Fred von Lohmann - The Legal Campaign Against Software Developers and Users
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Copyright law was traditionally a set of rules used amongst industry players such as publishers, entertainment companies and hardware producers, to settle disputes amongst one another. With the spread of media production technology into individuals homes, the terrain has shifted and the law is being used against users. Fred von Lohmann describes the escalating legal campaign against p2p that started with attacks on centralized sites, moved on to prosecuting software developers and finished up attacking individuals. The media industry has also succeeded in introducing laws which criminalize copyright infringement, and is attempting to associate the activity with terrorism so as to get more traction behind its efforts.
This interview was recorded for Steal This Film II
. The project tries to bring new people into the leagues of those now prepared to think 'after intellectual property', and think creatively about the future of distribution, production and creativity. This is a film that has no single author. It makers encourage its 'theft', downloading, distribution and screening, and have made the entire film and its footage available for download in HDV format, on their website and on Pirate Bay.
Interview with Fred von Lohmann
The arc of digital technology
has been to empower individuals,
to empower end-users, fans,
whatever you want to call them,
traditionally in copyright law the targets,
the people you put pressure on
if you're a copyright owner,
have been intermediaries,
people who print books,
people who duplicate video cassettes,
people who make records.
It used to take a lot of
expensive equipment to do that
so as a copyright owner if you
could crack down on the people
who have the
you more or less had taken
care of your problem
But of course digital technology
is rapidly changing that,
we live in a world now where each of
us has the ability to make records,
to press records, to share records,
to transmit records,
music to everyone in the world,
and so what you're seeing is increasingly
an effort by copyright owners
to control the technology
that makes that possible,
so for example to try to sue
people who make software
to sue people people
and ultimately really the focus
turns on the individual themselves,
, was a
company that was trying
to let music fans enjoy there own
music wherever they happen to be,
wherever they where
connected to the internet
and they were sued
for trying that because
they didn't get permission from
the major music labels first,
and they ultimately lost that lawsuit so
that approach, having a central website
that stores your music on your behalf,
was pretty much put out of business,
then next came p2p. P2P didn't
rely on a central website,
instead you had a situation where each of
us stored our music on our own computers
and transmitted that music
to each other directly.
there was no longer a website they could
target, instead they targeted the software.
which was capable of doing that and
companies which made that software
So you saw lawsuits
against napster, aimster,
audiogalaxy, grokster, I-Mesh, kazaa,
all of these companies were sued
and in the end essentially the
entertainment industry succeeded
in driving the technology out of
the mainstream commercial field.
They didn't succeed in shutting
down the technology,
there's more filesharing going
on today than ever before.
But they did succeed in
driving the companies out of it.
There are now very few
people in the business,
selling that software.
Turns out there are many people
who make the software as a hobby
without thought of business and
they continue making the available
and that's what's currently
being used more and more.
But in the end failing
in their effort
to stop this ability to share music
among like-minded bands,
the industry has turned
to suing individuals
and so the US in 2003
the recording industry
started suing hundreds
ultimately tens of
thousands of individuals
for downloading music
Or to be more specific,
for uploading music,
for sharing this
music with others.
The movie industry joined
in and has also sued
thousands of people in the US they
won't tell us exactly how many,
but they confirmed
there are 1000s
and they continue to sue 100s of
people at a time on a regular basis.
Most recently the recording industry
has focused on college students
it has been bringing
hundreds of college
students every month.
So, here we see a shift,
being unable to change reality
by suing technology companies
although they have tried
to mould the law
so that they could use the
law against future innovators.
They've also extended their legal
campaign against individuals.
And they're under no illusion that
they'll be able to sue every person
instead what they've thought
to do is to sue a few people
punish them severely
enough that they can
essentially intimidate other
large number of other people.
It's really as though they
decided to intimidate the village
they would just chop off
the heads of a few villagers,
mount those heads on pikes
as a warning to everyone else.
Well, not only I think that's an immoral
way of trying to control the public,
but it's also terribly unfair
to the few villagers
who have had head they're heads taken
off to use as an example against others.
So you see grandparents and college
students and parents being targeted
for multi 1000 $ settlements
at a time when we know
colleagues and classmates
are engaged in the same activity
and have gotten away scot free.
So it's both doesn't work - ineffective
it's also very grimly unfair.
The No Electronic Theft Act
was one of several laws
that have been passed to extend criminal
liability for copyright infringement.
Traditionally copyright infringement
has just been a civil matter:
if a copyright owner catches
you doing something wrong,
they can sue you and force
you to pay them money.
Criminal infringement liability,
the ability to prosecute you
and throw you in jail,
has been reserved for circumstances
of commercial piracy,
circumstances where someone
has made 500 copies
and is selling them on the street as
a competition for the real thing.
Well, in recent years, copyright owners
have not been satisfied with that,
they have wanted to reach out
and have criminal recourse
against people who are engaged
in non-commercial activity,
and the NET was
the beginning of that
it was enacted in response
to a guy who had a site,
a BBS at the time
hat allowed people
to upload and download software,
and he wasn't getting paid
he wasn't in it for the money,
he frankly, it was a hobby for him,
and ultimately the copyright
owners persuaded congress
to pass a law that would
basically put him in a position,
and people like him in a position
where they could actually go to jail.
And so they created
a model that said:
"Well... if you share or
make available or copy
more than a certain number of works,
worth a certain amount of money,
over a certain period of time,
we can throw you in jail for that.
And then of course since then there
have been additional amendments
that have been passed, in an
effort to try to extend that
to reach p2p filesharing, people
who are not in it for the money,
nobody on p2p is getting paid
for sharing the music, the movies,
and so, recently congress amended
the law again to say if you share a film
that is not yet on DVD, that is
just in theatres but not on DVD,
doing that, for no commercial
is a criminal offence, and you can
potentially be criminally prosecuted
and potentially jailed
for doing that.
And so we're seeing this
ongoing one way ratchet,
that says we need more
and more remedies
to try and punish people
for making copies,
even if they're doing it without any
intention of commercial gain.
The efforts to stem
music fans, movie fans
making copies of
the things they love,
those efforts really haven't
been very successful.
And we see an increasing
number of laws
that are being pressed that will try and
increase the penalties against these people.
What I think is ultimately a futile attempt
to essentially hold back the tide.
We're seeing interestingly
even an resistance
on the part of law enforcement
to get dragged into this,
so despite the fact that laws
like the NET have been passed,
despite the fact that many more
laws are being pushed for
by the entertainment industries in washington
right now, we're not seeing an eagerness
on the part of law enforcement to
start throwing teenagers in jail.
I think even they have begun to appreciate
that this isn't the long term solution
and that they will end
up looking ridiculous,
they will end up undermining
if they are perceived as the
unpaid police force of hollywood,
if they are perceived as taking
the side of clueless moguls
who don't understand what
the future looks like.
And I hope that
remains the case.
The dangerous thing is that increasingly
the entertainment industry
is trying to connect copyright
infringement with terrorism,
there's an increasing effort
you see they're saying
oh p2p movie sharing is actually helping
people make unauthorised DVDs
which are in turn being used to finance
terrorist operations in the middle east.
And I always worry, that's obviously
very deliberate propaganda effort,
I don't think anyone has
any concrete evidence
to show that Al Qaeda depends
on free copies of Spiderman
to sustain its efforts, but it is
I think a very cynical effort
on the part of the
movie industry to try
to force the state, to try to force
law enforcement officials,
to basically be their unpaid
policemen on this issue.