Infringement Nation: we are all mega-crooks
John Tehranian’s paper, “Infringement Nation: Copyright Reform and the Law/Norm Gap,” from a forthcoming symposium issue of the Utah Law Review on “Fixing Copyright,” is a great, tight little essay on the way that the growing gap between what technology allows us to do and what copyright tells us not to do is turning us all into mega-crooks. Just by doing the normal, everyday stuff — chatting with friends, sharing the moments of our lives — we commit billions of dollars’ worth of infringements:
By the end of the day, John has infringed the copyrights of twenty emails, three legal articles, an architectural rendering, a poem, five photographs, an animated character, a musical composition, a painting, and fifty notes and drawings. All told, he has committed at least eighty-three acts of infringement and faces liability in the amount of $12.45 million (to say nothing of potential criminal charges). There is nothing particularly extraordinary about John’s activities. Yet if copyright holders were inclined to enforce their rights to the maximum extent allowed by law, he would be indisputably liable for a mind-boggling $4.544 billion in potential damages each year. And, surprisingly, he has not even committed a single act of infringement through P2P file sharing. Such an outcome flies in the face of our basic sense of justice. Indeed, one must either irrationally conclude that John is a criminal infringer—a veritable grand larcenist—or blithely surmise that copyright law must not mean what it appears to say. Something is clearly amiss. Moreover, the troublesome gap between copyright law and norms has grown only wider in recent years.
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Tags: copyleft, copyright, Fair use, Infringement