Feeds

Historian warns against copyright-fight heavy hitting

No one likes a bully

Boost IT visibility and business value

Copyright-dependent industries risk alienating the public and undermining intellectual property laws with their unregulated and aggressive tactics, according to an historian who has studied nearly 400 years of piracy and intellectual property law.

Adrian Johns, a professor of history at Chicago University, told technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio that the behaviour of large multinational companies whose business is based on copyright, such as record labels, publishers and broadcasters, threatens to turn the public against them.

"There's a trend towards almost absolutism, which I think is very unfortunate and could in the end be self-defeating," he said. "The big concern that I have is not the one that most people have which is that this is going to crimp the future of cultural change, though I think it may do that. It's that eventually the nit-pickiness of this kind of move might create a backlash that is more damaging than what it is trying to prevent."

Johns has just published a history of piracy, noting that the concept was first applied to ideas, rather than maritime theft, as early as 1650. He said that current industrial practices relating to the defence of intellectual property are risky.

"The policing of piracy, the detection of it, the interdiction of it – those have become extraordinarily large and diverse multinational industries," he said. "There's a potential issue there in that they're largely unregulated and the codes by which they operate within civil society have not really been articulated."

"There's an increasing body of evidence that the policing of intellectual property has too often involved impinging on civil liberties, freedom of speech, privacy concerns, things that society may actually value at least as highly as intellectual property itself. There's a risk of an explosion there, I think, and it's a risk that the defenders of intellectual property themselves would do well to take note of," he said.

Johns said that he was not an advocate of the free culture movement which seeks radically to reduce the power of copyright laws, but his analysis will be welcomed by those who think that multinational companies are exerting too great a political and social influence in the name of protecting their income streams.

The UK's Digital Economy Bill has been a focal point for protest, particularly the parts of it which will force internet service providers (ISPs) to cut off internet access points used by people accused of copyright infringement.

There was further outrage this week as it was claimed that an amendment accepted in the House of Lords forcing ISPs to block access to entire websites accused of hosting copyright-infringing material was lifted directly from proposals written by record label trade body the BPI.

The Bill will face further debate in the Lords before passing to the House of Commons. Politicians face a race against time in getting the Bill through both houses before Parliament dissolves for this year's general election.

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Hello, police, El Reg here. Are we a bunch of terrorists now?
Do Brits risk arrest for watching beheading video nasty? We asked the fuzz
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
Detroit losing MILLIONS because it buys CHEAP BATTERIES – report
Man at hardware store was right: name brands DO last longer
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.