Friday, 22 August 2008

Copyright owners must consider "fair use"

One of the big take outs from the recent visit of Richard Stallman to New Zealand was his bringing into focus the potential of the USA Digital Millennium Copyright Act to inhibit fair use of copyright - i.e. the right to use a snippet of someone else's copyright for our own purposes whether for leisure or research.

Until now much of this debate has centered around how to allow students academics, columnists, journalists et al to continue to enjoy the right to quote from an article or whatever as a way of critiquing either the work or the issue.

DRM - Digital Rights Management
The debate around fair use gets much more intense and interesting when you start bringing in the impact of DRM systems - i.e. those inbuilt software locks and gates which manage my/your rights to access and enjoy a piece of music, or film, or written work, after I/you have purchased it.

Kim Hill - NZ National Radio
As may be imagined Richard Stallman has strong views on this, especially around the crucial test as to whether I still have the right to share the same with my friends. He shared some of these with NZ broadcaster Kim Hill. She in turn did him the courtesay, at his request, of putting his audio up in both MP3 [ the usual] and Ogg Vorbis - here

Buying food at the supermarket
I too have strong views on the sharing and exchanging digital goods with freinds et al. For example, one way of looking at this is to imagine a trip to your local supermarket. You buy the ingredients for a meal and take them home and then cook them for the evening meal.

You call the family together and you sit down to eat. Nothing contentious there - you have bought the food and have the right to enjoy it as a family.

The door bell rings
But imagine the door bell rings. It's your son's best friend. You invite him to sit down and share the meal. Under many DRM systems, at that point, you would have to stop everything and go back to the supermarket to either ask permission to share the food, or more likely, pay another fee for the food because you are now extending your use to include external people. In short you are sharing it to the community.

DRM destroys community
Sounds a little fanciful, and to be fair to Stallman, the example is mine, not his. His best line is even simpler - when you restrict the users ability to share - you restrict the whole idea of community - in short it is an attack on a basic human right.

Stephanie Lenz
This morning I came across this news report from CNet News. In it they report the welcome news a federal judge in the USA has given fair use a boost when he refused to throw out a lawsuit from a woman who is trying to stop Universal Music's demand that YouTube take down a 30 sec video of her child dancing in the kitchen to the muffled sound track of one of their artists. In this case Prince.
In what CNET reckons to be the first ruling of its kind ruling (PDF) , Judge Jeremy Fogel held that copyright owners must consider fair use before sending DMCA take down notices.

Let's be clear what the issue is here . A song is being played in the background. The video is about a wee kid dancing to the music. In other words a little family having a dance and a play in the kitchen. They wanted to share this moment. The moment - not the music!

I don't know about you - but I think this US judge deserves a medal. As for Universal Music - you have to ask what planet these guys live on. You make up your mind? So, at the risk of infringing yet another copyright - "lets hear it for the boy"


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