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Unfair Use
Via LAObserved, Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow, who's on a US-Canada Fulbright fellowship at USC, got a USC memo from a student accused of file sharing, which Doctorow fact-checked. Here's the bit from Doctorow's fact-checking that LAO's Kevin Roderick excerpted:

> > > Copyright infringement occurs whenever someone makes a copy of any copyrighted work -- songs, videos, software, cartoons, photographs, stories, novels -- without purchasing that copy from the copyright owner, or obtaining permission some other way.

Wait, wait, wait. Doesn't USC have a law program? This is just utterly wrong. Copyright infringement occurs when you make a use without obtaining permission, provided that your use doesn't fall under the banner of fair use and other user-rights under copyright....

> > > USC prohibits any infringement of intellectual property rights by any member of the USC community. As an academic institution, USC's purpose is to promote and foster the creation and lawful use of intellectual property.

This is the single most shocking thing I have ever read from a university. The purpose of a university is to promote learning and scholarship. To say otherwise is just jaw-dropping -- if we're to take this at face value, we'd measure USC's success by the number of patents filed and copyrights registered, rather than the caliber and quality of the research and work done by our students and faculty.

Now, I'm all there with Doctorow on "fair use" and the purpose of a university. But then there's unfair use, which is a different story. The accused student admits to apparent unfair use on his blog:

Although I admit to downloading content I wish to view for entertainment purposes (i.e. [TV show]), my primary purpose in using file sharing networks is research, not entertainment.

Then, one of his commenters was right there to justify it:

If students had the money, maybe there would be more incentive to pay.

Here's the comment I posted in response:

Fair use is one thing, but the justification above is just ridiculous. Here's a comparable one: "If bank robbers had more money, maybe there'd be less incentive to rob banks."

I'm a newspaper columnist and I create copyrighted material for a living. You can copy part of my column and link to it for purposes of discussion, but you can't reprint the whole thing. That's stealing, same as it would be if I downloaded a copyrighted TV show without paying for it, or walked out of your house with your TV without your permission and some exchange of cash.

I'm always stunned by the people I know -- especially those who are themselves copyright holders -- who steal music and other content over the Internet. They always say, "Well, such and such rock star has so much money, and the CDs are so expensive." Yeah? Well, it's their content, and they can sell a CD for $5,000 if they want, and if you don't have the cash, or think that's too much money, don't buy it. But, certainly don't steal it.

If you download copyrighted material off the Internet without paying for it, you are, quite simply, A THIEF.

Posted by aalkon at August 27, 2006 9:16 AM

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Amy, I've noticed that you often quote several lengthy paragraphs from copyrighted articles on your blog. Genuine question (not a snarky one!): What guidelines do you use when deciding how much is okay to reproduce on your blog?

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at August 27, 2006 7:37 AM

The reason I choose to post something is usually because I think the article is worth reading and commenting on, and I want people to actually go to the link and read the piece; I'm not republishing the piece as my own.

In quoting, I go for comprehensibility -- posting enough that readers understand the point the person is making -- with an eye to the fact that it's not my work. It's also very important to me, when there's an author to a piece, to identify that author. Often, AP or CNN will just post the article without a byline, and then I can only post the link.

When I'm posting articles by friends or by people whom I'm pretty sure want the piece widely disseminated (often they make this clear in their own postings) I'll sometimes post a great deal.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 27, 2006 7:48 AM

And here's an interesting piece about fair use of photos vis a vis the JonBenet case.

What often surprises me is the use of photos of celebs on sites like the Fug sisters and Perez Hilton. I wonder how they can post the photos they do without the photographers or photo agencies coming after them.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 27, 2006 8:23 AM

For a few hundred years there, or at least for a few dozen decades, technology was in a static condition wherein the price of publishing could be tied to physical media (paper/ vinyl/film/tape/etc.) It was a time of great progress for people, but I don't think it was the cause of that progress. The people agreed to the standards, the standards didn't conform to the people. Jesus Christ didn't float down from a cloud to say that a pop record was worth twelve bucks, or a movie was worth $9, or a Chrichton novel was worth $22. The people most desperate to maintain those price structures (RIAA etc.) are mundane technocrats who leech their careers off creative endeavors while contributing nothing meaningful.

Amy, I admire the whipsnapping clarity of your perspective on property rights. But there's more to this than people trying to save a buck by cheating. Many of these products have been mispriced... Children's music (Madonna/Spears/etc.) has been perhaps the most egregious example of this mispricing historically, so it's been the one most deeply assaulted by new tech.

I have real problems with some of the things Steve Jobs is doing, and is poised to do, to intellectual property. But I'll always admire him for walking into the record companies a few years ago with his dick swinging out and saying "Boys, your business model is for shit. From now on, your products will be priced as follows..."

A friend pointed out that he'd done the same thing to chip vendors twenty years earlier. There's nothing more powerful than an industrialist who can tell his vendors what his materials are going to cost.

Posted by: Crid at August 27, 2006 9:03 AM

My little world of VO people is experiencing this type of thing. We recently discovered an audio demo on a website (presence on the web = published) from a n00b which was word-for-word--for the first 30-40 seconds-- the same as Harlan Hogan's published demo.
(Harlan's is one of those voices you're heard in commercials for years, but may not have a name for it)

Now, Harlan wrote some of the stuff he used on his demo and has rights to the rest. So I believe a C&D Letter is in the works.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at August 27, 2006 9:56 AM

VO is a weird racket. You folks have super powers.

(I used to work with Chalk)

Posted by: Crid at August 27, 2006 10:29 AM

Intellectual property theft (misuse) is not the same as physical property theft. You are only hurting your argument by blurring that distinction. The fact is that I can copy your article a thousand times and that doesn't affect your ability to read that article. (It may affect your ability to sell it.) But if I steal your television once, you can neither see it, hear it or sell it from that point on. None of this is to say that you are wrong when you state that intellectual property misuse is wrong and illegal, only that you are mistaken to conflate it with physical theft.

Posted by: Zhuang at August 30, 2006 11:03 AM

Posted by: Armenia at January 29, 2007 7:01 AM

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