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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: Tehranian is full of crap
By HighWing on 11/20/2007 1:17:36 PM , Rating: 1
So while Tehranian is technically correct that the law doesn't specifically exclude someone being fined for whistling a Beatles tune, its rather more likely that a colony of ants in your backyard will launch a succesful moonshot.

It was always my understanding that to even have a successful case of infringement, they would have to prove that you benefited in someway or form, either monetary and/or status/profile etc. In other words, if you did not gain anything by such infringement; you were not doing it in an attempt to gain anything; and/or the copyright owner in no way lost any thing (money, status, etc) by the infringement, then there is no real case.

Otherwise, how can they claim any potential money loss by such infringement. Because is that not after all why this law even exists, as a way to make sure proper credit and money is given to the copyright owners?

Ofcourse the other

RE: Tehranian is full of crap
By murphyslabrat on 11/20/2007 2:12:46 PM , Rating: 2
So, proving to a friend that you know <insert Beetle's song> by heart is not a gain in "status"?

RE: Tehranian is full of crap
By HighWing on 11/20/2007 3:42:01 PM , Rating: 1
to my understanding of the "current" law, yes that would then be an infringement. However, your gain vs their loss is so insignificant compared to the cost of filing a suit that it would be a loss to the company to sue. Furthermore, I could be wrong, but I think unless you were whistling it to a whole crowd of people, they could not even file suit since it is such a small claim.

RE: Tehranian is full of crap
By HighWing on 11/20/2007 3:47:32 PM , Rating: 1
It's kinda like if your walking down the hall and someone calls you a bad name and everyone in that area hears it. While technically you CAN sue for defamation of character, to do so you would have to prove that the defamation (or infringement) was of a certain level of significance to even make it to a trial. Otherwise the judge will just throw the case out claiming that the gain/loss values are to low and a waste of the courts time to goto trial

RE: Tehranian is full of crap
By mdogs444 on 11/20/2007 2:47:50 PM , Rating: 2
It is a potential loss because if you had no way of getting the item for free - then you would HAVE to purchase it if you wanted it.

RE: Tehranian is full of crap
By HighWing on 11/20/2007 3:35:40 PM , Rating: 1
It is a potential loss because if you had no way of getting the item for free - then you would HAVE to purchase it if you wanted it.

I'm not sure I understand what your trying to say. I was talking about claiming something like whistling a Beatles song as infringement. but if your referring to downloading music etc illegally, then I did mention that where I said "and/or the copyright owner in no way lost any thing (money, status, etc) by the infringement"

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