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.

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