Big IdeasThe Atlantic magazine has put out its yearly Ideas Issue.  I always look forward to it — sure, not all of the ideas are great, and many are questionable, but that’s to be expected when a lot of ideas are gathered together.  They’re often still instructive, sometimes the more so for being deliberately provocative.

But every so often, there’s one whose most interesting characteristic is that it managed to get past the editors at all.  This year, it’s from Elizabeth Wurtzel, and it reads, in full:

Of the Founders’ genius ideas, few trump intellectual-property rights. At a time when Barbary pirates still concerned them, the Framers penned an intellectual-property clause—the world’s first constitutional protection for copyrights and patents. In so doing, they spawned Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Motown, and so on. Today, we foolishly flirt with undoing that. In a future where all art is free (the future as pined for by Internet pirates and Creative Commons zealots), books, songs, and films would still get made. But with nobody paying for them, they’d be terrible. Only people who do lousy work do it for free.

Er.  Where to start?  The vertigo-inducing ahistoricity?  The clumsy attempt at guilt-by-association through a spurious double mention of pirates?  The unexamined assumption that copyright restrictions are how artists get paid?

Or how about just with a rewrite:

Of the Founders’ genius ideas, few trump intellectual-property rights. At a time when Barbary pirates still concerned them, the Framers penned an intellectual-property clause—the world’s first constitutional protection for copyrights and patents—into a justly famous document that they composed for no compensation and that was in the public domain from the moment it was first published. In so doing, they spawned Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Motown, and so on. Today, we foolishly flirt with undoing that. In a future where all art is free (the future as pined for by Internet pirates and Creative Commons zealots), books, songs, and films would still get made. But with nobody paying for them, they’d be terrible. Only people who do lousy work do it for free.

My suggested edits are in red.

Pirate Party NY

What they’re doing:

Dressing as pirates in a public square in New York City, and singing popular, copyrighted songs while holding up signs reading: “This is illegal”, “We are violating copyright law”, “We could get sued for this”.

Where and when they’re doing it:

Lincoln Center Plaza in Manhattan, New York City
Across the street from ASCAP Headquarters

Saturday, July 14th, 2012, 12:00pm.  (Meeting up at Columbus Circle 59th Street for a briefing first, then walking to Lincoln Center at 12:30.)

Pirate Party NY is providing signs, lyric sheets, bottled water, and snacks.

Golly, that’s jolly!  Where can I find out more?

‘Nuff said.

Portrait of Dirk Lasater

While most of our work at addresses artists and audiences, we’re also always on the lookout for good pieces intended for the legal and policy research communities. When lawyer Dirk Lasater asked if we’d be interested in publishing these excerpts from his article “Closing Pandora’s Box: Speculative Invoicing and Opportunism in File Sharing”, we jumped at the chance.

What Lasater describes below is moral hazard: the inevitable abuse of a system that is optimized for large-scale, monopolistic, predatory behavior. Of course, he is more circumspect in his language, as befits someone writing for a legal journal — but read the excerpts yourself and see if you can come to any other conclusion.

In his full journal article there is also a Proposed Remedies section, with some suggestions that ought to be uncontroversial: an amendment to the DMCA requiring a “statement that the complaining party has examined the purported infringement and believes in good faith that there is no potential fair use or exempt use, as defined by this Act, of the alleged infringer”, and, even more importantly, this amendment:

Unless otherwise provided, any person who threatens a lawsuit by mail, electronically, or in person; or any person who issues requests for pretrial settlement of infringement claims after obtaining a subpoena under this section and who knows, or should have known, that the alleged settlement was based on false statements or misrepresentations, including material omissions, shall be liable for any damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees incurred by the alleged infringer, and any damages including costs and attorneys’ fees of any service provider who is injured by such conduct as the result of the service provider relying upon such subpoena in removing or disabling access to the material or activity claimed to be infringing, or in disclosing the identity and private information of the alleged infringer. Treble damages shall be available in cases of willful or wanton disregard by the party obtaining the subpoena.

The idea that those who commit copyfraud should have to pay for the inconvenience they cause others is not new. What is new is the careful drafting Lasater brings to the proposed solution. He’s not just saying it would be a good idea to amend the law so there are penalties for copyfraud — many people say that. But Lasater actually drafts the amendment, and backs it up with the kind of legal analysis and history that one wishes went into all legislation.

