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Time to Outlaw Libraries

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trinity-college-library-dub

Today, I can listen to a song on the radio, copy it on my old tape deck and listen to the cassette in my car without violating the law. I used to have a digital audio tape (DAT) recorder and I could make digital copies off the radio, or make copies of the vinyl  lp’s or digital cd’s that I had purchased. A small portion of the cost of the DAT tape went to pay royalties. i could even go to the library, check out a record (usually the quality was pretty bad) and make a copy if I wanted to. I did these things, listened to the music, and violated no laws. 

While at the library, I could read a book while sitting in the reading room. I could either finish the book, retaining (hopefully) the material or at least the experience of reading. If I couldn’t finish the book, I could check it out and return it in a few weeks. If I didn’t return it on time, I paid a fine. There wasn’t any real expense unless I lost the book (of course, college library fines were MUCH more expensive—especially in the Reserve section, where I worked before I was transferred to the Russian language section). I did these things, read the books, and violated no laws.

Now, legally at least, everyone agrees that if I have downloaded a song I have committed a violation of some sort, maybe even a crime. If I were to dare post a song here, a copyright take-down notice would soon be sent to Google and that would be the end of this blog. But what’s the qualitative difference between downloading a song and making a copy of a song on the radio? I don’t see any, quite frankly.

And why is it that I can post Youtube videos to my heart’s content without getting in trouble? Why is a Youtube video different than an MP3 file? Answer: they are not different at all, legally speaking.

If I download a book and read it, that’s a violation too. Why? What’s the difference between borrowing a book from the public library and “borrowing” it from a peer-to-peer network? The answers you get to this kind of question are along the lines of, the copying is easier, the copy is exact, when you download a song off the radio you can’t “order up” the song, etc. Oh really? Ever called a radio request line?

There’s something wrong with this. Apart from Harry Pearson and the Absolute Sound crowd, most people thought that cassette tapes sounded pretty good. Or at least, good enough. Not to mention LP’s played on turntables with needles worn down to the nub. Copyright law does not address issues of the quality or ease (the “sweat of the brow” doctrine pretty much having been discarded) of copying or distribution.

Until we modify copyright law to take into account the realities of digital distribution, we are all becoming criminals. Making everyone a criminal tends to devalue crime itself, even the malum in se crimes. Why not set up a system of micropayments along the lines of the “tax” that I used to pay for my DAT tapes? Or the similar “tax” charged on blank CD’s in Canada?

Or, I suppose, we could simply outlaw libraries to bring them into conformity with current copyright practice.

Written by mokane

December 27, 2008 at 9:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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