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A new study analyzes the dramatic disparity between U.S. copyright law and the social norm

What does your picture hanging in your living room, singing a Beatles song to your friend, or showing off pictures from your latest museum trip have in common?  They are all copyright infringements, according the 1976 Copyright Act.

The 1976 Copyright Act set forth that all creative works gained copyright protection, without the need for registration.  This overly broad legal train wreck has only gotten more confusing with the entrance of modern digital technology.  If you post a picture of a concert are you infringing?  If you let your friend listen to your phone to hear part of a song at a concert are you infringing?

The answer to both questions according to the 1976 Copyright Act is yes; you are obviously infringing, as you paid no royalties to the creator of the creative work (the musician).

John Tehranian, a law professor at the University of Utah, estimates that in an average day, he totals as much as $12.45 million USD in liability.  He sees his case as the norm, not as an exception, which is the topic of his new research paper (PDF).  According to Tehranian, "We are, technically speaking, a nation of infringers."

Tehranian illustrates numerous everyday examples.  For example, copying the full text of an email for a response is technically a copyright violation against the writer.  Tattoos such as Tehranian's bold Captain Caveman emblem on his shoulder are a thorny issue, which seem to infringe on copyrights.  Furthermore, Tehranian states, if he were to take off his shirt at the University pool and go for a swim; his tattoo could be deemed a public performance, racking up even more copyright infringement charges.

Tehranian has calculated his year liability -- for everything from the birthday song, to his home decorations -- and has rung up his yearly liability bill and just about $4.5 billion USD.

Tehranian does not engage in p2p file sharing as some might wonder upon seeing that tidy sum.  Tehranian tries to illustrate that the poor legal language of U.S. copyright law makes nearly everyone in the country civil offenders in a sense.  He sees the "vast disparity between copyright law and copyright norms" as a mandate for copyright reform. 

Tehranian raises many valid points.  The key issue is whether there is a point to laws with no enforcement or arbitrary enforcement.  This is the current state of copyright law.  Big business advocates such as the RIAA, MPAA, and IFPI use the Copyright Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for everything from taking down websites, press charges against site owners, deny publication education funding, and to sue people for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The artist Prince now is even trying to use them to take down YouTube, Ebay, and The Pirate Bay.

Meanwhile, people everyday commit hundreds to thousands of equivalent violations, entirely unknowingly.  The fact of the matter is that U.S. copyright law today remains a mess of ambiguity and shadows, but has allowed for tremendous legal campaigns against U.S. citizens.  Perhaps the U.S. needs to let citizens rewrite the copyright law via wiki, as New Zealand recently did for its new law enforcement guidelines.  Whatever its form, copyright reform, however seems far away, and until then -- according to Tehranian -- we are one nation united by infringement.



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RE: This is sort of similar to DOT laws...
By Lord 666 on 11/20/2007 11:02:25 AM , Rating: 1
You can't tell me you drive the speed limit on them farm roads in Ohio.

Speed limits are implemented assuming people are going to go above them thus creating a legal cash cow. In NJ, even though it says 65mph on the Garden State Parkway, it really means don't go faster than 80 or get a ticket. Same thing on the Turnpike (I-95).

I agree with you fundementally on how easy it is to drive and maintain the law, but it does not explain why there are still so many accidents.


RE: This is sort of similar to DOT laws...
By mdogs444 on 11/20/2007 11:08:07 AM , Rating: 2
First off, I dont live on or near farm roads. I live downtown Columbus - a city of roughly 750,000 people.

Second, I dont drive the speed limit, ever - unless I spot a police officer.

I am not defending my driving, I am saying that its not difficult to obey traffic laws and therefore they are not impossible to follow.

But in case you dont know anything about Ohio traffic - and its obvious you dont - Ohio cops are one of the worst in the country for giving speeding tickets. In some areas, they will ticket you for going over 3mph over the speed limit. Many cities around here actually make the majority of their money off of speeding violations. State Troopers on the freeways will ticket you for anything about 4-5+ over the limit, and you have no way to get out of it.


By sj420 on 11/20/2007 2:18:43 PM , Rating: 4
Most of the victimless crimes are simply for revenue for the state.

Just trying to bring in some money so they pick on ordinary people that do minor things that don't actually do any harm to the world at all.


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