Biography: Dirk Lasater is a practicing lawyer in Winston-Salem, NC with an interest in intellectual property issues. He is currently working in a temporary capacity as he looks for a permanent legal position in some area of commercial transactional or intellectual property law. Dirk received his bachelor’s degree in the Classics from the University of Florida and earned his Juris Doctor from the Wake Forest University School of Law in 2011. From 2010-2011, Dirk served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Wake Forest Journal of Business and Intellectual Property Law. He has published various blogs on copyright law and has also authored two academic articles, one of which focuses on the competing concurrent use of virtual trademarks on the internet, and the other on the practice of speculative invoicing, portions of which are reprinted on While in law school, Dirk interned at Novant Health, Inc., a regional health care system, and also volunteered for two years as the Assistant Director of the Wake Forest Innocence Project where he worked on actual innocence claims and reintegration of recently released prisoners.

These excerpts are part of a larger article, “Closing Pandora’s Box: Speculative Invoicing and Opportunism in File Sharing” from the Fall Issue, Volume 12-1, of the Wake Forest Journal of Business & Intellectual Property Law. The author and Question Copyright thank the Wake Forest Journal of Business and Intellectual Property Law for allowing these portions to be published here under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Author’s Introduction

The Pandora’s box of file sharing as it currently exists has found renewed presence in public consciousness over the course of the last five to ten years. While dormant through much of the late 2000s, the government and content owners have begun a full court press aimed at preventing the free sharing of movies and music on the internet. The most recent action against Rapidshare and the grass roots rejection of SOPA and PIPA have brought internet related issues back into vogue, and have directed attention to the speculative invoicing approach to copyright enforcement used quietly and persistently over the last five to ten years. Following Napster’s demise, internet technology has continued to advance, with file sharing use skyrocketing and enforcement regimes struggling to keep pace.i Historically, as content owners and the RIAA searched for ways to close Pandora’s box, they targeted file sharing websites such as Napster, Grokster, and Limewire, and, in tandem, sued individual end users.ii While the content industry has had some success on both of these fronts,iii resolution of the larger problem has not been realized, Pandora’s ‘evils’ are out of the box, and all efforts are beginning to look like a seemingly futile attempt to prevent online file sharing.iv

This struggle against consumers’ file sharing has culminated in the use of speculative invoicing, or ‘pay up or else’ schemes, which pit content owners against end users in pre-litigation disputes. Though these schemes create new opportunities for extra-judicial resolution of disputes, they also create significant opportunities for abuse. These processes and are currently being utilized on a grand scale by groups referred to as “copyright trolls” (“troll”).v Unlike the prototypical ‘content owners versus file sharer’ battle that has heretofore been pursued, this revived model brings a new third party to the bargaining table. As the audience here at is generally versed in this practice, the larger explanation of this practice is omitted and can be found in the Part III of the larger

Specifically, the larger piece argues that the existing legal framework has created opportunities for abuse that—if many of new legal claims outlined in the article have merit—some trolls have been unable to resist, and that these abuses far exceed the schemes’ potential as a viable and just solution to the file sharing problem. Parts I-III of the larger article provide a history and explanation of peer-to-peer file sharing technology, a background of judicial treatment of these issues, and a granular explanation of the process of speculative invoicing. That background sets the stage for the proposed solutions in Part IV republished below, which consists of two different potential amendments to the Copyright Act that would reduce the abuse of speculative invoicing, while maintaining an avenue for the pursuit of valid, meritorious claims.

The first proposed Amendment creates a threshold level of due diligence regarding potential fair uses prior to sending a demand letter, and is extrapolated from other judicial decisions. The second proposed Amendment provides for substantial penalties in the event of knowing or negligent misrepresentation in a demand letter or the use of misleading coercion in the use of pre-trial settlement demands. The sum total of these Amendments would serve to maintain a private enforcement regime—necessary in light of governmental lethargy in this area—while simultaneously preventing the abuse that has allegedly occurred. However, recognizing that the proposed Amendment remedies are merely a short-term solution, Part V, also reprinted below, questions the compatibility of speculative invoicing with copyright law’s underlying goals and purposes, and makes some arguments in favor of systemic reform of copyright law more generally, an issue with which is intimately familiar.

IV. Misalignment with Copyright Fundamentals

“Just at the time digital technology could unleash an extraordinary range of commercial and noncommercial creativity, the law burdens this creativity with insanely complex and vague rules and with threat of obscenely severe penalties.”1

Aside from the granular problems stated above, and recognizing that the proposed amendments would in fact add to the problem astutely noted in the quote above by Lawrence Lessig, there is a global, more systemic conflict at issue within the realm of copyright enforcement litigation deserving mention. The practice of copyright law has devolved to a model of pure profiteering, with vindication generally coming in the form of a quick and dirty pre-trial settlement. More fundamentally, the law itself necessitates the hiring of an expert to analyze and decipher its labyrinthine procedures and regulations. Panning out, and examining the forest, as opposed to the trees, it seems questionable how any of these specific styles of litigation serve copyright law’s fundamental goal of promoting the progress of science and the useful arts.2 This Part briefly analyzes the premises on which copyright law in America is based. It then questions whether the current copyright enforcement scheme and the use of speculative invoicing serve to incentivize authors to create, and whether or not the processes serve copyright law’s fundamental goals. It concludes with a preliminary recommendation for future amendment to the copyright regime and endorses in theory some manner of global reform.

