Is online piracy a good thing? –

Is online piracy a good thing? –

There has been raging a huge copyright case in Sweden. The trial phase of that case is now over, and four people are in jail for online piracy. 

Obviously, I, a copyright lawyer, think that piracy of copyrighted materials is a bad thing.

That does not say that I think that file sharing is a bad thing. I’m a huge fan of downloading music and video. The difference is that I pay the 99 cents to iTunes for my download.

File sharing is here to stay; it is true, and a point well taken, that the courts can do nothing about that. This means that the copyright law will have to catch up with technology more quickly that the law is wont to do. 

That also does not say that I think Sweden’s solution is a good one. Obviously, we cannot send everyone who illegally downloads a file to jail. That is an absurd outcome. Neither can we continue to send website owners whose sites allow for (or even encourage) peer-to-peer sharing or illegal downloads to jail. That, too, is absurd.

In the US, many, many cases have been filed and won by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) against individuals who have illegally downloaded music. These lawsuits did nothing to curb the pace of illegal downloading; they just got the public angry with the RIAA. The massive flow of lawsuits has now slowed since the RIAA has struck up a deal with the ISPs to slow the connections of those who download copyrighted music illegally to the point where the connection speed eventually becomes zero. 

This is more reasonable than sending the whole world to jail, but it does not compensate the artists for the download. Not compensating an artist for his or her work is a bad thing.

One possible solution is to institute a blanket licensing fee for downloading copyrighted material that the user pays each month to their ISP. That way, the downloads are, by definition, legal; no one goes to jail or gets hit with a massive copyright infringement suit. The licensing fee does not have to be huge or even large; perhaps an extra $5 or $10 tacked onto the connection fee every month. The fee could be imposed by the ISP beginning in the month after a particular account downloads illegally. Thus, those who never engage in illicit downloads (and there are those of us out there) never get hit with the fee. However, once the illegal download occurs, the fee would be on that account for the rest of the time that the account is on that ISP’s service.

ISPs, by the way, are smart enough to tell when you stop and start your account; that strategy would not be effective in this instance unless you switch to a whole new ISP after each illegal download (which is way more costly than is the extra $5 or $10 you’re now paying in licensing fees, and there are only so many ISPs out there). 

What do you think?