18 jan. 2012

“Forget SOPA, Hollywood Already Had a Field Day with the Justice System”

Under the “theft” conception of copyright law, what, exactly, is the deprivation when someone makes illegal copies?  It really boils down to just one thing:  money.  Copyright infringement – renamed copyright theft — deprives the copyright holder of some of his or her expected profit from exploiting the copyright. […]

Failure to pay expected money under a contract doesn’t trigger a penalty: contract law usually says that a party can recover the money she expected but not punitive damages or attorneys fees (unless parties have specifically bargained to pay attorneys fees for a breach).  Failure to pay rent usually requires payment of rent to cure the default.  Failure to put money in the parking meter prompts a ticket for $60.  In New York City, failure to pay the $2.50 subway fare results in a maximum fine of $100.

That’s an immensely seductive analogy, and I’m sure it’ll be widely linked and tweeted, but it’s also completely incorrect (and I’m rather disappointed that it’s written by a lawyer). People aren’t sentenced to pay astronomical damages because they downloaded a song, but because they uploaded it. The author mentions in passing that Jammie Thomas was found guilty even though it was never proven that anyone had downloaded a file from her, but I’m pretty sure I remember the argument being that she had offered them for download and that was enough — it still wasn’t about her downloading them.

To get back to the author’s analogy: people aren’t found guilty of jumping the turnstile, but distributing fake subway tokens… by the thousands. I don’t expect you’d get away with a $100 fine for that.

 

On the other hand, the author’s point about how copyright infringement came to be known as “copyright theft” is entirely right, and quite depressing.

 

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