Comic explains the fight over music copyrights

The San Francisco Chronicle's weekend package on copyright included a feature on law profs James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins' forthcoming music copyright comic, Theft: A History of Music (a followup to their magnificent comic on copyright and documentary films, Bound By Law). It includes a centrefold with one of Theft's best two-page spreads -- I was lucky enough to read an early rough this summer and boyoboy are you in for a treat when they ship!

Also in the package is Copyright law needs a digital-age upgrade, by Pamela Samuelson, one of America's greatest copyright scholars, and as you'd expect, it's a must-read:

Modernize copyright office: Instead of one registry for all copyrighted works, certify registries run by third parties for photos, films, computer programs and more. The model is akin to the domain name registration system.

Refine scope of exclusive rights: Weigh commercial value when determining whether someone's exclusive right has been infringed. This shields non-harmful activity from the threat of highly punitive copyright claims and commercial harm.

Limit damage awards: Guidelines for awarding statutory damages need to be consistent and reasonable.

Reform judicial infringement tests: Courts apply different tests to assess copyright violations, leading to mixed interpretations of complex copyright law. Develop consistent tests to ensure greater coherence in rulings.

Limit orphan works liability: Enable libraries and others to preserve a part of our cultural heritage by allowing greater use of orphan works - copyrighted materials whose owners can't be found.

Create "safe harbors": Protect online service providers from excessive damage claims if they undertake reasonable, voluntary, measures to discourage peer-to-peer file-sharing. Providers that comply would be shielded from liability for user infringements.

(Thanks, Jamie!)


  1. …I’ve got a problem with that last one… The rest of the recommendations are very good, although I don’t know about third-party registries determining who has the rights to a work, that might depend on how it’s actually done.

    But the last one seams to treat p2p technology as if it were entirely designed for piracy. Which IMHO is the same kind of assumption made by people blaming the Internet for piracy. p2p is also used by authors and developers providing files in a way that allows for the sharing of bandwidths, instead of offering every file you created and having to pay bandwidth costs every time someone wants to download the file. And I’d bet that for low-speed users it’s a nice way to download things like open-source operating system CDs. If any of the things I created were large enough in size, I’d probably opt for providing them via p2p instead of direct downloading.

    1. Agreed. I use p2p legally all the time; Linux distros, Movies from, music from …

      My question is, Can anyone OWN a number?
      If you turn any kind of media in to digital information, it is basically “ones and zeros”, right? You are turning it in to a really long number.

  2. Is there any situation that can’t be allegorised by “Nineteen Eighty-Four”?
    It’s the political analogy with a thousand and one uses!

  3. What right does a non-copyright holder have to tell the copyright holder how to handle their private property? That sounds insane. We’re talking about private property. If you don’t like the terms of sale, don’t buy it. Right?

    1. If you don’t like the terms of sale, don’t buy it. Right?

      If you don’t like what other people are allowed to do with their own property once you’ve sold it to them, don’t sell it. Right?

      Especially when what they’re allowed to do is already far, far less than what someone is normally allowed to do with something they’ve purchased.

  4. peer-to-peer file-sharing is not piracy, it’s just a way to transmit information to other people on internet. To forbid or dicurage p2p it would be an incredible facist thing to do.

  5. I believe the term is ‘Complete Control’:

    They said
    we’d be artistically free
    when we sign the bit of paper

    What they meant
    was “let’s make a lot of money,
    and worry about that later”‘

    They’re coming now – remember me!

  6. Here is a novel idea – just make it so that copyright can only be held by the individual who has created it, or family members directly related to them. It seems to me that all the problems here tend to come from large entities owning rights to things they haven’t spent time creating, but have exploited every step of the way. I mean, how come no-one mentions the huge profit margins these companies tend to make because they charge far more than it takes to produce most of the media they copy and distribute for profit?

  7. Copyright is an industrial-age concept for regulating physical objects. It doesn’t need tinkering around the edges, it needs getting rid of.

    That can’t be done overnight, of course, and maybe it is better to just let the real world adapt itself and obviate the old law.

    But over a decade since the popularisation of the WWW one would expect more people to accept the basic truth by now.

  8. Let them DRM recorded media out of existence. We can make up our own songs around the camp fire we will need when the oil runs out.

  9. “Modernize copyright office: Instead of one registry for all copyrighted works, certify registries run by third parties for photos, films, computer programs and more. ”

    I made an animated gif. Is that a photo or a film?

  10. At the end of the day, the RIAA and MPAA are no different from the buggy manufacturers of a century ago!
    Technology has changed, and it has changed the economic reality. They have made a conscious decision that, if they refuse to “get it” long enough, things will go back just the way they were!

    Decoupling, decoupling, decoupling!!

    The medium and the content are no longer related!!

    They’ll figure that out eventually. It is already too late to save the old business model.

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