Laws generally help define correct behavior when there is a difference of opinion between groups of people. They do things like ensure public health and safety. After all, when everyone agrees that certain behavior is acceptable (or unacceptable), you rarely see a law about it. Most laws also free people from the whims of government by providing a rule upon which to base decisions of whether someone is law abiding or not (the requirement to prove guilt, rather than innocence).
The context of an act usually comes into play. Stealing Intellectual Property (IP) is one of those areas in which there is a difference of opinion and context most definitely comes into play. There is a group on one side that says all information wants be free and that there is no such thing as stealing IP. This group is represented by people who download music or other forms of media without paying for it and feel the act is perfectly acceptable. On the other side is a group the vigorously defends IP, even when there isn’t a good reason to do so. This group is represented by organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Of course, artists and consumers alike are stuck in the middle between these two warring parties.
A law is considered fair and good when it represents the interests of as many parties as possible in an equitable manner. Over the years I’ve read about the truly odd fallout from the DMCA. For example, the RIAA suing a dead grandmother is an example of the sort of negative publicity that tends not to produce a desirable reaction when the goal is to get people to actually buy the music they want to hear. Of course, you’ve read about my viewpoint on IP a number of times. However, the fact of the matter is that publishers are slowly losing ground because the majority of people are ill-informed as to the need to buy IP and those who do know have decided that getting free IP for as long as they can is the only consideration. Most authors and artists (myself included) are starting to move toward means of earning a living that don’t involve fighting with customers over who should pay.
Unfortunately, the fight over IP is one of those things that just won’t go away because you want it to. I recently read an interesting InfoWorld article, Copyright act could make it illegal to repair your own car, that has me thinking of future stories in the news about Ford hauling dead grandmothers into court over repairs done without the consent of their local Ford dealer. The fact of the matter is that the DMCA is a bad law that represents only one side of the dispute—those who stand to make a huge profit from IP. Until the consumer is involved in the process and the voices of radical elements are heard, you can be sure that people will continue to ignore their rights and responsibilities when it comes to IP.
What do you see as the future of IP? The current situation isn’t sustainable. Authors and artists of all types need to earn a living just like everyone else. Someone has to pay for the IP or the people producing it will decide to do something else to meet their financial obligations (possibly creating lower quality and substantially less IP during their off hours). At the same time, consumers should be free to use the materials they purchased in any reasonable manner they see fit. If you buy one of my books, I guarantee that I’m not going to use the DMCA to haul you into court for marking it up or using it in a manner consistent with fair use laws. I’d like to get your feedback at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.