Copyright laws need a reasonable compromise

User-generated content is painfully choked by copyright laws and institutions afraid of litigation from organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America. USF is no exception to this rule — before users can connect to the Internet, they must verify their identity and agree to an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). 

The AUP states: “Individuals using this system without authority, or in excess of their authority, are subject to having all of their activities on this system monitored and recorded by system personnel.” 

Though it might seem intimidating, the Orwellian language may be necessary after the RIAA sent 50 pre-litigation letters targeting users of USF’s computing network in 2007.  Unfortunately, this policy is subordinate to an extremist set of copyright laws that  pander to big business rather than education and creativity.

As the Internet and personal computers become more available, individuals are more likely to create their own content. This has led to continued pressure for legislative reform — but no significant results.

Larry Lessig, a Stanford professor and copyright law expert, said in a speech at the Technology Entertainment and Design conference that cultural phenomena can be described in two ways — “read-only” and “read-write.” A read-only method of accessing culture would be to listen to music — and end the experience there — whereas a read-write technique involves experiencing as well as creating necessary
cultural memes.

Today, millions of people live their lives both knowingly and unknowingly against the law  because of strict copyright regulations. Lessig said this produces a corrosive environment and undermines other, more justified principles of our legal system.

Children are growing up with technology that enables them to create things by modifying and personalizing pre-existing content. This creativity should be praised, not stifled, as it enables communities to produce for the love of their culture, and not for the money.

“Common sense here, though, has not yet revolted in response to the response that the law has offered to these forms of creativity,” Lessig said. “Instead we have seen something much worse than a revolt. There is a growing extremism that comes from both sides of these debates.”

One side, he said, idolizes the abolition of copyright law, while the other creates overbearing technologies that effectually destroy the creative process.

The Internet offers an opportunity to revive cultural movements that were foundational to periods of artistic enlightenment. Understanding and accessing culture should not be limited by overbearing corporate interests, and creativity certainly should not have the potential to land artists in jail.