I'm a firm believer that copyright laws are an essential tool in making sure that the creator of any piece of work (whether that work be analog or digital) gets a fair opportunity to make a The way that I see current copyright laws being used to criminalize minor copyright infringements bothers me a great dealliving from their efforts. I also strongly believe that anyone who thinks that copyright laws are a bad thing has never actually created something and based their livelihood on that piece of work generating an income.
However, I am also a firm believer in fair use and the fair application of the law, and the way that I see current copyright laws being used to criminalize minor copyright infringements bothers me a great deal.
For example, on Friday, BBC News ran a piece about how selling second hand MP3 players loaded with music is turning innocent users of technology into commercial music pirates. Once again, the recording industry gets it wrong. This is far removed from "commercial music piracy". Instead of targeting the real commercial-scale pirates, the ones that make the biggest profits, the attention is once again focused on the customers, who once again have to put up with being under suspicion and the threats of Draconian punishments.
There's also far too much confusion. A few years ago the recording industry made a big deal about the fact that free music was illegal, while any paid for music would be legit. It was one of those factually inaccurate statements but it was simplisic enough to get the message across. Now things are far more complicated. There's masses of perfectly legal free music available on the web, while paying for your downloads doesn't in any way guarantee that they are legitimate. Even the current advice about deleting the music from any MP3 players before selling them is bogus - it's a trivial job to recover anything that's been deleted using conventional means. Does that mean that users selling old equipment are responsible for any material that can be recovered from equipment that they sell?
This kind of intolerant behavior isn't helping current copyright laws win any friends. Yes, while it's technically illegal for someone to sell their MP3 player with music still on it, this ignores the fact that tackling piracy at this kind of low level isn't about protecting the rights of the copyright holders, it's about scaring the public into behaving themselves because "big brother" is watching. If the recording industry was serious about the rights of the copyright holders it would be targeting the real commercial pirates who make millions from dealing in counterfeit material. The truth is that it's easier to threaten and intimidate regular members of the public than it is to scare off criminals who know that they are carrying out criminal acts. In fact, I firmly believe that the new tactic being used to fight piracy is to strike fear into the average user. It's tough to crack down on the large-scale piracy rings, so instead make individuals worried that they will be held responsible for any illegal material in their possession, in the hope that this will discourage people from buying from shady sources.
It's high time that the recording industry (and the movie industry for that matter) realized that we have moved into different times, times where customers want to be able to make fair use of what they buy. It's pretty obvious that DRM isn't doing what it was supposed to do (the only people inconvenienced by DRM are regular users wanting to make use of the goods they've purchased). It's time to rethink restrictive formats and heavy-handed legal threats and treat the customer with respect. This would free up resources and allow them to go after the real commercial-scale pirates.
However, since I don't expect my opinion to change the current state of play, there's no denying that the recording industry is now keeping an eye on the sale of second-hand music players. If you're planning on selling an MP3 player then it's a good idea to delete everything off the device before selling it. If you're paranoid of you've had something on that device that you don't want others to later be able to recover (if, for example, you've used your MP3 player to transport files) then a utility like Eraser will securely wipe the memory (the same goes for USB flash drives, media cards, computers, laptops and items like cell phones and PDAs). Whatever you do, don't advertise devices as coming loaded with copyrighted material because you never know, you just might get caught out…