First Person Life


PSA: Copyright and Digital Rights Management

Beware the Corruptables.

Perhaps you've heard about technologies such as the "audio flag," "digital rights management," etc. You may even have heard about Sony/BMG music installing trojan software on people's personal computers when they play their Audio CD's on their PC... (yes, they did it, without the PC owner's permission. Yes, it IS a federal crime to tamper with another person's computer without permission. No, they didn't get prosecuted for it).

I came across this short video produced by the Electronic Frontier Foundation - A group dedicated to "defending freedom in a digital world" - which can serve as an introduction to this issue.

Copyright law has something called "fair use" (Section 107 - quoted below) embeded in it. Under Fair use, reproduction, "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright." (emphasis added) This right has already been significantly curtailed by various court decisions.

Many of the initiatives by the entertainment lobby, book publishers, and others aim to limit fair use by "Digital Rights Management". In many cases, it is a back door way of abridging the right of fair use.

It's important to defend fair use - a right which we as scholars and the public in general have as a right guaranteed under copyright law. Without it, quoting the work of another for any reason -- including for purposes of comment or critique would be illegal as well as many other uses.

Abuse of fair use is theft - and can be a problem. However, initiatives which curtail legally defined rights through back doors is oppression. I don't deny that the publishing industry should be able to protect their rights in a work. However, those rights were established for a purpose and are not "inalienable." The express constitutional purpose was "to promote science and the useful arts." I wouldn't call most of the trash talk in the music world nor the garbage on TV and in the movies "useful arts" -- neither would I call it "science" (I guess some case could be made for biology and psychology -- especially on the soap operas and reality TV).

As a side note, plagarism on the web is one of the biggest forms of copyright infringement there is - even in the Lutheran blogosphere. Including large portions of newswire stories, other web sites, etc. without the express permission of the owner of the material is also theft. That means if you extensively quote from the AP, Reuters, CNN, etc. or even another blogger's website without their permission and aren't providing significant commentary, YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW!

For this reason, I recommend all bloggers examine creative commons licenses to apply to their websites. This gives others permissions (which you can define) to use your material, at the same time, allows a free exchange of ideas to occur.

Anyway, enough comments about that. Here's the "fair use" section of Copyright law. I also recommend reading the copyright law regarding non-infringing uses. Note especially section 110 (3).

Title 17, Section 107

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.


  • Careful with waffling there. It took a while, but I got through it. This is interesting, because I work for a digital publishing company.

    You're point about Fair use is important that the right can be misused and twisted to be something wrong. You need to have a Christian worldview to establish law. Otherwise, it's just a big set of rules.

    By Blogger Althusius, at 6/19/2006 8:54 PM  

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