Copyright law in America, as opposed to many other regimes, is premised on utilitarian notions.3 Whereas Europe, most notably France, considers copyright a moral right in the Lockean sense, inuring to the author upon creation and having inextricable ties to its creator,4 American copyright law is premised on the foundation that progress is achieved by allowing proprietary works to pass back into the public domain, thus allowing for greater access, resulting in greater eventual societal growth.5 This premise exists as a contract between the public and the creator, which confers a limited monopoly on the author, provided that the work passes to the public upon its termination.6 The public domain purpose is reflected not only in the copyright laws but also in the patent laws.7 It was no coincidence that these two provisions would be linked in the Constitution, as the intent underlying both principles, copyright and patent, is the same: America’s growth depends on creativity; creativity builds on earlier creativity, and there is nothing truly new under the sun.8 Thus, protection of intellectual property is a primary instrument for protecting creativity, but this is the by-product of a more fundamental goal; copyright law is predominantly a vessel for incentivizing creative and intellectual growth, with the eventual result being a rich and diverse public domain. Hence, the Constitution secures only for limited times to authors and inventors the right to exploit the value of their work.9 Eventually the public is to receive the fruits of this labor, to build and create upon ad infinitum. However, some have argued that the tide respecting this delicate balance has shifted imperceptibly to a culture of creators’ rights.10

Arguably, society has come to value the rights of authors and creators above all else, reflecting a moral or natural rights view,11 and resulting in complex laws and Sisyphean procedures for licensing and using others’ work.12 While copyright in its infancy only protected against republication of others’ works, it has evolved to encompass those who build upon or transform others’ works as well.13 Lawrence Lessig, in his seminal account of societal regression away from free culture in America argues: “[T]he law’s role is less and less to support creativity, and more and more to protect certain industries against competition.”14 Despite this innocuous yet pervasive shift away from copyright’s roots, the original tenants of copyright should still technically apply, and Congress should take the opportunity to force back the tide of “creatorism” washing on its shores.

The discussion above regarding pre-trial settlement provides a perfect example of this trend—the current wave of lawsuits outlined above seemingly do nothing to promote or protect the fundamental goals of copyright law. In the beginning, the RIAA could plausibly argue that its suits were pursued for two reasons: (1) to recoup its hemorrhagic losses seen in the 1990s, and (2) to deter future downloading, thus incentivizing creation.15 Since the RIAA was representing authors and creators, these goals were not entirely misaligned with those of copyright law generally. Thus, these suits were arguably defensible, although the damages the RIAA pursued were not compensatory, nor at their core incentivizing, but were actually punitive and opportunistic.16 The current regime however, is even more attenuated and less defensible under the American quid pro quo utilitarian model. Within the modern speculative invoicing scheme, copyright trolls in many instances own the copyrighted work, be it through purchase as in the newspaper article cases, or assignment, as in some movie and music scenarios. These trolls are not vindicating creators’ rights and the system is not rewarding or incentivizing creation by allowing these third parties to profit. This regime does not incentivize creation, nor does it promote the progress of science. If anything, these actions stifle creativity by deterring any author reasonably aware of copyright enforcement from creating something that could begin to encroach on an earlier work.17 This, in fact, prevents creation in the most sinister of ways: the instant an author rejects an idea or stops the creative process to concern herself with copyright laws and restrictions, the creative process has been forever changed, even if imperceptibly, and the end product will never be the same as it would have been without this abortive interference.

These lawsuits seek not to recoup costs so that authors and inventors—or even future authors and inventors—can continue to create and add to the cultural milieu; they instead relish a system that makes infringement enforcement profitable. Trolls cannot be blamed for the existing system; that dubious distinction lies with those in Congress who have shifted the focus of copyright law from utilitarian ideals to one of moral rights. From a purely economic standpoint, the end of infringement would be a negative result for the trolls discussed above. The net profit margin on these lawsuits is much higher than any standards that record or movies sales would net. One classic example was evidenced by the RIAA suits in 2003, where the RIAA sued four students for a combined total of $100 billion, which at the time, constituted six times the total profit of the film industry in 2001.18 Thus, this practice serves not to support and buttress copyright goals, but seeks to exploit gaps in the system which occur when underlying policy is distorted by conflicting positive rules drafted and lobbied by interested parties.

