Are “Hopeless” Copyright Wars Against P2P “Our New Prohibition?”

Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig says using outdated copyright laws to sue illegal file-sharers hasn’t caused a decrease in illegal file-sharing, and that in fact “a whole generation of children has been raised to think the law is an ass—and an ass that is to be ignored.”

Lawrence Lessig, professor of Law at Stanford Law School and founder of the school’s Center for Internet and Society, wrote an op-ed in Playboy magazine (yes, there are articles in it) recently in which he argues that “ridiculous copyright laws,” and the subsequent war against illegal file-sharing, are to blame for creating another of this country’s “hopeless wars of prohibition” like alcohol and drugs.

“Over the past decade, copyright extremists have been waging an ever more vicious war against our kids in the name of preserving the sanctity of copyrights,” he writes. “They have succeeded in getting the law strengthened at least a dozen times. The RIAA has filed lawsuits against more than 35,000 people since 2003.”

We know the MPAA regularly says that piracy funds terrorism even though it clearly has nothing to do with kids sharing files online. Yet, it still uses the word “terrorism” knowing the power it has post-9/11 to get the attention of lawmakers in order to get legislation passed.

In fact a recent article pushed by AFACT, a copyright holder body backed by the MPAA in Australia, showcases the audacity of their efforts with an article titled “Movie Pirates Funding Terrorists.” It tries to make the argument that pirated movies are being downloaded by terrorists around the globe, burned to DVD,  and then sold for huge profits to finance their operations.

To make the point hit home it says that such profits “may have been” funneled to the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah who just so happens to have been responsible for killing 88 partying teens packed in Bali nightclubs back in 2002. The not so subtle message is that if you upload a CAM you’re aiding Islamist nutjobs.

Talk about grasping at straws.

Lessig also criticizes how “our new prohibition” is leading to once unimaginable responses like expelling kids from college or permanently disconnecting people from the Internet.

Are the loss of education and the tools for participation in a democratic state really worth the perceived losses of sharing music and movies for no financial gain?

“An important test for whether a certain law should exist is whether that law will work—not because we shouldn’t clutter the law books with useless or ineffective regulation but because a culture swimming in laws that are not respected is a culture that breeds contempt for the law and for the rule of law,” adds Lessig.”

“That is precisely what is happening with our kids. In the decade since we began to wage this copyright war, we have not reduced peer-to-peer file sharing. It has only increased. We have not reduced the class of kids engaging in behavior they know to be wrong. We have only caused that class to grow, as more people know the behavior is illegal and engage in it nonetheless.”

The now decade-long “copyright war” has done little to stem the tide of P2P, which has only steadily increased since it began, and has instead served to breed “contempt for the law and for the rule of law” because file-sharers know what’s rally behind it – greedy copyright holder groups and not the artists themselves.

“Measured along any dimension of success, this war has been a failure: Artists don’t have more money, businesses haven’t had a clear set of rules to compete against, and a whole generation of children has been raised to think the law is an ass—and an ass that is to be ignored,” he says.

Moreover, what makes the “copyright war” in\intrinsically foolish, much like the ones on alcohol or drugs, is that there is no way to achieve victory. Technology will always win in the end and it’s time copyright holders and govt realized this.

So what’s Lessig’s advice?

“Congress should move on to the task of remaking the copyright system in order to make sense of digital technologies, not fight them.”

I agree.

Stay tuned.

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