Stealing fair use, another attempt

Here are three pastime activities:

  1. Stealing a car.
  2. Stealing a purse.
  3. Downloading movies from the Internet.

It seems that even in Finland the entertainment industry is sneakily trying to extend the general public's concept of stealing to non-material goods. The advertisements shown in movie theaters include one that places all these on the same level. It's probably produced by the righteous folks of Motion Picture Association of America. According to my memory, the advertisement shows a bloke trying to brake into a car, then "You wouldn't steal a car" is displayed on the screen. Then a similar scene with a purse. After that a man is in a rental outlet or a store, nicking a dvd. Finally, someone is downloading a movie.

Obviously, the aim of the advertisements is trying to build up a mental model that copying is equivalent to stealing. Which is utter nonsense. One might ask that if someone "stole" a movie, how come the source still exists? Does this happen with cars also? What actually is stolen from the copyright holder, ie. what does the copyright holder not possess any more after the act?

The advertisement is blatant lying. Here's why. My impression is that the main points trying to be conveyed are the following:

  • It is illegal to copy movies for personal use
  • Same rules apply to material and immaterial property
  • Taking a car or a purse or a material dvd disc without owner's permission is at least partially equivalent to duplicating information

All these are incorrect; hence lying. Copying works that are released to public for personal use (or making copies for someone's personal use) is legal at least in Finland no matter what the source is. Same legal rules most certainly do not apply to material and immaterial property. And I believe and hope that the moral of most people does not juxtapose the protection of material property with exclusive rights to immaterial property.

The order of the antics shown might have some hidden purpose too: stealing car, stealing purse, stealing dvd, copying file. At least Americans probably think that stealing a car is worse than stealing a purse. Stealing a purse is definitely worse than stealing a dvd. A slippery slide?

I am no expert of law, but I know at least the basics of intellectual property and copyright. These issues are very difficult per se; there's no need to beget false assumptions. It's just obscene manipulation. If one wants to educate people about copyright, it should begin with the basics. I try to summarize. By default, everything is in the public domain. Copyright is a temporary exception to this: an exclusive right to control the distribution of a piece of work.

While criticizing the "advertising" of the entertainment industry, I do think that copyright is important. However, I also think that free personal use is even more important to society as a whole. The current outline - the copyright holder solely controls the distribution but individuals can use published works personally however they wish - has proven to be very good a solution. Changing this must be the aim of MPAA, which I think should not happen.

Categories: Advocacy
Posted by Matias at 05.09.2004 10.26 (12 years ago) | 13 comments

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