More proof that our copyright laws are busted

Recent rulings in the ReDigi and Aereo cases highlight what we already know: it’s high time for Congress to overhaul the copyright laws

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March Madness may be (just about) over but, in this country, Copyright Craziness is just heating up. Two significant rulings came down in the last few days that seem to indicate that our legal minds are heading towards some consensus about how copyright law should be applied to digital content. However, in the process of interpreting the law, it seems that common sense has been thrown out the window.


ReDigi apparently violates the law

Image credit: ITworld/Phil Johnson

First up, on Saturday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Sullivan ruled in favor of Capitol Records in its lawsuit alleging copyright infringement against ReDigi. ReDigi is an online marketplace for reselling digital music files. Users upload previously purchased files to a ReDigi server, from where they can then be transferred to those who choose to buy them at a discount from prices of “new” music files. Judge Sullivan ruled that the moving of the files from one computer to another constitutes unlawful reproduction of copyrighted material, which makes it a violation of copyright laws. Sullivan ruled that the unlawful reproduction invalidates ReDigi’s claim that it was allowed under the first sale doctrine. ReDigi will be appealing the decision.

Then, on Monday the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a ruling that refused to grant an injunction preventing a company named Aereo from operating while it’s being sued by television broadcasters. Aereo is being sued because it streams broadcast TV content to paying customers, content which it pulls in via antennas. The key reason why, so far, the courts have sided with Aereo is that the content streamed to each customer comes from an antenna assigned only to that customer. Rather than having one copy of the content that gets streamed to many different people, which would presumably constitute unlawful reproduction and distribution of copyrighted content, Aereo has a whole lot of redundant systems running. This seems to get them around copyright laws, despite the fact that Aereo doesn’t pay the broadcasters for the content in the first place (unlike cable and satellite TV companies).

I am in no way a lawyer. Still, though, I can understand the logic in the rulings. But when I take a step back and put on my common sense cap (size 7 1/4), this all seems crazier than ever.

In the ReDigi case, consumers cannot resell music they have legally purchased (and which copyright holders have already been compensated for), even though ReDigi has gone to great lengths to verify this and delete any copy on the seller’s computer. In the Aereo case, the company is allowed to sell access to copyrighted content that it didn’t license or pay for in the first place, because they’ve created this goofy physical infrastructure that uses thousands of redundant systems, which are technically unnecessary, but legally required to satisfy copyright law. If anything, it feels to me like ReDigi is honoring the spirit of the law more than Aereo, yet it’s ReDigi that could go under and Aereo that seems poised to thrive.

The copyright laws need to be rewritten to better reflect the realities of the digital world in which we now live. The current law is leading to decisions like those we saw this week, which simultaneously hurts consumers (in the ReDigi case) and copyright holders (in the Aereo case). Congress needs to fix our copyright laws. 

That should be easy, right?

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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