Copyright enforcement shouldn't be killing people

31 Aaron SwartzCopyright enforcement ought to be about going after those who profiteer from the work of others by dealing in pirated goods, and about protecting consumers from sub-standard fakes. Instead, the industries pushing for tougher copyright enforcement have become fixated on controlling the behaviour of ordinary consumers.

A copyright owner (or, let's be frank – a large corporation to whom creators assign their copyrights in order to commercialise them) has the legal and moral right to enjoy the benefits that flow from the commercialisation of its work in the market.

But when copyright owners' inordinately harsh enforcement tactics (or those of governments in their thrall) are driving ordinary individuals to suicide or bankruptcy, or besmirching their reputations, something has gone very wrong. It tells us that the enforcement of copyright has swung way of balance with other important (indeed, more important) human rights.

Whilst copyright owners have rights, consumers have rights too. International law provides them with a right to privacy, a right to freedom of opinion and expression, a right to education, and a right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community. Under national law, this includes the legal right to copy and share knowledge and culture to the extent that the “fair use” or “fair dealing” copyright doctrines allow.

In the cases described here and many others, the copyright enforcement industry has overstepped the bounds of proportionality and fairness. The owner of a piece of land has the right to charge for admission to his property, but doesn't have the right to beat an otherwise innocent trespasser to a pulp with a baseball bat.

Read an expanded version of this story at Digital News Asia...

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