It is not hard to keep a freedom as long as no one else wants it. But when someone sees a profit in taking your freedom away, then the struggle begins. The profit-seekers, who usually have plenty to begin with, will invest a great deal of money and effort, often overwhelming the many unorganized individuals who lack the resources to counter the power grab.
This has been the situation with the concept of copyright as applied to computers and the internet.
To begin with, copyright laws helped individual writers and artists who would not receive their percentages if their work was not bought from the publisher they dealt with. Of course, the laws were probably the result of the publishers' efforts, who were protecting their own interests.
Nevertheless, such laws did not interfere with an individual's right to borrow a copy from a friend or a public library. No one presumed to dictate what the owner of a copy of copyrighted work could do with it, as long as he did not reproduce it for sale.
The advent of recorded music eventually resulted in a new twist: one not only had to pay for the recording, but if one played it for others in a public establishment, one had to pay again. Radio, on the other hand, was such a boon to the recording industry that stations were sent free copies and urged to play them. But one wonders if radio was feared at first by recording companies, like they now fear mp3 trading.
When tape recorders became affordable for home use, especially the easy-to-use cassette recorders, they must have been considered a threat. The music could be copied from the radio or a borrowed copy, and there was no practical way to prevent it. Still, they seemed to continue selling records.
The CD must have been a major boost to record companies, since they could now sell a product that was much better in sound quality than any taped copy, and, if not abused, could last indefinitely. Soon, however, they began to object to the sale of used CD's, since, unlike all previous media that deteriorated with each play, they could be as good as new.
It was not until the advent of the home computer that greed was able to take copyright laws to whole new extreme. The newness of the technology enabled software companies to convince the legal system that their product deserved new and special interpretations of copyright, and they have continued to expand it.
Early computer owners soon began doing the same things that book and record owners had done for years--trade, lend, and borrow software. The need to do so was greater, since much of the software was outrageously expensive. In fact, it still is.
Instead of lowering prices to a reasonable level to reduce the motivation for copying, most software producers became their customers' adversary by copy-protecting disks and proclaiming sharing a criminal act. Before the hard drive, one had to run a program from the original floppy every time, and copy-protection meant no back-up.
Thus, software-makers made the early computer enthusiasts into a dedicated opposition by not only overcharging them but insulting them as well. By challenging individual rights to share computer software as had always been done with books and records, commercial software companies lost much of the respect and sense of comradeship they might otherwise have had with increasingly knowledgeable computer users.
Some began writing their own software, often as good as or better than commercial, and gave it away for free to friends, while others quickly devised means of defeating the troublesome copy-protection tricks. Meanwhile, software companies began making the absurd assertion that, if you had two computers, you had to buy two copies of their programs.
With first the BBS and then the internet, computer owners gained the equivalent of the public library or broadcast radio, and their ability to share has multiplied accordingly. Nevertheless, software is still sold, and its producers prosper exceedingly well.
The free public library has advanced the cause of literacy and put knowledge within reach of all, regardless of income. I have heard no complaint that libraries reduce the income of authors and their publishers.
Recorded music an be heard for free on radio and television, but that only enhances the sales of records, despite the fact that anyone who wishes to can tape it. Recording companies are not lacking in greed, as shown by their silly attack on internet music sharing, History shows that freedom to share does not conflict with the sales of a product that is a good value.
It is time for sellers of software to realize that they will never prevent people from exercising the right to share. They can reduce the need to do so by setting sensible prices, and they can generate more customer good will and loyalty by dropping their adversarial attitudes.
It is obvious that the internet can bring more knowledge and information to more people than was ever thought possible. Though hardware and software has made that possible, it is the willingness of the many users to freely share their knowledge and ideas that makes it work. Those users are now building no less than a new social system that will have less need and less tolerance for the greed that seems so prevalent today.
Those who are the most concerned about squeezing the last dollar from the computing public may be the first to find their products bested by freeware . Then, their twisted, exaggerated version of copyright laws will become quite irrelevant.
--captain rat 2000-10-01
Another misuse of copyright law occurred in Pakistan, which has a law prohibiting blasphemy against Islam, which can bring the death penalty. A small Muslim sect called the Ahmadi is rejected and persecuted by the majority.
In 1993 the Supreme Court of Pakistan heard a case by a number of Ahmadis who asserted that they were being deprived of their religious rights and freedoms, as guaranteed under Article 20 of the constitution. The appeal was rejected. The court felt that granting the Ahmadis equal rights would be against public order. They said that Shi'a or Suni Muslims, who vastly outnumber the Ahmadis, consider the 'movement ideologically offensive.' The majority opinion of the court stated that many Islamic phrases were, in effect, copyrighted trademarks of the Islamic faith. Thus the use of these phrases by Ahmadis was a form of copyright infringement; it violated the Trademark Act of 1940. They also found that Ahamdis were committing blasphemy when they spoke or wrote specific Islamic phrases. (quoted from a web source)
That is only slightly more extreme than the attempts by corporate interests to stifle free speech through software and other media copyrights