Therefore, Congress should reevaluate the current copyright regime as it stands, and recognize that Pandora has opened the box with regard to infringement on the Internet. The box is wide open, and the technological advancements that have emerged, including P2P technology and circumvention software, will continue to outpace enforcement regimes. As seen by file sharing websites like Napster, Grokster, Limewire, and The Pirate Bay, technology will continue to find new ways to provide free software, music, and movies on the Internet to an ever-increasing number of downloaders. Acknowledgment of this fact will catalyze evolving recognition that the current regime is incapable of accommodating this level of consumer access. The solution may be criminal enforcement against individual downloaders, and the current administration has indicated interest in pursuing IPR as a policy agenda.19 Further, the solution may lie in continuing to sue file sharing websites as they present, in a game of veritable “Whac-a-Mole.”20 An alternative solution may be to scratch the Copyright Act and start over, this time allowing consumer rights’ groups to have a seat at the negotiating table with the content owners who have traditionally drafted this legislation.21 No matter, the system should be adjusted to recognize the difference between an author and an assignee, and delimit the protection granted to each. This is not unprecedented, as seen with VARA.22 Congress should create a distinction between these two types of IP enforcers, and should definitively create law making the current regime of speculative invoicing, which is ethically questionable, conclusively prohibited.

In the short run, while suits against individuals and websites will likely continue, the rest of these proposed solutions are unlikely to occur anytime soon. As explained above, the political currents seem to be moving toward a more content/current creator focused direction, and are less concerned with the public domain, future creators, or end users. Thus, the proposed amendments to the Copyright Act listed above should be adopted to provide an intermediary, stop-gap remedy that could serve to protect consumers from false or improper claims in the interim. Further, Congress should recategorize the types of actors allowed to enforce copyright and define and delimit the parameters of this allowance to both support creators’ rights, and curtail assignee rights. In any case, Pandora’s Box will not be closing anytime soon, nor will the contents of the box ever be reclaimed; consumers have embraced the evils that have come forth, and have vowed to defend them and prevent their reclamation.


The current proliferation of speculative invoicing has illuminated a chasm between the legal theory and the actual practice of copyright enforcement. Not only do some of the copyright enforcers described above allegedly abuse the procedures outlined in the Copyright Act, this type of enforcement fundamentally distorts the purpose of copyright law and undermines the utilitarian goals on which the American system is premised. There are two solutions to these problems, stated above, one of which focuses on the short term and the other on the long term. In the short term, Congress could amend the Copyright Act again, requiring further diligence on the part of plaintiffs’ attorneys prior to the onset of litigation. Further, an amendment providing for severe penalties for improper techniques in pretrial settlement could make the current copyright enforcement scheme fair to both parties engaged in its system. The long-term solution is one debated heavily in all aspects of copyright scholarship; that of systemic reform. Copyright law’s purposes and goals as a utilitarian model are undermined and eroded by the current enforcement regime. Moral rights have innocuously invaded the legal and corporate consciousness, and legislation has begun to reflect this paradigm as persuaded by these lobbies.vii Congress must eventually confront the labyrinthine structure of the Copyright Act and its internal inconsistencies, otherwise conflicts like these outlined above will continue to manifest as the Act falls hopelessly behind the rapid technology curve. The Legislature should rethink the current regime and should create a new model, re-focusing on creativity, sharing, and the public domain.

Dirk Lasater’s full article can be read at “Closing Pandora’s Box: Speculative Invoicing and Opportunism in File Sharing” from the Fall Issue, Volume 12-1, of the Wake Forest Journal of Business & Intellectual Property Law. The author and Question Copyright thank the Wake Forest Journal of Business and Intellectual Property Law for allowing the above excerpts to be published here under a Creative Commons Attribution license.


[i] This proposition is evidenced in the Napster and Grokster line of decisions. See Dirk Lasater, Closing Pandora’s Box: Speculative Invoicing and Opportunism in File Sharing, WAKE FOREST J. B. & INTELL. PROP L., Part II.

[ii] See Justin Hughes, On the Logic of Suing One’s Customers and the Dilemma of Infringement-Based Business Models, 22 Cardozo Arts & Ent. L.J. 725, 727 – 728 (2005) (“Peer-to-peer technology blindsided the recording industry in 1999, and . . . . [t]he battle has been fought mainly in the courts, not in legislative and administrative agencies . . . . [T]he choices facing the music industry have still been the same: (a) surrender, (b) seek to enforce copyright norms against the technology and its business models, and/or (c) seek to enforce copyright norms against individual consumers—the individual P2P users offering and downloading music files.”).

