Sunday, November 15, 2009

Copyright Cartel Can't Catch Criminals

We all know that the copyright cartel are trying to get a draconian ACTA treaty passed. We know that they are doing this to try to improve the bottom line of their dying business model. We know that they think that any kind of copyright infringement is stealing from the mouths of their starving, little babies.

The main points of difference between Pirate Party Australia and the copyright cartel is that firstly, we think that non-commercial copyright infringement is fine, as creativity is at an all-time high, and the only reason for copyright protections is to encourage creativity (though we think it is good if people choose to pay the artists as thanks for their efforts), and secondly, we think that any laws that need to be introduced in order to enforce a ban on non-commercial copyright infringement is anathema to maintaining a free society.

Where Pirate Party Australia and the copyright cartel agree is that commercial copyright infringement is wrong. Granted, we think that copyright should last for significantly less time than the 150 years that it typically lasts when something is produced by a youngish person, and while we know that no kind of copyright infringement is stealing as the cartel constantly would have us believe, we still think that commercial copyright infringement is wrong.

So why isn't the copyright cartel going after the commercial infringers? Sure, we occasionally hear about someone being busted with a garage full of burned DVDs, but they could be catching people commercially infringing copyrights without even needing an investigation or a warrant. How so, you say? Yes, that's right, I heard you. Well, I'm glad you asked, because it means I get to recount a tale from my youth, which happened earlier today, though with my bad knees, I might be exaggerating to say 'youth.'

I was at Camberwell market this morning, browsing as is the social convention. I bought a Speedee Add-a-Matic, which is like a ripple carry adder from 1972. It only cost me $10! I'm a nerd, I know. "Objection! Relevance?," I hear you say. Really, that wasn't you? Must have been the TV then. Anyway, while buying treasures that my wife lovingly calls "junk," I saw 3 separate vendors selling pirated DVDs. I confronted each of them to inform them of what they were doing and that for each Lindsay Lohan DVD they sold for $3, they were risking a fine of hundreds of thousands of dollars and 5 years in prison.

The first vendor basically fobbed me off, though there was a language barrier and I'm not sure how much of what I said was understood. The second vendor said someone had given them to her to sell and she didn't realise there was anything wrong with the disks. She took them from display and packed them away. The third vendor had a mix of legal and illegal disks in stacks on a table. When I picked up a disk to show him, he said that it wasn't his and that someone must have put it there. I started going through the stacks of disks, questioning him if this one or that one was also dropped there. I took one from half way down a stack and asked him how one had been dropped underneath other DVDs. He said that he'd bought them from a shop. I recommended he take them back to the shop, but it was clear that this vendor sold pirated DVDs, knowing it was illegal, but just not caring. I only handed him about half a dozen, and he didn't put them back on the table, but he didn't put them away either, and it was clear that they were going back on the table as soon as I stopped annoying him. At this point, I decided to leave and find my very embarrassed wife.

So, back to the point of this posting. The copyright cartel has its priorities wrong. Instead of chasing laws that would allow people to be criminalised without evidence or charge, they could wander down to one of many local markets, bring in a police officer to see the crime of distributing commercially copyrighted material being committed, and have an arrest with evidence and witnesses and all that old-fashioned stuff. They could then find out where the illicit goods were purchased, and follow the links back to the people making the infringing copies, easily obtaining a warrant after collecting the copied DVDs and a statement from the vendor as evidence.

How hard is that? I'm guessing that it's not difficult at all. The main problem from the copyright cartel's point of view is that it requires a bit of work, and it doesn't confer any new power on the cartel. So if the copyright cartel catches criminals without trying very hard, why would legislators continue to help them out by passing stronger laws.

Maybe I'm just being argumentative. After all, I did just get up in the middle of writing this post to tell off a neighbour for watering the garden at the wrong time of the wrong day with the wrong type of hose.

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