Blown To Bits

Is the President a Pirate?

Monday, April 6th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

Though he took a bit of heat for his choice of gifts to the British royal family, I thought it was great that President Obama gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod full of music. The iPod is a great symbol of 21st century America; I am sure the Queen needs no more crystal candlesticks, even the best that American craftsmen can make. And apparently the White House staff did a bit of research on her tastes, so we know that she likes the music.

But wait. Were those songs really President Obama’s to give away?

If he downloaded them from ITunes, he had a license to use them, not the right to give another person a copy. If he bought the CDs, he can’t just go making copies and giving them to people, Xeroxing music as it were. That’s what the RIAA calls “theft” and “piracy.” Fred von Lohmann takes us through the permutations here. Including details about things presidents and queens can do that the rest of us can’t. But the question is: If every college student went out tomorrow and did just what the president did, giving their friends nice new iPods full of tunes, would the recording industry scream? And if so, doesn’t the naturalness of the President’s gesture tell us how absurd copyright law is?

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