Recently Slashdot posted a story about the RIAA suing a disabled man living on social security. For the most part, the Slashdot crowd is rabidly anti-RIAA, but one fellow commented that just because a person is disabled, it doesn’t mean that he can’t infringe copyright. I found this defense of the RIAA vs. a poor, disabled guy somewhat disgusting. Even if he was guilty as charged, I’m still very much on his side and against the RIAA.
Is it okay for the RIAA to “sue ’em all,” even the weakest members of society? Their latest atrocity is an attempt to get a child to testify against her own mother (also a disabled person living on disability). But the law is the law, it makes no distinction beyond culpability. If the weakest amongst us are infringing copyright, then technically their weakness is no defense.
Or is it? Whatever happened to the social contract? At what point did we say that collective revulsion for persecution of the weak by the powerful must take a back seat to corporate interest? At what point do we simply acknowledge that democracy has fallen to corporatism and that the social contract has been trumped by End User Licensing Agreements, and the latest rationalization of copyright?
I say the “latest rationalization of copyright,” because the original idea of creative works being public property to which the creator has been given a temporary monopoly seems increasingly remote. Now we are to consider creative works to be “intellectual property” belonging to the creator or, more often, whatever corporation secured the rights from the original creator by whatever means — in the case of the music industry often by contracts most advantageous to themselves. And in the US, whenever Mickey Mouse is on the verge of falling into the public domain, you may expect the term of copyright to be extended. The US Constitution dictates the term be limited (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8), but does not specify a duration, so there is nothing to stop Congress from extending it indefinitely.
Along with the idea of “intellectual property” comes the idea that this “property” can be “stolen,” just as actual property can be stolen. The term “piracy” has been successfully applied to such, even though there are significant differences between copyright infringement and theft on the high seas, or, indeed, theft of any kind. Theft involves depriving a thing’s rightful owner of the possession and use of said thing. Making a copy of a thing in no way impairs the owner’s use or possession. Indeed, this kind of sharing would be a wonderful thing for children encouraged to share a toy — imagine if they could simply hand over a copy of it! But contrary to what your mother may have taught you, the RIAA would like you to believe that sharing is a crime.
It seems to me that the last great evil to be acknowledged as such is socio-economic inequality. Slavery has been abolished, civil rights championed, women emancipated, and in many jurisdictions homosexuals are making progress towards equal rights. There’s still work to do in all these areas, but our tolerance of socio-economic inequality reminds me of writings from the 19th-century, where otherwise decent people made blatantly racist or anti-semitic statements as a matter of course because such was the common attitude of the time.
For those of us with few resources, p2p file sharing can be regarded as DIY Robin Hoodism, with a modern twist. Instead of stealing from the rich to give to the poor, the poor can simply share copies of files the rich claim rights to. If the rich complain because they don’t think they’re rich enough without the money they feel the poor should be paying, then screw them. The social contract is breaking down, and the serfs owe only as much obedience as Prince John can enforce. Just be aware that poaching on royal lands can be risky.
For those us with money to spend on music, do not support EMI, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group or other RIAA member labels. If in doubt, check riaaradar.com, and know that the rumours of allofmp3.com‘s demise have been greatly exagerated. You can also keep more money in your own pockets and out of the labels’ pockets by buying second hand. In a corporatist world, the votes you cast with your wallet may matter more than those cast with a ballot.