Copyright and the Internet

The internet has evolved rapidly and there is much uncertainty about the legality of many ways the internet is used. There are cases that are before the courts today that threaten to strike at the heart of the internet;the free flow of information

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has filled tens of thousands of suits against individuals for copyright infringement but the crux of their argument is that simply possessing copyright material on your computer, even if that material was copied from a legitimate bought CD or DVD, simply having a file in a shared folder on your internet connected computer constitutes copyright infringement. They argue, that possessing copyright material on a computer connected to the internet is "making available" and an infringement of the distribution rights of the record companies that it represents. This means that even if a computer user has never copied or distibuted copyright material, they would be guilty of copyright infringement under the argument presented by RIAA lawyers.

The entire internet is built on file sharing and hyperlinks. Every time you visit a website, you are downloading a file from a computer. This case has the potential to limit the way the Internet is used or as ridiculous as it may seem, close down the internet. The Computer and Communications Industry Association and U.S. Internet Industry Association realizing the threat to the internet filed a joint amicus brief, basically saying that expanding the definition of copyright infringement would have an indeterminate and unpredictable effect on virtually every participant on the Internet.

The Law and the Individual

The individual has the right to be heard, to have their day in court but what if it costs you a couple of thousand dollars to settle than bother spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars defending your rights? Most people would settle, regardless of whether they were guilty of copyright infringement or not but a select few fight and their cases are of great relevance to anyone that has a computer connected to the internet. It is these court battles that will shape the internet and the rights of people everywhere.Unfortunaely, the RIAA has a lot more money than the defendants and these cases need the support of the community to ensure that the battle is fair and whatever judgement is reached is for the benefit of the wider community.

Proving Losses

It seems that sending a legal letter to a person asking them to settle for a few thousand dollars without providing them with enough information to defend themselves and the threat of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal costs to defend themselves is tantamount to extortion and no-one has yet to explain how the figures for copyright infringement is calculated. Surely under the argument of the RIAA, everyone is guilty of copyright infringement and if everyone in the world paid for every song or video on their computer, no-one would have any money to buy any music!! In fact, the RIAA could then extend their "making available" argument to all video stores that rent out DVDs, all libraries, all ISP's that make available the internet connection that allows people to share files, all web hosts that have copyright material on their servers, all schools and universities that possess copyright material on their networks, all email providers that have copyright material on their servers, etc. The RIAA has gone too far and rather than adapt and use the Internet to market good and valuable products that people will buy, they are alienating their own customers and in doing so, threaten the internet as a resource that connects people and businesses.

What can you do if you receive a legal notice for copyright infringement?

If you believe that the letter you have received is a form of extortion, that is you feel that you have done nothing wrong but feel afraid that if you don't pay the sum in the letter, you will end up having your life turned upside down by court cases that could threaten to send you broke, you should file a complaint directly to the RIAA demanding that they cease and desist from trying to extort money from you and if they do not, you should immediately contact the police, who under obligation to investigate the matter. Extortion is no different whether it is from the mob or a bully in a schoolyard, it is how you respond to that threat that will either encourage the perpetrator to continue or not. Many people find it easier to pay than to fight but legal letters bind those that send them as much as it binds those that receive them and a sender of a legal letter which asks for money should consider very carefully if they have a legal claim to that money because if it is found that they have no claim, then it really is stand over tactic that should be punishable as a crime.

goes further to explain how the RIAA is crossing the law and we should all ask ourselves why is the RIAA allowed to continue extorting money. Perhaps, it is because the legal fraternity is making a lot of money and there is no incentive to stop them. The only way that the RIAA will be stopped is if those people in positions of power stand up and challenge them. Public awareness only goes so far but certainly anyone that picks up the phone and calls a lawyer should first consider if they have millions of dollars in the bank to pay their legal bills. Without money, calling a lawyer puts you in a corner that you cannot fight from but if you want to fight, then choose to educate yourself. Use the internet, read case law, understand legal process and launch your own defence. The most likely outcome is that your opponent will walk away and find some easier target.!

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