[iii] See Lasater, supra Note 1 at Part II.

[iv] See RIAA v. The People: Five Years Later, ELEC. FRONTIER FOUND. 10 (Sept. 2008), (“While it is hard to precisely measure the use of P2P and the amount of illegal file sharing in the U.S., one thing is clear: after more than 30,000 RIAA lawsuits, tens of millions of U.S. music fans continue to use P2P networks and other new technologies to share music.”).

[v] Similar to the patent regime, the term ‘troll’ has both a positive and negative connotation. Trolls are generally not content creators, but are merely hired guns or third-party assignees, and they seek to benefit by acquisition or exploitation of the rights creators hold. However, trolls serve in a positive light to provide enforcement in an area seemingly rife with derision. The term troll is used for ease of reference and commonality with the existing literature. See Joe Mullin, Is This the Birth of the Copyright Troll?, CORPORATE COUNSEL (ONLINE) (Aug. 13, 2010), available at The two paradigmatic examples of these entities are Righthaven, which focuses on newspaper articles and blogs, and the U.S. Copyright Group (“USCG”), which targets movie downloading. See also Ryan Kearney, D.C.’s U.S. Copyright Group Takes Aim at 6,500 More BitTorrent Users, TBD ARTS (Feb. 9, 2011, 12:18 PM),; see generally WELCOME TO RIGHTHAVEN LAWSUITS, (last visited May 20, 2011) (giving a pro-consumer account of the business).

[vi] Lasater, supra Note 1.

[1] Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture 19 (2004).

[2] U.S. Const. art. I § 8, cl. 8 (“The Congress shall have Power . . . [t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries . . . .”).

[3] See Jane C. Ginsburg, A Tale of Two Copyrights: Literary Property in Revolutionary France and America, 64 Tul. L. Rev. 991, 992 (1990) (“By contrast, [to the moral rights system in France] the U.S. Constitution’s copyright clause, echoing the English Statute of Anne, makes the public’s interest equal, if not superior, to the author’s. This clause authorizes the establishment of exclusive rights of authors as a means to maximize production of and access to intellectual creations.”); see also Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken, 422 U.S. 151, 154–55 (1975) (stating that the Copyright Act’s grant to the author is limited and delimited by exclusive rights. The author does not have an unlimited monopoly under her control merely by virtue of her being the author); see also Jessica Litman, The Public Domain, 39 Emory L.J. 965, 970 (1990) (explaining the public goods problem and the need for incentives to create). For an extended analysis of the Statute of Anne and the development of Copyright law in America, see Laura N. Gasaway, Copyright Basics: From Earliest Times to the Digital Age, 10 Wake Forest Intell. Prop. L.J. 241, 244 (2009) (“The grant of a limited monopoly to authors is predicated on the premise that the public benefits from the creative activities of the authors. The exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner are a necessary condition to the full realization of such creative activities.”).

[4] See, e.g., Ginsburg, supra note 215, at 991 (“French copyright law is said to enshrine the author: exclusive rights flow from one’s (preferred) status as a creator.”). For a theoretical underpinning of the moral right theory, see John Locke, Two Treatises of Government 305–06 (Peter Laslett ed., Cambridge Univ. Press 2d ed. 1967) (1690) ([E]very man has a property in his own person. . . . The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.”). For a critique of this theory, compare Wendy J. Gordon, A Property Right in Self-Expression: Equality and Individualism in the Natural Law of Intellectual Property, 102 Yale L.J. 1533 (1993), with Justin Hughes, The Philosophy of Intellectual Property, 77 Geo. L.J. 287, 298–314 (1988).

[5] See L. Ray Patterson & Craig Joyce, Monopolizing the Law: The Scope of Copyright Protection for Law Reports and Statutory Compilations, 36 UCLA L. Rev. 719, 790 (“The limitation on Congress’s power to grant copyrights only ‘for limited Times’—in tandem with the denial of copyright to matter which, by its nature, is not the original expression of an ‘Author’—protects and continually enlarges the public domain, which is as significant to the cause of learning as the creation and distribution of new works.”); see also Gordon, supra note 216 at. n.236.

[6] See, e.g., Sony Co. of Am. v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417, 429 (1984) (“The monopoly privileges that Congress may authorize are neither unlimited nor primarily designed to provide a special private benefit. Rather, the limited grant is a means by which an important public purpose may be achieved. It is intended to motivate the creative activity of authors and inventors by the provision of a special reward, and to allow the public access to the products of their genius after the limited period of exclusive control has expired.”). But see Litman, supra note 215, at 1013–14 (arguing that the ‘quid pro quo’ justification of copyright law cannot explain the denial of protection for scenes a faire, neologisms, or the protection granted to facts in directories and catalogs).

