giving me a cut. I would also feel cheated if something I based my livelihood on was being distributed for free whether I wanted it to be or not. I mean, why buy something if you have something else of equal quality for free, right?
Now as an artist, I also see reasons to have my work shared with others. It can get my name out and increase my popularity, for starters. I’m not concerned about financial gain (although my student loans aren’t due yet…), so I’m just happy for the ego boost I get from people telling me they think my stuff’s cool. That right there is payment enough for me. But the free distribution of my art is and should always be my choice. That right there is in my opinion the bottom line. Promoters of file sharing have given good reasons for what they do, but not a single one of them can or should trump the copyright holder’s wishes.