Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ownership Rights and Music

Dignan wrote an article ( linked via title bar), "The Music Industry is in its Death Throes", and explained that the entertainment industry is working to have a piece of legislation that would redefine ownership rights, quoting his opening lines:

“SIRA fundamentally redefines copyright and fair use in the digital world. It would require all incidental copies of music to be licensed separately from the originating copy. Even copies of songs that are cached in your computer's memory or buffered over a network would need yet another license.”

“The Betamax Case”, Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, 464 U.S. 417 (1984) is a good reference point, one which is constantly being challenged. I had this particular decision explained, by a friend who happened to teach law to “eager young minds”, in the most basic language available, how that court case defined the lawful expectations of ownership as pertain to copyrighted materials such as books, music and movies that are distributed for sale.


As I was explaining, several years ago I learned quite a bit about the Betamax Case. I was visiting with my friend the law professor after church; excited about having been able to download an audio book from the internet for a very modest charge so that I could listen to an audio book. I thought it would be a neat way to expand my library. It was at that point my friend explained the finer points of “ownership”. I found that I really didn’t own the audio book in that particular form, that I only had permission to listen to that book as he began to unravel the intricacies between “permission to use” and true ownership.

He explained that if you purchase a book, you own that book; comparing the idea of checking a book out from the library as opposed to going into a book store. If you use the library’s copy of the book, it remains the property of the library whereas if you go to the book store and purchase the book it becomes your property. You can lend it to a friend by handing it to them, you can, if you so desire, sell it later on after you have enjoyed it.

He then added other forms of created and copyrighted items that were covered under that same thought process. If you purchase a CD which contains either a collection of music or an audio book, the same ownership rights exist as a result of “The Betamax Case”. You have the right to make a copy of that information for safe keeping, to guard against loss or damage to the original or even a copy to share with members of your immediate family in the lawful use of your ownership of that purchased recording.

The line in the sand which violates the ownership rights is crossed when you make additional copies and give them to friends for the purpose of avoiding additional purchases which would deprive the artist of his/her royalty interests. In that case you would be considered a thief for having stolen income which would have been achieved through that same market which permitted you to obtain your product copy.

There is an entire generation of people, young and old alike, who fail to comprehend; either through ignorance or willful neglect of an established moral code of ethics, the concept of artists having justified expectations to profit from their creative efforts; instead, believing that such creative efforts should be free to anyone capable of recording that creative effort, regardless of the source.

You might recall the brewha created by the Napster crowd, which promoted the premise that anyone hooked up to the internet could “borrow at no charge” copyrighted material because at least one person hooked up to the internet must have purchased the material or it would not be available. The abuse of “sharing” amounts to wholesale theft of copyrighted material because it clearly violates the limited ownership privileges which had been defined by the courts. In case you missed the point, creative people who invest their working hours and produce a definable work deserve to be recompensed for their efforts by those who enjoy the fruits of that labor.

It’s been over 20 years since the issue of copyright royalty ownership hit the courts. Regardless of how the legislation’s wording ends up in its final form, it will end up in the courts once more. This might be a good time to check the oil, clean the windows and check the air in our tires as we, a nation of individuals with varied considerations and expectations, consider what value should be placed on ownership; after all, the Supreme Court recently explained that ownership of land, once thought to be an individual right, has been turned over to local governmental agencies via the use of Eminent Domain. I look forward to our brave new world, don’t you comrade?

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