Our Copyright Laws are a Mess

Over the last several weeks I have addressed the importance of trust, payments systems and security and I must once again return to address the most fundamental challenge of the digital world – copyright. How often have you heard “Copyright is dead, it’s an outmoded concept destroyed by students all over the world who refuse to pay for any digital content, especially music.” The conclusion to this discussion usually goes “like drug laws copyright laws just turn students into criminals, and won’t stop downloading so they are irrelevant and should be abolished.” This expresses a widely held view but this attacks the fundamental and essential core of any successful knowledge economy.

In the US in the 20s there was a wide spread disrespect for the law because of the failure of prohibition. Literature of the time, including The Great Gatsby celebrated economic predators. Similarly today we all know a significant number of people who illegally download copyrighted entertainment and there is a wide spread disrespect for copyright law.

When US legislation provides for greater damages for downloading two songs in breach of copyright than it does for the medical negligence by a surgeon who removes the wrong limb in an operation it is easy to argue that copyright laws are inequitable.

When the Recording Industry Association of America can sue Jesse Jordan a freshman university student for $15 million dollars because his search engine technology enabled other students to illegally download music files and his lawyers had to advise him to settle because if he won, he would not recover any of his estimated $250,000 legal expenses.

When the chance of a moral victory is coupled with sending your family bankrupt then US copyright legislation is unconscionable. These cases are not an argument for or an incitement to break the law they are remarkable evidence that these inequitable and unconscionable laws must be fixed.

Rather than carping on about the cost and size of the pipes in this our election year we all need to call on our politicians to solve the important but hard issue of copyright then we will release the real power of the digitally connected economy to create better ways of working, learning and living.