Sunday, October 24, 2004

Copy Rights and Consumer Expectations

I have no problem recognizing that copyright holders have a legitimate business interest in enforcing their exclusive rights with respect to distribution and derivative works. The problem, as I see it, is that the current Copyright Barons have a rather expansive view of what their exclusive rights really are and would prefer to completely ignore consumers' fair use rights. This goes far beyond Skylink and DeCSS.

The extreme position that many Copyright Barons seem to be operating from was best expressed in a 2002 CableWorld interview with Jamie Kellner, the chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting. When Kellner was asked why digital PVR's were bad for the industry, this was his response:
Because of the ad skips.... It's theft. Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn't get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial or watch the button you're actually stealing the programming.
Contracts? I don't think so...

I can't speak for anyone else, but I don't seem to remember signing a contract with Turner Broadcasting. To the best of my knowledge, I don't have a legal obligation to view those commercials. I think Kellner's just confused because he's been selling our eyeballs to TV advertisers for so long that he's forgotten that he doesn't have any legal rights to our eyeballs.

This is old stuff, by the way, but the reason I'm bringing this up is because it goes directly to the nature of the agreement between copyright holders and consumers. Consumers have certain expectations about fair use that have been held up in court, and it's my intention to make sure that those fair-use rights do not get reduced.

For instance, the Betamax decision confirmed that we are allowed to space-shift and time-shift any TV programming that we are authorized to access. It's also well established that using a tape recorder to play your music in your car is fair use. You are allowed to take your music and record it on other media, and it shouldn't matter whether you're talking about vinyl to cassette tape, or CD to mp3.

Skylink goes a little further than the Betamax decision and says that there is no infringement, and no DMCA liability, if you aren't doing anything that allows third-parties to have unauthorized access to a protected work.

The best example I can think of right now is HBO. If you're an HBO subscriber and you record an episode of Sex and the City, it doesn't appear that there is any copyright infringement if you share that copy with another HBO subscriber. You aren't doing anything that would provide unauthorized access to HBO programming because both parties are HBO subscribers. Copyright law should be blind to how you made the recording, whether it be with your VCR or your Tivo.

This won't, however, prevent you from getting sued. It's quite clear from Kellner's comments that the Copyright Barons and the consumers aren't on the same page and, unfortunately, they're the ones who can afford to send lobbyists to Congress.