|But if I could download |
one from the internet...
The case has been discussed previously on IPKat here when the SCOTUS effectively removed the equitable bar of laches from claims for legal damages and profits arising from copyright infringement.
The sensationalised way in which especially cases concerning popular, even beloved subject matter are described reveals a substantial problem with public perception of IP, in that the words “stolen”, “theft”, and of course “piracy” are liberally used with questionable accuracy. This week's reporting of the upcoming ‘Stairway’ trial has been no different [see, for example here, here, here or here].
The essence of the recent ruling was not an investigation of stealing, but a finding that there is sufficiently substantial similarity between the pieces of music for a further trial. So why do so many news sources that should know better continue to frame the issues into a theft narrative?
The over-use of terms condemning copyright infringement as theft is nothing new. The notorious Motion Picture Association of America anti-piracy advert [above – and which, ironically enough, was reportedly using music without permission] hammered out a message that illegal downloading is stealing, piracy, and (for the avoidance of doubt) a crime. The notion of illegal downloaders being pirates is widespread, and was of course adopted by torrenters who formed themselves a Pirate Bay.
|Robin Thicke was found |
to have copied
from Marvin Gaye in 2015
The problem with using ‘theft’, to mean copying, imitating or sampling is that it oversimplifies the analysis involved in copyright infringement. It conveniently ignores the limitations inherent in the scope of copyright protection: fair dealing/fair use. Referring to infringers as ‘thieves’ creates obviously unsympathetic connotations, and apparently establishes binary theft/not theft question to be answered when in fact the lines may be rather more blurred. Using “theft” as a catch-all to describe intellectual property infringement has been called by Patricia Loughlan “inaccurate and manipulative distortion of legal and moral reality”.
The language used publicly to describe copyright disputes should be chosen more carefully than it has been of late. This will help reveal the nuance and qualitative and quantitative assessment that goes into determining copyright infringement, without reducing the question to the simple, unwieldy one of theft. The general public are perfectly capable of grasping the difference between imitating music sounds and what stealing means; there is no need to vacuously conflate the terms for their benefit any longer.
The IT Crowd’s mischievous take on ‘that’ MPAA advert: hereLed Zep’s not-as-iconic-as-Stairway-to-Heaven Carouselambra: here
You Wouldn't Steal a Carouselambra (other Led Zeppelin songs are available) Reviewed by Ellie Wilson on Thursday, April 14, 2016 Rating: