Top 10 Copyright Crimes

Dealing with a bit of a dilemma: A 12-year-old niece is becoming interested in music, and turns to me for suggestions. Excellent! Of course the overwhelming temptation is to send her MP3s, much as friends used to exchange mix tapes. But her parents want to take a hard line on MP3 swapping and copyright matters, set fully legal ground rules from the outset. So what can I do? Send her links to iTMS or other services for low-bitrate 30-second previews? All of this digital flexibility has left the legally conscientious parent worse off than we were 25 years ago. We’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water.

Related: Jamie Kellner, the CEO of Turner Broadcasting was recently quoted as saying:

[Ad skips are] theft. Your contract with the network when you get the show is you’re going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn’t get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial or watch the button you’re actually stealing the programming.

In response, LawMeme has posted Top Ten New Copyright Crimes, speculating on just how draconian things could become:

9. Changing radio stations in the car when a commercial comes on.
Future radios will prevent listeners from changing channels when a commercial comes on. The RIAA has not yet taken a position on whether it is permissible to switch channels when the listener doesn’t like the song.

More at the site, with more bizarre Kellner-isms, such as this one on bathroom breaks:

I guess there’s a certain amount of tolerance for going to the bathroom. But if you formalize it and you create a device that skips certain second increments, you’ve got that only for one reason, unless you go to the bathroom for 30 seconds. They’ve done that just to make it easy for someone to skip a commercial.

6 Replies to “Top 10 Copyright Crimes”

  1. I think sharing mp3s with your niece would be hella defensible in a court of law under fair use (IANAL). Actually, I tend to think any reasonable amount of sharing with someone you know is probably fair. Because her parents don’t understand the un-understandible copyright regime we’ve created here in the U.S., doesn’t mean you have to tow the line. Where it gets iffy and reasonably so is in large volumes of material and with people you don’t know… those are two things I think you can easily teach your niece (and her parents!).

  2. Actually what this shows you is how messed up the current music distribution system is… and I don’t see it changing in the near future. Obviously it is not a crime to skip ads since I signed no agreement to view/listen to them. If music companies sign agreements with electronics firms to create such radios or design sites that force ads, great. That way their inevitable demise can come sooner when no one purchases such equipment or visits those sites. Sooner or later, someone (Apple?) will come up with a better system that kills off the record companies and leaves just artists and the distributor. Whenever your company spends its time figuring out ways to prevent people from doing what they want instead of encouraging it, you are done. Apple is real close to allowing what I would want. Here is what they lack: #1 the option to download in Apple Lossless because I am a stickler about quality. #2 set up their own “radio” channels through itunes to directly promote the music and of course #3 be able to directly sign artists themselves to circumvent the RIAA. The one thing the RIAA did was promote acts but I don’t agree with their recent choices and anyway it is a brave new world and a more “democratic” system of promotion is probably better at this point.

  3. Ad skips are stealing? Hmmm… lets turn that around and see who is stealing from whom:

    How about when I attend a sporting event and am forced to sit thru an official timeout? (ie, a break in play timed to allow the network to run ads without missing play time) I’ve paid good money to see basketball or hockey… and instead get to see millionaire athletes and men in striped shirts cooling their heels. And oh yeah, it really screws up the flow of the game. But the organ music is always inspiring.

    Do I have any recourse? No, its just the way it is, and I’ve been around the block enough times to understand/accept that the game must defer to the boob toob in order to stay afloat financially.

    But let’s turn that around again… so when I’m watching the same game from the comfort and privacy of my own home I cant skip ads via Tivo? Or manually for that matter, I mean what’s really the difference? Hmmm… I dont think so. As SeanS said: “I signed no agreement”.

  4. Interestingly enough, the “I signed no agreement” ‘problem’ can easily enough be mended in cable contracts… So maybe that’s the next step on this slipping slope… As to satellite: add a tax to satellite dishes. That’s the way it’s done with blank tapes and cds (in Holland, at least). Brrr.

  5. So some consumers would be obligated to consent to agreements (but not neanderthals like me who still only have broadcast access, at least as long as they keep broadcasting ;-) and then those who prefer to skip ads could choose between a Tivo tax ($$), taping and fforwarding (hopefully free), or running to the fridge during commercials (free). I (non-Tivo owner) can handle that, at least until big media puts sensors under each of the cushions of my couch.

    btw, I love the Top 10 Media Crimes. Presumably it would remain free if we only scanned and sampled what is it, the first 4 bars or 7 seconds of each station? Who has a longer attention span than that nowadays anyhow? Scan Lock would become a feature on new radios, and the technologically disadvantaged seeking to avoid fines could rig up homemade scan locks with toothpicks and duct tape, and Popular Mechanics would publish plans for do-it-your-selfers.

  6. Joe, I agree about the difference between casual, low-volume sharing and high-volume distribution. But as for towing the line, it’s her parents wishes I need to respect, and they’re trying to be unambiguous about things wherever possible. I’m just not so sure this is an area where things are unambiguous. There’s so much debate *because* it’s ambiguous. Also, I don’t think fair use would apply in a case where you just want to share copyrighted material with someone. Not that something like this would *ever* get to a court of law — this is really about the parents trying to create a rock solid moral foundation, and erring on the side of caution.

    SeanS – I agree on Apple offering lossless, or at least very high bitrate. The one thing I’d say is missing from your list is that all of their content is DRM’d, which means it’s tied to Apple software for playback, which could bite you someday. I’m willing to take that chance for the ease/experience/consistency of what they offer, but will always check eMusic first, since their stuff is vanilla MP3 with no strings attached, and no self-destruct mechanism.

    Steve – I had no idea they stopped playback of live sports to accomodate commercials — that’s horrendous. Roughly equivalent to paying to get into a theater and still having to watch ads.

    Erwin – Tangential: Cable and satellite are unregulated by the FCC, because they’re not using pubic airwaves. But Congress wants to change that, and be able to regulate all media. Beware.

    Steve – Yr right — if TiVO et al are required to implement scan lock, it will only drive the market for buffered playback into DIY territory. And it will be huge.

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