[7] That both patents and copyrights exist for limited terms embodies the notion that protection is merely an incentivizing force and not one to reward authors exclusively. Contrast trademarks and trade secrets, which may exist in perpetuity so long as the statutory or common law factors and pre-requisites are met.

[8] See Litman, supra note 215, at 966 (“The process of authorship, however, is more equivocal than that romantic model admits. To say that every new work is in some sense based on the works that preceded it is such a truism that it has long been a cliché, invoked but not examined. But the very act of authorship in any medium is more akin to translation and recombination than it is to creating Aphrodite from the foam of the sea.”). For an interesting visual depiction of this theory, see Nina Paley, All Creative Work is Derivative (Minute Meme #2), (Feb. 9, 2011),

[9] U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 8.

[10] Lessig, supra note 213, at 18–19.

[11] Id.

[12] See generally T. Robert Rehm, Jr., Navigating the Open Source Minefield: What’s a Business to Do?, 10 Wake Forest Intell. Prop. L.J. 289 (2010) (explaining the necessity for diligence in, and how a business is to draft, review, and prepare licensing agreements in the digital age).

[13] Lessig, supra note 213, at 19.

[14] Id.

[15] See Swartout, supra note 29, at 502–05.

[16] See Elektra, supra note 182.

[17] See Lawrence Lessig, In Defense of Piracy,, (Oct. 11, 2008),

[18] Lessig, supra note 213, at 51.

[19] Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 (“PRO-IP Act”), Pub. L. No. 110-403, 122 Stat. 4256–4280 Sect. 301 (2008) (created an IP Czar dedicated to intellectual property enforcement); Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act S. 3804, 111th Cong. (2009–2010); PROTECT IP Act, S. 968, 112th Cong. (2011) (pending) available at (last visited Sept. 19, 2011); see Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Informal Predecisional / Deliberative Draft Oct. 2, 2010), available at (last visited Aug. 20, 2011); see also ACTA Fact Sheet and Guide to Public Draft Text, Office of the United States Trade Representative, (last visited Aug. 20, 2011); see also Admin’s White Paper on Intell. Prop. Enforcement Legislative Recommendations (March 2011), available at (last visited Aug. 20, 2011).

[20] See Electrontic Whac-A-Mole Game Instructions, Hasbro (2003),

[21] Drew Wilson, Consumer Groups Want to Halt ACTA Negotiations, (June 25, 2009),; see Mike Masnick, Latest ACTA Negotiation Kicks Off By Making It Difficult For Consumer Rights Groups to Attend, TechDirt (Sept. 22, 2010, 3:34 PM),

[22] Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA”), Pub. L. No. 101-650, tit. VI, 104 Stat. 5089, 5128–33 (1990) (codified at 17 U.S.C. § 106A (2006)) (providing rights of attribution and integrity specifically, and exclusively to authors of certain visual works only; this distinction borders on the recognition of moral rights in an author, which runs counter to the utilitarian notions of American copyright law, but makes a valid distinction with regard to who should be able to enforce a copyright).

[vii] See generally 17 U.S.C. § 512 (2006); see generally 17 U.S.C. § 1201 (2006). Zac Shaw of Mediapocalypse has just written one of the best explanations — and justifications — of the Free Culture movement we’ve yet seen: In Defense of Free Music: A Generational, Ethical High Road Over the Industry’s Corruption and Exploitation.

To understand what he’s responding to, you’ll need a bit of background…

Last week, a 20-year-old intern at NPR named Emily White wrote a post for NPR’s “All Songs Considered” blog, entitled “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With“.  She described, quite eloquently, how her relationship to recorded music was the same as the rest of her generation’s, namely that they don’t see the point of owning physical media like CDs.  She gets her music on iTunes and other online services, and stores it in the cloud and on her playback devices.  She doesn’t see anything wrong with this.

From the point of view of someone steeped in the Free Culture movement, nothing Emily White said is controversial.  Indeed, it was if anything surprisingly tame: she took care to say that she rarely downloads songs illegally, but rather uses state-approved distribution channels, in part because she wants artists to get more money than they do under the old album-based model:

…I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.


What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices. With this new universal database, everyone would have convenient access to everything that has ever been recorded, and performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts (hopefully with more money going back to the artist than the present model). All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?

Then David Lowery at The Trichordist (“Artists for an Ethical Internet”) wrote an impassioned response, “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered“, that was really aimed at the Free Culture movement, using White as a proxy.  Lowery’s letter is worth reading: he’s clearly sincere, and is willing to pull out every rhetorical trick in his bag to make his case (including, unfortunately, some unfair ones).  I don’t think he makes a very good case, but he certainly put his heart into it.  His response got a huge amount of circulation, and the coverage appears to be still expanding.

