January 31, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

On Copyright Law and Myopia

EFF's own Seth Schoen has a nice exercise in reductio ad absurdum, pointing out that the only argument the Business Software Alliance (BSA) makes in its recent legislative agenda to refute the notion that copying is beneficial to society is that restricting copying will make the software industry larger and more profitable. Says Seth, "The idea that helping a business sector get larger and richer is a primary duty of legislators or of the public is so peculiar that it bears trying to come up with a few parallel arguments."

For example, BSA asserts:

Some have attempted to paint copyright piracy as a victimless crime, arguing that "if I make a copy of a computer program, you still get to keep your copy, and we are both better off." This is hardly the case.

Reducing piracy offers direct benefits. The equation is a basic one: the lower the piracy rate, the larger the IT sector and the greater the benefits.

...so Seth suggests we might also argue:

Some have attempted to paint conjugal sexual intimacy as a victimless crime, arguing that "if you and I have intimate relations, we both derive pleasure and a sense of togetherness, and we are both better off." This is hardly the case.

Reducing sex among committed partners offers direct benefits. The equation is a basic one: the lower the intimacy rate among committed partners, the larger the prostitution sector, and the greater the benefits.

BSA's logic is not unlike that of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). As Fred points out below in Kill P2P to Save TV?, its brief in MGM v. Grokster suggests that the northern star for copyright law ought to be whether or not it keeps a single group of businesses -- broadcasters -- big and rich. Or more specifically, that one particular business model (adverts) for one particular industry be protected.

Of course, BSA and NAB are doing no more than using the best arguments they have to further their own self interest. But it's important to recognize the arguments for what they are: myopic. You can argue all you want that because intellectual property protection is good, any form that props up your particular business model is also good -- but that doesn't make it so.


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