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Why shouldn’t copyright law apply on the Internet?

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Every so often, you hear copyright industry lobbyists ask “why copyright law shouldn’t apply on the Internet”, suggesting that the Internet is a lawless land with regards to people sharing what they like. They have a point, but not the point they think: Our laws have checks and balances that prevent enforcement against sharing culture and knowledge in the offline world, and there’s no reason why these check-and-balance laws shouldn’t apply online too.

Every so often, you will hear people from the copyright industry pull the cliché, “why shouldn’t copyright law apply on the Internet!?”, with the understanding that laws apply everywhere in society, and so obviously copyright law should apply on the Internet too.

This statement is misleading and false. If the offline laws applied fully online, which they don’t, then copyright law could not be enforced at all against ordinary file sharers — and that would be a good thing.

In the offline world, there are many laws that provide checks and balances against each other. It’s important that these checks and balances carry over to the digital world, and today, they don’t — the checks and balances haven’t been carried over at all.

For example, you’re technically not allowed to send a copy of some creative work under copyright monopoly in the mail — but nobody is allowed to open your mail to check if you did. You’re not allowed to play a song to your friend in a phonecall (yes, really), but nobody is allowed to listen in to your phonecall to determine if you do.

In this way, the copyright industry executives have a point; the offline laws regarding copyright don’t fully apply online. If they did, no file sharing would ever be punished, ever, because privacy is considered more important than noncommercial copyright infringement

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