|Is downloading copyrighted music tantamount to stealing? Lawrence Lessig, an expert on Internet law from Stanford University's Law School, and Matt Oppenheim, senior vice president of business and legal affairs for the Recording Industry Association of America, answer your questions about this heated debate.|
John Wilcox from Arlington, VA asks:
(1) If physical communities can form libraries for the purpose of sharing copyrighted materials with community members, why can't virtual communities?
(2) If I can go to my local library and check out a CD for free, why can't I copy a digital CD from an online friend? And if I like a song enough to re-record it onto a cassette, why can't I copy the song from a digital server? What are the fundamental differences between the library setting and Internet file-swapping services that make the former both ethical and legal, and the latter unethical and/or illegal? Don't both the public library and online file-sharing services serve the same public interest?
Lawrence Lessig from Stanford Law School responds:
Let's distinguish "can" from "should." Simplifying just a bit: Why "can't" you? Because when virtual communities "share" materials, they make copies, and copyright law regulates copies; when real space libraries "share" content, they don't make copies, so copyright law doesn't regulate that. But should there be such a difference? No. Our tradition has always recognized the importance of balance in copyright restrictions; it has always recognized the importance of access.
There is no reason that the technical accident that everything online is a copy should mean the end of libraries. Obviously, libraries shouldn't become the pirates lair. But neither should the Internet obliterate libraries.
Matt Oppenheim from the Recording Industry Association of America responds:
The idea of a virtual community that "shares" music is a great idea. Unfortunately,
that is not what is happening on P2P [peer-to-peer] networks these days. Networks
like Kazaa, Gnutella, iMesh, Grokster and Morpheus, among others, are encouraging
and helping individuals to distribute perfect digital copies of music to millions
of strangers simultaneously. Nobody is really "sharing" as we traditionally think
of the term. Sharing involves lending something to somebody, and while it is on
loan, the owner no longer has it. "Sharing" in the P2P context has become a euphemism
for "copying." That copying is neither legal nor ethical.
(2) Just because you physically can check a CD out of the library and copy it does not mean that it is legal to do so. Similarly, just because a car is sitting idling and unlocked does not mean that you can get in it and drive it away for your own use. Intellectual property should not be treated any differently than other property. Unless you buy it, you should not copy it for your own use. Indeed, there is no question under the law that copying a CD you borrow from the library is copyright infringement (we just never have enforced against that extremely limited amount of infringement).
From an ethical perspective, when individuals engage in illegal copying, they are taking money out of the pockets of all of the people who have put their hard work into making the music. That includes everyone from the famous rock star to the woman working the sound boards to the back up singers to the truck driver who delivers the CDs. There is nothing ethical in this. If art of any form is going to survive and flourish in our culture, we need to support it and protect it. When you buy a CD, you should feel free to copy it for your own use. So, if you buy a CD that you keep at home, you should feel free to make a copy that you have in your car. It is not legal, ethical or cool to copy somebody else's CD for your own use.