The intellectual property racket

| Forum Editor

The Disney Movie Appreciation Club, an organization that was set up with the goal of providing an outlet to relieve overly stressed students, had to be closed down recently due to potential license infringement. The length of a Studlife column is too short to give a comprehensive argument against intellectual property rights. Nevertheless, the recent closing of the club stands out as a perfect example of how, contrary to their original intent, intellectual property rights only limit the availability of information and expression.

Original intellectual property laws in America were grandfathered in from English common law, conceived to encourage the spread of innovation and to prevent people from claiming the original author’s work as their own. In this respect, IP laws make perfect sense; artists deserve protection from other people taking credit for their work. However the landscape of IP has drastically changed to the point of punishing a club that simply plays Disney movies and properly credits them to Disney as well. It makes no more sense to prohibit the viewing of a movie by multiple people than it does to prohibit the viewing of a portrait by multiple people. The people watching these films are not evil, conniving scammers out to claim Disney’s films as their own. They are simply fans of Disney movies who want to take a break from studying and relax with a few friends.

The problem stems uniquely from the way these laws are interpreted—once given an inch, the artists (or, in this case, the people managing and publishing the artists’ work) take a foot, but truthfully, it’s more like a mile. I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney actually threatened to press charges against the University—after all, Apple has threatened to sue a programmer for making an innocuous program that changes the Windows taskbar to look somewhat like a Mac OSX taskbar. And let’s not forget the RIAA’s infamous attempt to sue a 10-year-old, who used Napster to download some music, for nearly a million dollars.

Of course, someone could easily find an argument to support IP and prove this article wrong—and such an exchange could go back and forth for quite some time. Fair enough, considering that such a topic probably deserves the attention of a full-fledged book. However, my intent is to get readers who never think of intellectual property rights as wrong to step back and possibly realize the destructive ways that they can be used. My examples are not isolated incidents, nor are they the worst cases of IP nonsense. They are, however, good instances that reflect the various ways that intellectual property can be abused—and Wikipedia, for all of its problems and its inadequacy as an academic source, is an amazing resource considering the it’s practically non-copyrighted in its entirety. Ultimately, however, I am not on a crusade against all forms of copyright. I just want to watch my movies in peace.

  • xfrviderews

    7

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ crankyoldnutcase

    The answer is The Pirate Party. All of the other parties depend on “Entertainment Industry” funds to help get elected, and therefore you end up with things like the DMCA in the US or Bill C61 in Canada.

    The only political party dedicated to restoring the traditional balance between consumer and creator rights is the Pirate Party. If you want change, volunteer for them, write articles about them, donate money to them (the RIAA and the MPAA sure won’t) and vote for them.

  • Scott

    These kind of licences began as a system to regulate the way businesses charge each other, they were never intended to be interpersonal The above story is a classic example of a business law being used in a context where it doesn’t belong and was never intended to be. The licence in question makes perfect sense to regulate a business that shows films (the if-you’re-making-money-from-our-stuff-then-we-want-a-cut principle) but a bunch of people watching their own DVDs together is not the same thing by any stretch.

    This kind of EULA on goods is preposterously counterintuitive and anti-consumer. Would it seem ok if you were told that you could only share the food you buy with certain people, or groups no larger than five? It’s just sad that reasonable and normal sharing of legally purchased goods suddenly turns into illegal activity once you past an arbitrary amount.

    FWIW: I only know the details of the story from this article, but I’m curious to know if the club was shutdown by Disney (or its representatives), or by the university because they worried about lawsuits from Disney.

  • senshikaze

    So, CB, what constitutes a large group? 10? 15? 100? There is no reason I couldn’t play a film at my house and have a group of friends, of any size, over and watch it. This is IP law for the rich. This “large” group of people more then likely either alreadyown the film or weren’t going to buy it, either way Disney wouldn’t be getting any more money than they already have. All this is doing to destroying the fair use rights we all have to legally purchase goods.

  • kingstu

    “In the end, the movie companies are just trying to make a profit and pay the set designers, directors, producers, etc.”

    Where does it end? They made money with theatre showings. They made money selling rights to pay per view. They made money selling DVDs. They made money selling rights to TV. They made money licensing merchandise. They made money renting DVDs (usually revenue sharing with rental companies).

    If the studios could enforce it, they would charge each DVD owner a per viewing charge. It’s time to inject some sanity in the IP debate.

  • CB

    DMAC was a great club, but you can’t blame the licensing rights. The club wasn’t stealing anything from Disney, but they were showing the movies to large audiences using just a DVD, which are sold under the agreement that it’ll be for private use. In the end, the movie companies are just trying to make a profit and pay the set designers, directors, producers, etc.