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Decriminalizing File Sharing
By Eric de Fontenay (Founder & Publisher)
(more articles from this author)
2003-05-28
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What's interesting about copyright law is not so much the broad principles but how they are enforced. Consistent with the way Americans deal with crime (except white collar ones, of course), members of Congress, state legislatures and law enforcement have taken a hard line towards piracy, whether in the form of file sharing or large-scale counterfeiting. The policy is one based on principle, that stealing is wrong and should be punished, rather than on an examination of the actual impact various types of piracy may have on the industry and other crimes. Whether file sharers are as guilty and detrimental to copyright holders & society as organized counterfeit rings is important in determining how resources are allocated and utilized in the fight against piracy. For such balanced versus emotional analysis, we must look across the Atlantic where the EU Commission has proposes focusing enforcement on organized criminal piracy over individual acts of infringement.

Two factors underpin the Commission's proposal. First, large-scale commercial piracy represents an overwhelming share of all illicit activities in Europe, accounting for an estimated 65-70% of all cases. Secondly, it is this type of commercial piracy that causes the most significant economic harm to rights holders.

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The argument is on its surface quite sound. Unlike file sharing, "counterfeiting and piracy have today grown into a worldwide industry run by gigantic organizations along similar lines to drug or arms trafficking or money laundering." Match this with US government officials and elected representatives (as well as Miles Copeland) warnings of links between terrorist organizations and piracy syndicates for funding and propaganda, college kids don't appears as much as an imminent threat.

On the other hand, the policy could lead to a defacto decriminalization of clandestine piracy that has characterized most European countries' drug policies in recent years. This could reinforce a growing culture among today's youth that while abusive downloading & file sharing is not right (as opposed to wrong), it is a victimless crime and therefore no real crime at all.

But my belief is that while justice is the answer to crime, education is the answer to facing cultural challenges. You don't threaten to arrest pregnant teenagers, you teach them about contraception & abstinence. You don't give summons to underage smoking, you launch the 'Truth' campaign. Nor should we be tracking down & suing young students, we should be providing the most compelling alternative to illicit file sharing (see Apple) and launch an intensive educational campaign that speaks TO rather than AT today's music consumers.

Related News from Mi2N:
» Proposal For A Directive Of The European Parliament And Of The Council On Measures And Procedures To Ensure The Enforcement Of Intellectual Property Rights
» Music Sector Calls For Fans To Go Online With Pro-Music.org


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