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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 masher2 (blog) on 11/20/2007 12:29:49 PM , Rating: 1
> "Are all four of your tires pressurized to the correct amount? I think not. You could technically get a ticket for that"

Err, no. I believe some states could fit a 'dangerously incorrect' tire pressure into a safety code violation, but the idea you're breaking the law if your tire is set to 45 rather than 50 psi is just plain wrong.

> "Do you check for debris and normal function of your car every time before you get behind the wheel?"

There is no law to require you to do this in any state I know of.

> "When you get to a stop sign do your tires always...come to a complete stop? If not, then you just broke the law..."

Of course. That's why the sign says "stop", not "slow down a bit".

RE: This is sort of similar to DOT laws...
By gradoman on 11/20/2007 6:04:43 PM , Rating: 2
Lol...the people of NYC need to have a f*cking dictionary slammed on their heads to help them understand the word Stop and a Powerpoint presentation to help recognize a Stop Sign.

RE: This is sort of similar to DOT laws...
By mdogs444 on 11/20/2007 6:21:34 PM , Rating: 2
Ive heard that many people actually think that 8 sided signs with the word "STOP" is optional - when the sign has white boarders.

lol - jk.

By Lord 666 on 11/20/2007 6:38:01 PM , Rating: 2
Yellow speed limit signs are just a suggestion. The white ones mean an actual speed limit.

By Lord 666 on 11/20/2007 6:33:35 PM , Rating: 2
Tiene que ser bilingüe señor

RE: This is sort of similar to DOT laws...
By RandallMoore on 11/20/07, Rating: 0
By Keeir on 11/21/2007 12:14:47 AM , Rating: 3
I believe Masher was referring to the "debris" part of your statement in that minor cosmetic damage is not prohibited by law in any state.

As for the Tail Light Issue. Yes you should check out your rear mirrors at the least to assure that a light is on. Checking all the major functions IS a part of driving safely. Thankfully I have an Auto that does the majority of this checking for me, but I definitely still check functions such as parking brake, mirrors, etc before I drive.

The point is that driving laws ARE able to be followed, even if its such a pain very few do, but Copyright law as it is currently written is essentially unfollowable in the course of normal activity... because your almost sure to be involved in another person's violation each and every day.

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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