copy(insert opinion here)

timo ruppell ruppel at
Fri Oct 20 16:55:35 CEST 2000


Some very interesting discussion about copyright, law, corporations,
morale and ethics has been going on here. Normally I'm a lurker, just
breezing through the digest every now and then, but over the last week I
have been reading it with increasing interest.

Copyright and related issues (DeCSS, DMCA, Napster) have been hotly
discussed in the public eye. Having followed these discussions on several
different forums I must say that the postings on this list represent some
of the more well spoken arguments in this debate, while at the same time 
they didn't include anything notably new or especially thought provoking.

What usually confuses people is the word "free". Freedom of Speech (or
Information if you wish) does not mean free as in "free beer". Quotes like 

>>"What computers, and the internet, have done are to make it possible for
  people to share information (even information with full color pictures
  and sound) with each other for free."

refer obviously to the cost of accessing the internet and transferring
information. However, they don't concern themselves with to the actual
freedom of the information (eg. are they allowed to freely distribute the

Freedom of speech is in itself a difficult concept and more so when
applied to eg. computer code (DeCSS) or art. Often it is censored by local
government and many laws regulate it (libel, slander, hate, child-porn).
These laws are in place to make sure that the freedom of one person
doesn't intrude on the rights of another.

"Freedom of information" is a term coined in similarity to the
constitutional right regarding speech. It is mostly used when one wants to
indicate that information (ideas, computer programs and files, generally
anything one can move through the 'net) should be regarded as speech, and
as such, one should be allowed to post eg. the source of a computer
programm on the internet since one would equally be allowed to read it out
loud to a friend for example.

>>"I remember in the 1960s kids in our neighborhood would get a comic,
  read it, and pass it on to their friends.  Every individual comic sold
  was ready by a hundred different kids or more.  Were they breaking the
  copyright law?

This comment illustrates the problem. They weren't breaking the law back
then, but what about if one of the kids would have had a printing press
(for whatever odd reason) and made exact copies for every kid on the
block (or rather in the city or the world)?

When one talks about Freedom of information one has to realize that
copyright regulates this freedom just like libel, slander etc. laws
regulate free speech. The internet has made the proliferation of
hate-texts and child-pornography virtually effortless, yet no-one is
crying for an abandonment of the laws or, for that matter, thinking that
the laws will simply dissapear over time. 

Copyright for some reason gets a totally different treatment from people. 
It seems that the over all lack of respect for copyright law isn't a
consequence of any  general loss of morality (see previous paragraph),
rather I think it is simply greed or envy or hate. Stories of heartless
megacorporations and their inhuman tactics make it all so much easier
(even right) to steal from them. Does it make it any less a crime however?

>>"It is a human right, moreover, a human responsibility, to break bad

In a democratic society personal freedom is individually the most
cherished right, however, it never extends so much as to invade the
rights of another person. With personal freedom comes the responsability
to respect the rights of others, not the responsability to trample all
over their rights just because you have a reason ("it is a bad law").

The way to get rid of a bad law is to go vote, write your representative,
write in the newspapers etc. Civil disobedience (the willfull and
exemplatory breaking of a law) is always the last resort in a democratic
society. The fact that with the internet it has become the most easy
method does not mean it should be the first one to resort to. If you don't
believe that then you don't believe in democracy (which then in itself
gives rise to a rather involved discussion).

To close up I should say that, having followed copyright issues online, I
knnow that Di$ney has been quite ignorant of the web and what goes on in
it, just go to ebay and look for illegal DVD's of disney movies being sold
there, or more obviously look at the hundreds of online disney comics. How
long this will continue, however, is anyones guess.

I strongly believe that in the absence of law enforcement (by Di$ney or
anyone) one should still try to do the right thing.

-Timo Ruppell

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