Alastair’s Place

Software development, Cocoa, Objective-C, life. Stuff like that.

Poppycock From the FSF

Peter Brown of the Free Software Foundation (from BBC News):

“Media companies are trying to force people to think about copyright infringement almost in line with murder on the high seas.”

That’s complete poppycock, and the FSF should know better; they’ve been around more than long enough to have seen the software and music piracy phenomenon arise, and that being the case, I can’t believe they don’t know that “pirates” play up to the skull-and-crossbones image.

It’s only recently, when massive copyright infringement has become mainstream (and yes, sadly, it is mainstream), that people have started to object to the use of the word “piracy” in this context, and only then because they want to think they’re doing nothing wrong.

He goes on to say

“Copyright law is about copying and reproduction of work; that is on the statue books for everyone and is sufficient to tackle the problem.”

which, again, is complete arse-gravy (to quote Stephen Fry). We can tell that it isn’t sufficient to tackle the problem because there are many thousands of copyrighted files being shared every day on peer-to-peer networks, and the few prosecutions to date have done little to discourage that.1

Also, anyone involved with copyright will tell you that it’s presently impossible to enforce to any reasonable extent because of jurisdictional issues. For instance, the infringer may be in (say) Italy, and may be using a service run by a German company but hosted on servers in London and whose details are being obscured by a “privacy” service run by an American company.

So, you want to start a lawsuit? You’ll first have to obtain a subpoena from a U.S. court, which requires that you file a suit in the United States. But the U.S. court doesn’t have any jurisdiction in London, so in order to get the name of the German company you’ll need to sue the U.K.-based hosting company in a U.K. court. You still haven’t got the name of the infringer yet, and you still don’t even know which country they’re in. So now you sue the German company in a German court to get them to give up the name of the infringer. If you’re lucky, you have name and address and you know the infringer is Italian. So you start another lawsuit in an Italian court.

The tally so far? Lawsuits in four different countries, which means at least four sets of lawyers; you can’t get anyone to pay for those because the people you were suing weren’t individually doing anything wrong… you just needed them to give up the name of their customers. You probably could recover the costs—which, by now are astronomical—from the copyright infringer, however that assumes that they actually have enough money to pay for all those lawsuits and lawyers, which is unlikely. And how long has all of this taken? Years, probably. Some court systems are fast; others simply are not.

This is uneconomic and impractical even for huge corporations, and Peter Brown would have us believe that it’s a viable solution for e.g. solo software developers?! I’m beginning to see why Fake Steve Jobs calls them “freetards”.

Personally, I think that the fact that the problem here is widespread misbehaviour on the part of the general public means that the only option is for copyright infringement to become a petty crime, like shoplifting. Of course, the civil rights movement will probably fight such a move, but at the end of the day we either have to accept that copyright isn’t working (in which case the only option will be strong DRM, which nobody really likes), or do something about it.

1 Of course, the problem has changed from one where the only infringers who really made a dent in copyright holders’ bottom line where organised criminals to a situation where large numbers of consumers in the market are now able to cause mass-scale infringement. That’s why copyright law doesn’t work any more… it was only ever intended to deal with the organised criminals churning out counterfeit goods to make a profit, not with mass infringement from an uncaring public that just wants things for free.