Zac Shaw didn’t think Lowery made a good case either, but instead of just picking apart Lowery’s argument, Shaw constructed a convincing positive argument for the ethical solidity of the Free Culture movement’s position (which Emily White herself did not articulate, but it was Lowery’s real target, and Shaw was right to focus on it).

Enough introduction.  Read Zac Shaw’s article — it’s really, really good:

In Defense of Free Music: A Generational, Ethical High Road Over the Industry’s Corruption and Exploitation

Google's name.Big news from Google — their regular Transparency Reports will now include information about content takedown requests!

This means that it’s about to get a lot easier to see and talk about the costs of copyright restrictions.  Some background: under U.S. law, Google can protect itself from infringement claims by promptly handling so-called “takedown requests”.  A takedown request is when a copyright owner or their agent asks Google to remove content from its servers (or, in the case of the search engine, from being included in search results) because continuing to offer the content would violate the owner’s copyright, and continuing to link to it in search results could be considered contributory infringement.

But how often are such requests made?  Who makes them?  Unless you worked at Google or a similarly large information-gathering organization, you’d have no way of knowing.

Now Google’s going to tell us.  From their announcement:

Today we’re expanding the Transparency Report with a new section on copyright. Specifically, we’re disclosing the number of requests we get from copyright owners (and the organizations that represent them) to remove Google Search results because they allegedly link to infringing content. We’re starting with search because we remove more results in response to copyright removal notices than for any other reason. So we’re providing information about who sends us copyright removal notices, how often, on behalf of which copyright owners and for which websites. As policymakers and Internet users around the world consider the pros and cons of different proposals to address the problem of online copyright infringement, we hope this data will contribute to the discussion.

The answer, by the way, turns out to be about a quarter of a million takedown requests per week and counting (and remember, they’re starting with just their search engine, so this doesn’t include YouTube or their other major content-aggregation areas yet).  Just imagine the bureaucracy load on both sides for processing that kind of quanitity — and imagine all the more interesting things that money could be going to, if it weren’t processing disputes arising from state-granted monopolies on culture.

Unfortunately, the law that put in place the takedown request system forgot to build in any penalty for fraudulent or abusive requests, which do happen.  In today’s announcement, Google acknowledged that they deal with mistaken requests too:

At the same time, we try to catch erroneous or abusive removal requests. For example, we recently rejected two requests from an organization representing a major entertainment company, asking us to remove a search result that linked to a major newspaper’s review of a TV show. The requests mistakenly claimed copyright violations of the show, even though there was no infringing content. We’ve also seen baseless copyright removal requests being used for anticompetitive purposes, or to remove content unfavorable to a particular person or company from our search results. We try to catch these ourselves, but we also notify webmasters in our Webmaster Tools when pages on their website have been targeted by a copyright removal request, so that they can submit a counter-notice if they believe the removal request was inaccurate.

Their excellent FAQ offers more examples of incorrect requests they’ve received.  It’s not clear if they’ll be publishing statistics on that, but they do link to a 2006 third-party analysis that found a “surprisingly high incidence of flawed takedowns”.

Kudos to Google for shining a light where it has been dark for far too long!

Sample of Google Takedown Report home page.

As part of a project to create a non-DRM fixed media standard for high-definition video releases, Terry Hancock has launched a Kickstarter campaign which will produce two Lib-Ray video titles and player software to support them.

“Sita Sings the Blues” is the award-winning, feature-length animation by Question Copyright Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley, released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. This will be a Creator Endorsed release, with a portion of funds going to Nina Paley herself after the minimum needed for the project is raised. This will be a beautiful edition in 1920×1080 HD video with lossless stereo audio, and it will be subtitled in over a dozen languages. This is the first time this film has been available in high-definition, due to Paley’s reluctance to use Blu-Ray with its DRM issues.

The “Blender Foundation Open Movie Collection” will be a single Lib-Ray release containing the three currently-complete Blender Foundation Open Movies: “Elephants Dream”, “Big Buck Bunny”, and “Sintel”. These will be in 1920×1080 HD video with lossless stereo and 5.1 surround soundtracks. These will also have a number of subtitle tracks and commentaries.

Unlike Blu-Ray, Lib-Ray releases do not support DRM, encryption, or region-coding options, and are intended for worldwide release. Thus the standard is designed with a highly-adaptable localization scheme, providing many more subtitles than are typically available on Blu-Ray or DVD regional releases.

