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Is the copyright industry above the law and exempt from respecting human rights? Some companies seem to think so

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When what evolved into modern copyright was first drawn up in the eighteenth century, it was designed as a legal weapon to be deployed against printers that made infringing copies of published texts. It was not used against the public for the simple reason that ordinary people had no means of making infringing copies: printing presses where expensive machines that only businesses could afford to own and operate. The Internet changed all that. Suddenly, everyone online was a (digital) printer, which led to the creative outpouring by ordinary people that we see online today.

It has also led to publishers – and other copyright industries – increasingly targeting members of the public for alleged copyright infringements. Even though these are often only minor, fleeting, or incidental, the copyright world has become so accustomed to the perfect preservation of its intellectual monopolies that it regularly seeks to make an example of anyone who dares to challenge them by using copyright material in this way without first seeking “permission”.

Another consequence of the Internet’s rise as a global publishing medium is that the copyright industry has persuaded friendly politicians around the world to introduce ever-more one-sided legislation in this field. Perhaps the worst copyright laws ever passed are those implementing the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the US, and the EU’s 2001 Copyright Directive (EUCD). Both of these include anti-circumvention measures that make it illegal to by-pass DRM – however feeble – used in conjunction with copyright material. The knock-on effect of these laws is that copyright now limits everyday activities that have nothing to do with the legal protection of creative works. The DMCA and EUCD even call into question the very concept of owning physical objects – an absurd situation for a copyright law.

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