Category Archives: copyright

In 2009, no more music lawsuits (but you’ll still be punished)


WSJ reports 35,000 consumers have been sued by the music industry since 2003 for allegedly stealing music over the internet. This created a public-relations debacle for the industry, which sent sharky lawyers after single moms and even a 13-year-old girl, so now they are changing tactics.

No more lawsuits. But if you do download music illegally, a music trade group will trigger a series of email warnings sent to you via your internet service provider … and if you don’t stop, eventually the ISP may slow down or shut off your internet service.

It’s a fascinating capitulation by the music industry, which recognizes that most consumers now don’t think stealing music is bad — even though it is stealing. David Pogue, the NYT tech columnist, recently asked an auditorium of 500 students a simple question:

“You want a movie or an album. You don’t want to pay for it. So you download it. Who thinks that might be wrong?”

Two hands went up out of the 500 students in the crowd. If laws represent the wishes of society, what happens to laws when the morals of society change?

Photo: Canon Snapper

What dead Mickey Mouse means for your brand


News emerged this week that Disney’s copyright on Mickey Mouse may not be enforceable. Seems Disney’s official story is Mickey was created by Walt Disney Co. in 1928 … and an archivist claims to have found papers proving Walt Disney Co. didn’t exist as a business back then. Whoops. This is rather stunning news, since Disney’s Mickey Mouse franchise is valued at about $3 billion.

Now, we can’t imagine tangling with Disney’s lawyers — acts of Congress have been rallied to extend Disney’s copyrights — but it all points out to the problem with enforcing ideas in today’s world of free creation. Unicef did a riff on Mickey above, with this OUT, Santiago, Chile campaign stating “the dreams of the children cannot die.” Copyright violation? Or coloring an idea in the public domain?

On Tuesday we mentioned Dirk Singer’s post that 7 of 10 FTSE top brands are unsecured on Twitter, and the risk of brand jacking. Commentator Oyster Lee responded:

Is there really a need to secure your own brand? Can an unsecured brand be more valuable than a secured brand? Not only is it becoming an impossible task to secure brands, with new ways of communication emerging everyday. but also i would argue it is ridiculous and counterproductive … Why shouldn’t you secure a brand? Because you don’t want to control the conversation. An uncontrolled conversation is more valuable. It gives you real feed back about your brand good and bad.

Good points. On one hand, $3 billion in value must be defended. On the other, brands now, like information, want to be free.

Universal tells YouTube baby to sit down, shut up

Universal has ordered Stephanie Lenz to take down a YouTube video of her young son dancing to Prince’s song “Let’s Go Crazy.” It seems that the music, barely audible in the background of the clip, is some form of copyright violation.

At first glance, this demand is laughable, but it points to the irreconcilable conflict between content owners and consumers as new tools turn yesterday’s passive media recipients into creators and publishers. Blogs, video editing tools, photo and music sharing sites, and social networks have opened a Pandora’s box of broken copyrights. The biggest irony of all is that Google, the leader in online search, makes billions of dollars annually by displaying clips of content it does not own or have rights to.

So how much sharing is too much? What is fair use? Will content creators face a world of diminishing profits and livelihood, as they are replaced by consumers stealing their ideas or creating substitute materials for free?

Will Stephanie Lenz’s baby stop at nothing?

Apple and Labor Board try to gag the efficiency of free speech


Information wants to be free, but not if the National Labor Relations Board or Apple can stop it. This week two news items surfaced showing how scared big organizations are about free content.

First up, the U.S. labor board told employers that it’s OK to prohibit workers from sending union-related emails on the company email system, since the email is corporate property. Next up, Apple–our beloved, uber-consumer-centric Apple–shut down a web site called Think Secret run by Harvard student Nick Ciarelli. Think Secret was in the business of investigative journalism, scooping Apple’s upcoming product releases, and Apple didn’t like this. We wonder if Ciarelli got a sweet payoff, er, settlement in exchange for walking away.

Whatever one’s politics, these types of actions should give us pause–not because either is morally wrong, but because both prohibitions are inefficient.

It’s a good thing if news flies that Apple has a hot product coming, because that news helps the entire technology industry advance more rapidly. It’s a good thing if employees can speak openly about work issues, since eventually it helps problems surface and be resolved more quickly, to remove friction and boost future profits. We’re not talking about stealing, lying, or misappropriating intellectual property. We’re talking about the speed of communication.

Let’s examine the corporate email issue more closely. What if, instead of a union message, you email your colleagues a proposal to sell more of Widget A and make the company $10 million in new profits? Ah, but unbeknownst to you, Widget B is a competing product and the Board is focused on that. Your proposal has undercut the other corporate initiative. Perhaps you’ve just abused company property. But at a higher level, your new idea, if adopted, could change your business for the better.

You see the point–prohibitions block innovation. Freedom of communication has moved beyond a human right into a larger role as the engine of capitalism. Consider what drives a healthy stock market: A buoyant technology sector, perhaps, led by Google, and Google sells the free transfer of information. If you really think about Google’s model, it is stealing the first three lines of content from every web site in the world. Do you mind? Put the brakes on that information flow, and search engines, and the entire internet, and then the S&P 500 and Nasdaq will all take a tumble.

Unfortunately, what is good for the economy as a whole–free data–is not always good for individual companies. Industry has a right to protect its creations, to be sure, which is why we don’t agree with today’s college youths that stealing music or video online is OK. But when industry tries to stop individuals from sharing news or opinion, it steps too far. No matter. In the end information will be free, and businesses who can’t learn to profit from that dynamic will sink back into the tar pits, where all dinosaurs belong.