Today’s Yahoo! has an AP story about the latest RIAA suits against college students, this time at the University of Nebraska. I understand why these suits aren’t too popular. As one of the students quoted in the story says, the “wrong” of downloading music doesn’t seem any more serious to him than going 5 mph over the speed limit. And sometimes the RIAA has been heavy-handed in pursuing some defendants.
Recognizing all of this, I’m not profoundly uncomfortable with these suits. I think they’ve done a lot to raise consciousness about responsible use of the Internet. Indeed, if individuals don’t use the Internet responsibly, more and more burdens could fall on intermediaries such ISPs, YouTube, etc. in ways that will restrict legitimate use.
Moreover, I think that these suits are in some ways preferable to industry-driven efforts to “educate” the public about copyright. Lawsuits force plaintiffs to come out and specify exactly what they think constitutes infringement. Educational efforts allow the same parties to pass off as “fact” debatable statements about copyright that can’t easily be challenged. For example, telling individuals that they should always get istanbul escort bayan permission before copying anything off the Internet creates the impression that copyright rights are more absolute than they really are. This “education” doesn’t ever have to reckon with fair use or alternate conceptions of infringement. By contrast, lawsuits put the maltepe escort relevant issues squarely before the public. If defendants don’t like the expensive “speeding tickets” they’re being asked to pay, they can fight back in a court of law or the court of public opinion. Ultimately, decided cases will help the public get a better idea of what constitutes infringement than “education” from parties with economic interests in the broadest possible extension of copyright.