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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 iFX on 11/20/2007 11:40:16 AM , Rating: 0
Law breaking is law breaking. Just because police don't have a tool to measure doesn't mean it's not law breaking. You seem to not mind "technically" breaking the law while touting yourself as the perfect driver.


RE: This is sort of similar to DOT laws...
By mdogs444 on 11/20/2007 11:48:52 AM , Rating: 1
im not the perfect driver at all, never claimed to be. I like to drive fast, im too lazy to use turn signals, i dont use two hands on the wheel, i tailgate, and often time i cut people off on the freeway swerving in and out of traffic. I never claimed to be a "traffic law" abiding citizen.

But it is possible that i could stop all that and obey the traffic laws? Absolutely. The traffic laws are laid out clearly at the BMV, local police station, online, or even the library. Go get a copy and read through if you are confused or questioning the laws.


RE: This is sort of similar to DOT laws...
By iFX on 11/20/07, Rating: -1
RE: This is sort of similar to DOT laws...
By Spuke on 11/20/2007 12:01:00 PM , Rating: 3
You have a valid point mdogs, but, like the man said above, if the law says 50 feet then it's 50 feet regardless. Any other distance is indeed illegal. Whether it's enforceable or not is a different story.


RE: This is sort of similar to DOT laws...
By rcc on 11/20/2007 12:15:03 PM , Rating: 2
So signal at 100', or after the preceeding turn, whichever is closest. You can easily comply with traffic laws, most people choose not to.

Just like you can comply with copyright law, but many people choose not to. For pretty much the same reasons, it's easy to do, and chances of getting caught are fairly low with basic precautions. Doesn't make it right.


RE: This is sort of similar to DOT laws...
By masher2 (blog) on 11/20/2007 12:24:44 PM , Rating: 1
Exactly. The law doesn't say "signal at exactly 50 feet", it says "signal at least 50 feet before". Traffic laws are not impossible to follow.


RE: This is sort of similar to DOT laws...
By sj420 on 11/20/2007 2:08:15 PM , Rating: 2
Didn't anyone ever hear the phrase:

"Rules were meant to be broken"

Consider that when the country was founded most of these ignoramous laws were not in existance and were NEVER considered. Now suddenly they are in the books (1976, big whoop, oh authority, yyyeeeaars of experience </sarcasm>) and everyone acts like they have to follow them to the books.

Well, Heres what good ol' George Washington Says:

"If America does not have an Armed Revolt every 30 years the will not maintain their Freedoms."

How many years has it been?
Lets get busy, the "People in power" are just "people"
with too much power. If you LET them control you they do.

Gather up your gear. Fear only exists if you believe in it.


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