The Lib-Ray standard will also incorporate metadata and cover art options to make them easier to cache in retrieval systems — an option intentionally blocked by the design of proprietary standards.

It is hoped that Lib-Ray will become a viable niche standard for free-culture and independent filmmakers to use for wider distribution of their films in high-definition format without the hassle, cost, and ethical issues surrounding proprietary DRM video standards.

Lib-Ray will be physically stored on high-capacity SD cards (SDHC media) which are more expensive than optical disks, but rapidly dropping in price. They are also a read-write medium, which allows for some additional features for producers, including easier short-run production and the possibility of publishing post-release patches (such as for additional subtitle tracks as they become available).

The funds will support the creation of these releases as well as player software to support Lib-Ray playback on computers, including Home Theater PCs. A manual will also be available, containing the full specification and tutorials on creating and using Lib-Ray releases.

Hancock says, “I recently realized that Lib-Ray will not get off the ground without developing player software and that all the pieces needed to create it were already available to me. I have the necessary coding experience for this (it will be written in Python, using the Gstreamer and Webkit library bindings), and so it’s really just a matter of time. It’s too much for me to do in my spare time, but if I can get the support to work on it full time for a short while, I should be able to make it all work smoothly.

“I’m a regular contributor to Free Software Magazine, and I’ve been documenting my progress on previous prototypes in my column there — ever since I discovered the DRM quagmire that is Blu-Ray publishing!

Gwenn Seemel self-portrait Second Face 2009Zinger quote from full-time artist (and QCO reader) Gwenn Seemel:

I’m fascinated by how artists say that their adherence to copyright is about money (even when they aren’t making a living with their work) but that when you dig a little deeper it comes out that it’s about fear.  It’s about the fear that someone will do what you’re doing but do it better than you ever did.

Thanks to reader Osama Khalid for telling us about another use of Nina Paley‘s Minute Meme Copying Is Not Theft on Al Jazeera — in this case, using it exactly as we hope the Minute Memes will be used: to set the frame or introduce the issues for a discussion. It’s played near the beginning, at about 2:30:

And it’s followed by a fantastic interview with Rick Falkvinge, in which he explains why Pirate Party resonates with so many people and why its political philosophy is deeply connected with civil liberties.

(This is not the first time that “Copying Is Not Theft” has appeared on Al Jazeera.)

The Copyright Flag of Canada.Any monopoly over public information is questionable, but we cast an especially gimlet gaze on attempts to monopolize publicly-funded information.  That’s what the government of Canada is doing to right now (well, “doing to all Canadians” would be more accurate, but is the lucky proximate target).

Canada Post is upset over GeoCoder’s freely-licensed database of Canadian postal codes.  Since 2004 GeoCoder has crowdsourced the creation of a geo-coded Canadian postal code database.  That is, members of the public have entered postal codes (public data) linked to location information (also public data).  The resultant dataset is useable by anyone, and saves people from having to pay Canada Post $5000 CAD for an official copy.

So what does Canada Post do?  Naturally, they sue.

(Plant face firmly in desk here.)

No, really.  It’s not April Fool’s Day anymore — we wouldn’t make this up.  Here’s a quote from Canada Post’s lawyer-gram:

  1. Canada Post is the owner of copyright in the CPC database as further defined herein;
  2. the Defendant has infringed Canada Posts’s copyright in the CPC database by producing and reproducing, without the consent of the Plaintiff, the CPC Database and substantial portions thereof in the course of the development, update, distribution and sale of the Defendant’s dataset products, including the Defendant’s Canadian Postal Code Geocoded Dataset (the “CPCG Dataset”) contrary to section 27(1) of the Copyright Act, R.S.C. 198, c.C-42 as amended (the “Copyright Act”); and
  3. the Defendant has infringed Canada Post’s copyright in the CPC Database by:
    1. selling or renting out;
    2. distributing to such an extent as to affect Canada Post prejudicially as owner of the copyright;
    3. by way of trade, distributing, exposing, offering for sale and exhibiting in public;
    4. possessing for the purposes of the activities described in subparagraphs (a) to (c) copies of the CDC Database and substantial portions thereof, including  the CPCG Dataset which the Defendant knew or should have known infringed the Plaintiff’s exclusive copyright, contrary to section 27(2) of the Copyright Act;

…I can’t really stand to type in any more of that (it’s from a PDF image; also, it’s offensive to reason), but you can see the whole complaint here: page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

You can donate to to assist with their defense.  In their words: “Fighting for principle is expensive, and we will do it. Even against the odds, namely the foremost law firm in the country for IP litigation, hired by Canada Post to bring us down.”

Update 2012-04-28: there’s a terrific writeup by David Eaves about this now.