November 14, 2008 – 4:02 am

In 2006, isoHunt was one of the first BitTorrent sites to get caught up in a legal battle with the MPAA. In a guest post for TorrentFreak, isoHunt founder Gary Fung gives his view on this copyfight, the right and wrong of the current copyright system, and how it’s abused by lobbyists for the wrong reasons.

Since I’ve been sued by both the MPAA (Hollywood) and the CRIA (Canadian recording industry), I’ve talked about what’s been happening with our cases. Our CRIA case has also recently received mainstream press attention by the Canadian Press and Globe & Mail. But the question is why? Why do they insist on suing their own customers? Why do they sue search engines like us, who make the Internet more useful for everyone?

The problem lies in something fundamentally broken with the copyright system. A choice quote from Cory Doctorow’s article on the “copyfight”:

“So the natural inclination of anyone who is struck by a piece of creative work is to share it. And since ’sharing’ on the Internet is the same as ‘copying,’ this puts you square in copyright’s crosshairs. Everyone copies. Dan Glickman, the ex-Congressman who now heads up the Motion Picture Association of America (as pure a copyright maximalist as you could hope to meet), admitted to copying Kirby Dick’s documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated (a scorching critique of the MPAA’s rating system) but excused it because the copy was ‘in [his] vault.’

“To pretend that you do not copy is to adopt the twisted hypocrisy of the Victorians who swore that they never, ever masturbated. Everyone knows that they themselves are lying, and a large number of us know that everyone else is lying too.”

When the head of the MPAA has to admit to copying the film that criticizes the very industry he represents, an industry group of lobbyists and litigators against such copying, it highlights an important fact beyond the obvious hypocrisy.

The Internet has completely changed the economics of sharing. When sharing equals copying on the Internet and the direct cost of that sharing is effectively $0 (it doesn’t cost you anything to share videos on Youtube or BitTorrent), it makes copyright infringement so easy that even Dan Glickman can do it. So easy that a mom like Stephanie Lenz can do it when she posted a video of her 13-month-old son dancing to Prince’s music. And I mean no disrespect to them.

In Star Trek, currency becomes irrelevant with virtually unlimited “copying” of physical objects with the Replicator. The Internet is the Replicator of information.

This is an age of rampant sharing and remixing, and if you can make the connection between sharing and culture as Doctorow has, you will see this war between rightsholders and consumers will never end and the rightsholders will never win. The band Girl Talk, Lessig, James Boyle, Terry McBride of Nettwerk and isoHunt all echo a common point: Remixing and sharing is good for culture, suing consumers and technologists that enables sharing is destructive for everyone.

The Internet is a more efficient information machine than the printing press or VCR ever was, and also a whole different animal. It’s time for the content industries to learn to put it to better use as well, by discarding past notions of how business is done based on an economy of scarcity. In Star Trek, currency becomes irrelevant with virtually unlimited “copying” of physical objects with the Replicator. The Internet is the Replicator of information. When a 13-month-old dances to Prince’s music, copyright infringement is nowhere near his consciousness. It’s an endorsement that he likes it, pure and simple.

I’ve said a number of times that I’m not against copyright, but copyright needs significant reform in the Internet age. If all this rampant copying on BitTorrent and the Internet has not made a dent in Hollywood’s record earnings, why can’t we all just get along without rabid lawsuits? Why can’t they see that sharing and remixing is a human urge for culture, and when we share and remix art, it’s not a liability but an endorsement for the artist or author or producer?

When the majority of society has no ethical conviction of wrongdoing when they violate copyright law, it’s not society that’s wrong, it’s the law. Because no one can really own ideas. Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” It’s how the arts and sciences work. We share, we inspire and we remix. For more on Copyfight and where the word came from, go here.

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  2. We have patent laws to give the orinator of a useful scientific or engineering idea, a few years of opportunity to exploit their invention. These inventions are usually for the good of mankind with tangible benefits. However, we legally protect ideas from the entertainment industry for a far longer time, at a far greater profit to the originator, than the scientific patent. Our priorities are seriously flawed when we pay our singers so much more than our scientists.

    By john on Nov 17, 2008

  3. Even as a musician, I feel that the current copyright laws are archaic and out of touch with today’s world. I have copied various recordings off the internet, but in turn, I have discovered a lot of bands/artists I never would have known about. The result is that I then purchase their legit recordings, in many cases their whole catalog! I’ve also then gone to see many of the bands perform live. Were I not to have downloaded something to ‘try out’, I never would have become a fan.

    The other aspect of this is ‘lost recordings.’ There are so many amazing recordings on LPs that will never be released on any sort of digital format. This is akin to having warehouses of paintings, sculptures, etc., that no one will ever see. I frequent various blogs that post ‘lost recordings’ and download things I am interested in. If you’re looking for that obscure French electronic synth band from the ’70s, it’s probably only available from someone who has it and uploaded it. I feel I’m as much an archivist, doing my part to digitally save some amazing music that otherwise might be lost.

    All this and I’m a working musician who depends partly on income derived from selling my own recordings! But I want no part of the major record labels or the old time industry. I do better (make more money) selling my own recordings. I can even give them away to promote myself if I want. The RIAA (and others) are so out of touch with the real world. Since there’s no physical product, no shipping, no warehouses, music shouldn’t still cost $15 a CD. That’s crazy! Make it cheaper and sell more - much, much more. You wouldn’t have to sue anyone and you’d make a lot more money for everyone involved.

    The major recording labels are (almost) dead. Thank God. Free up the music and artists who make it!

    By ictus75 on Dec 30, 2008

  4. For me the free download is some kind of substitute for a record shop. In my (small) town there is no real record shop any more – no chance to listen to a record before you buy it (and forget the 30-second-snippets on amazon).

    I download a lot, mostly unreleased live recordings or rare versions, but also “regular” recordings. But: If I like the music, I usually buy the record, because I want to hold something in my hands and I want the better sound quality (mp3 is ok, but definitely NOT hi-fi). And, believe it or not, I want the musicians to get paid for their music (maybe because I know a lot of musicians, mainly independent).

    There are maybe three or four occasions each year when I don’t buy the album because I downloaded some tracks of it before (I usually don’t download complete albums; exceptions: an album of one of my favourites that I’ll buy anyway or an album that I already have on LP or an album that I was “hunting” for a long time and could not find).

    But there are literally dozens of new bands/new records of old bands that I first heard via free (and in some but by far not all occasions probably illegal) download – and then I bought the album (which should make the download legal).
    I have maybe 15.000 CDs and LPs, plus a few thousand of 12″es, 7″es, CD-Singles and whatever. So all in all the record companies made a lot of money with me, even concerning all the free mp3’s.

    As ictus75 wrote: a “virtual” product without sleeve, without shipping, without store should not cost 15 Dollars or 12 Euros.
    Legal downloading is too expensive, especially because you don’t get the whole quality.
    One $ for one song is the absolute maximum I would pay, but only if this song is a brand new one (up to 6 months or maybe a year – then it should become cheaper) AND when the download rate is not under 192 kbit/s (better256 or 320). The usual 128 kbit/s should be half the price.

    By Walter on Jan 8, 2009

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