Free Culture & Columbia Political Union present: Panel Discussion on Illegal Downloading

Lerner Hall at Columbia University

We’re taking questions from the Net for the panel discussion below. So if there’s something you’d like raised, please leave a comment here — we’ll bring the comments to the panel.

(And if you submit your question via, say, a video on YouTube, we’ll try our best to play it live during the panel. Yes, that’s a hint!)

  • When: Wednesday, 3 December 2008, 8pm-10pm
  • Where: Satow Room – Lerner Hall @ Columbia University (see map)
  • What: Panel discussion about current law and about the future of copyright policy.
  • Who: Stanley Pierre-Louis (VP of IP, Viacom); June Besek (Prof. of Law, Columbia University); Karl Fogel (Editor,

The event is free, but space is limited. Please RSVP to: decause{_AT_}

18 Comments on "Free Culture & Columbia Political Union present: Panel Discussion on Illegal Downloading"

  1. Can we establish that “Illegal Downloading” is an oxymoron?

    I understand that ‘downloading of authorised copies’ has never been found to be a copyright infringement in a US or UK court of law, nor even ‘downloading of unauthorised copies’, since downloading has not been recognised as constituting the manufacture of an infringing copy.

    This is distinct from unauthorised distribution or manufacture of copies – that may occur as a side effect of using distributive technologies such as BitTorrent. But, I’m not sure that even this has been established at court to constitute copyright infringement.

    Even the making available of copyrighted works (placing files in shared folders) without authorisation has only briefly been held to be an infringement and then retracted.

  2. Americans engage in a large number of unlawful “sharing” behaviors. We trade recipes copied from recipe books. We trespass on each other’s driveways to turn our cars around. We “scalp” tickets. We run red lights, thus “sharing” a risk of death with our fellow citizens.

    My question is: What is so special about illegal downloading that we as a society feel that it is appropriate to ruin the lives of people who do it (or are thought to have done it), while the perpetrators of much more serious “crimes” are ignored or experience less serious consequences?

  3. I’m not sure what the courts have said (case law may be quite varied anyway). But isn’t the RIAA suing people simply on the basis of those people having downloaded, in some cases? That’s not saying the RIAA is right, but if most lawyers think there’s such a thing as illegal downloading, then a lot of lawsuits can be filed regardless of the legal merits.

  4. Good point.

    Though I worry about using it as a rhetorical strategy, because it seems to grant a worrisome premise: “Sure, it’s is a crime, but it’s such a minor crime that we shouldn’t devote any resources to prosecuting it.” That still leaves it a crime, when it shouldn’t be a crime at all. Better to concentrate on full decriminalization than on minimizing enforcement.

  5. I understand they sue those they associate with IP addresses detected to be sharing files with names that may indicate works whose copyright is held by members belonging to RIAA/MPAA that are not authorised to be freely copied.

    I don’t think they attempt to detect people purely downloading.

    Note that those who ‘download’ via BitTorrent are also sharing as a side effect.

    The act of ‘sharing’ is presumed to constitute the manufacture and distribution of a copy to the downloader, but only upon the downloader’s request, when the distribution is commenced.

    Without such a download in progress, the sharer is only making the file available. This is why they hire agencies to perform the download. One could say that those agencies are thus authorised by the copyright holder to authorise the manufacture of a copy when they attempt a download, and thus no infringement occurs.

    Unfortunately, 99.99% of those sued doubt such finessing will hold up in court – even if they had a no win, no fee lawyer. Understandably, the RIAA is likely to vet their victims to ensure they aren’t a) wealthy, b) IP lawyers, or c) law students.

    1. “This is why they hire agencies to perform the download.”

      Interesting train of thought. Technically though, the copyright in this case generally prevents unauthorized distribution. The copyrights of the receiving party have no impact.

      “Understandably, the RIAA is likely to vet their victims to ensure they aren’t a) wealthy, b) IP lawyers, or c) law students.”

      Somehow I doubt this.

      It seems obvious to me that both the entity unauthorized to distribute copyrighted content and the entity unauthorized to receive that content are engaging in illegal activity by transferring that content.

      These legalities do not seem questionable to me. The question is whether copyright is good for artists(entities creating content) and for society. While there are obvious of examples where copyright is beneficial (ie. GPL), I would say there are a lot of cases today where the answer is no.

      The challenge here is to create and promote licenses and practices that benefit both the artist and society rather than favoring one, the other, or none. What licenses and practices are available for recording artists that reduce or eliminate the issue of illegal downloading of their content?