Friday, May 04, 2007

DMCA etc

A few days ago I wrote my first DMCA take-down notice, I followed the instructions on the Wikipedia page. The reason for this was that someone was mirroring my blog and putting google adverts on the copy. Before I started putting Google adverts on my web sites I wouldn't have been bothered about this. But now that I'm making a small amount of money from Google advertising I don't want someone else just mirroring my content and taking the money away from me.

The person who managed the site in question took a surprisingly large amount of time to comply with the request (a discussion of several messages plus a couple of reminders over the course of a few days).

The most recent news about DMCA abuse is the case of trying to prevent the distribution of a code used for decrypting DVD-HD. It is widely believed that copyright was used to prevent the distribution. Strangely many people who otherwise have a good understanding of technology have been saying "you can't copyright a number". What precisely is a program binary if not a long series of numbers (or a single large number depending on how you look at it)? For that matter a JPEG file or the ASCII representation of a book is also either a very large number or a series of small numbers. Also apparently it's not protected under copyright but under the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA.

If it was a matter of copyright it would not be an issue of whether a number can be copyrighted, but what defines such a number. One criteria for copyright is that it has to be on something non-trivial (EG I couldn't copyright the use of "a few days ago" as an introduction) so length is a criteria. Another is that it has to be a creative expression (so an encryption key can't be copyright). However in many jurisdictions there are separate laws regarding distributing passwords without permission, such laws are designed for preventing people from granting unauthorised access to computers but I believe that they can be used more generally (I have been advised that such laws exist in the state of Pennsylvania in the US - I'm not sure what the law is in other regions but expect that something so useful would be copied).

Another breaking story is that the RIAA has created an organisation with a US government mandate to collect royalties on ALL music that is played over Internet radio. This includes music for which the copyright owner is not an RIAA member and does not consent to have the royalties applied. You can create your own music, grant free access to everyone out of philanthropy, and then have the RIAA tax the music!

It's unfortunate that only the down-side of this dramatic change in copyright law has been discussed. Compulsory licenses have a lot of potential in other areas of copyright material. Recently people have been complaining that government sponsored scientific research is often only published in journals that cost large amounts of money. Why not have a compulsory license for journals at a fair price that everyone can afford? Software is often unreasonably expensive (Windows Vista with the latest version of MS Office can cost up to twice as much as a new PC), let's have compulsory licenses for software at a reasonable fee! Software vendors often cease selling old versions of software to force customers to upgrade, a compulsory license scheme would permit us to buy MS-DOS 3.30 at a reasonable price regardless of whether MS wants to sell it.

Finally there is at least one evil cult that claims it's "religious" texts are copyright as a way of preventing the public from seeing what a drug-addled second-rate sci-fi author produces. Let's have a compulsory license for them so everyone can read them!

The only thing that's wrong with the RIAA scheme is that there is no option for copyright owners to directly license their material to the users (including granting a free license if they so desire). The up-side of this is that it proves beyond all doubt that the RIAA is not representing copyright owners.

Update: I initially accepted the claims about the DMCA take-down notices being based on copyright rather than anti-circumvention. Since learning of my mistake I modified this post to reflect the fact that it was not a copyright issue.

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