Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Obama DoJ: Bankruptcy still a fair price for filesharing

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Copyrights & piracy

The Obama administration doesn’t seem to mind reaffirming the validity of “rebellion” as a reason for why people chose to pirate media:

This shouldn't be seen as much of a surprise at all, given that the Obama administration previously supported the $1.5 million verdict against Jammie Thomas-Rasset for sharing a mere 24 songs. However, now that an appeals court has reverted back to the original $220,000 ruling (procedural reasons...), and Thomas-Rasset has filed to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case, the Obama administration is back again, saying that there is nothing wrong with $220,000 for 24 songs. The argument is basically what you'd expect. In short: Congress set the statutory rates, the record labels asked for statutory damages, and thus nothing in that range should be considered too high.

Any system that favors mandatory minimum punishments (be they prison sentences or monetary fines), particularly minimums so egregiously disproportionate to any alleged harm caused, is a system invested in public spectacles rather than anything resembling true justice. There is simply no valid sensible or ethical (if not, sadly, legal) justification for throwing someone into insolvency over the “offense” of downloading or sharing a few tunes (or videos, or games, or anything else). The very most they can – or should – be accused of is displaying a lack of support for the artist(s) or right-holder(s), which ought to be punishable by furrowed eyebrows rather than criminal sentencing.

There is undeniably merit to the concept of copyright in itself (not to use the silly term “intellectual property”), as affording content creators legal protections against plagiarism and other unscrupulous behavior is evidently the right thing to do. But no rational mind can argue that the current system is anything other than categorically broken when it’s seen as a sign of leniency for a court to hammer an average citizen with crippling sanctions over an act that simply cannot be reasonably said to cause any harm to anyone (especially given the patent absurdity of “lost sales”*).

* There is no such thing as a “lost sale”, which implies that a transaction was actually conducted before somehow being undone. What “lost sales” really means is that fewer potential customers are committing to handing out their money in exchange for content, which is simply a failure in marketing (and possibly PR – hint, hint, EA.) The blame for that rests squarely on publishers.

EDIT: 02/14/13 1:20 PM ET – Made a few minor phrasing edits.