Blown To Bits

The Boston Globe Calls for Copyright Sanity

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

In an editorial published on December 13, the Globe takes the risky position of decrying the penalties of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as “draconian” and the law itself as lacking “common sense” in the area of music downloading. Risky because, of course, the Globe and the New York Times depend on the law to protect their own content. Of course they do not, as the music industry does, take teenagers to court for making copies of their copyrighted content. But that hasn’t stopped the stream of vicious comments about the Globe’s hypocrisy.

The editorial is in response to the trial of Joel Tenenbaum and Judge Nancy Gertner’s plaint to Congress to do something about the “travesty” of justice (the Globe’s word). The paper wonders aloud whether Professor Charles Nesson, who represented Tanenbaum, helped his cause by the defense he took — claiming that music file sharing was allowed under “fair use.” That’s a stretch that even the most libertarian thinkers haven’t endorsed.

What’s interesting to me about the editorial is the reactions. Of course one never knows who the commenters are; they could all be music industry lackeys, for all we know. Still, we have here a defense of big business against a powerless individual — some people even compared him to Madoff, since in each case their crimes were committed with a few keystrokes. There is some amplification of power that people see in the control of digital information that makes them lose all sense of perspective and proportion. I don’t think the same people would think $675,000 was a reasonable fine if Tenenbaum had stolen a CD from a store.

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