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Non-commercial sharing

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Non-commercial sharing, especially in regards to file-sharing, refers to the copying and subsequent communication of copyrighted works for non-commercial purposes.

Contents

Summary

Several distinct arguments have arisen both for and against the legalisation of non-commercial sharing.

For legalisation

Impossible to prevent

In the network age, it is practically impossible to prevent the spread of information, copyrighted or not. Even without the internet and computers, the sharing of media would occur and has occurred for as long as media has existed (sharing a book, CD or DVD, for example).

Attempting to prevent causes unacceptable damage to civil liberties

For instance, the Digital Economy Bill aims to legitimise the monitoring of communications by rights holders and ISPs in order to reduce the use of BitTorrent. Even if BitTorrent use were reduced, sharing can still be facilitated by email, IM file transfers, "cyberlockers" and so on, which would require the monitoring of all traffic to and/or from a connection.

"Digital Rights Management" effectively limits what you may or may not do with your computer, and as such can be considered as malicious as a trojan programme.

Traditional business models are outdated

The content distribution industry has spent years resisting the change that has been brought by computers and the internet, insisting that content should exist exclusively on, for example, CD or DVD. To prop-up these business models with public money goes against the free market principle of 'adapt or die' and prevents the opportunity for new, better business models to arise.

Peer-to-peer file-sharing has superseded the content distribution industry by being able to distribute data more efficiently at a much lower cost.

Some works are impossible to obtain without sharing

Older work may simply not be published any more, meaning the only option to obtain it is by others sharing it.

Immoral to withhold unlimited resource for the profit of the few

The capability for technology to replicate content is virtually limitless, as there is either no or a very small marginal cost to do so. By analogy, "if it were possible to produce unlimited food, but the many were restricted access for the benefit of the few, this would be immoral," it is therefore immoral to restrict the access to digital content for profit.

See also: The Global Software Industry in Transformation: After GPLv3, Eben Moglen

Detractors would argue that this is a disanalogy, as food is required to live and many do not have proper access to it, whereas digital content is only a want and access is readily available to it. Also, it does not necessarily take into account the original creator of the content, although creators of free content are able to do it as a living, as is demonstrated in the software industry.

"Kantian" analysis

Copying something is separate from the original effort in creating it. If a painting is copied, the original painter is not affected at all.

Freely and widely sharing/copying (good) things is moral because it is a behaviour we want to generalise: You help someone else, and if everyone did the same, you would benefit too. And this is magnified because copying is, in itself, costless -- it only adds to the total good. It follows immediately that any artificially imposed restriction like copyright is immoral.

Creative production should be addressed similarly: We ought to help cultural items be produced because we will all benefit. So helping and encouraging production, and copying, are both moral. One is not intrinsically antagonistic or limiting on the other.

See also: Anti-Copyright Summary, Harrison Ainsworth

The concept of "intellectual property" is flawed

Abstract things are fundamentally different from material things, and as such they require different treatment. For example, it is not possible to "steal" an abstract thing, as it is impossible to deprive a person of it.

Free content as marketing

Creators who provide their content for free can use it as marketing for profitable ventures, such as live performance, merchandise, limited edition physical media, technical support etc. By definition of economic demand, if there is no price then the audience creators can reach is maximised, and as such creators could receive more revenue. Sharing, therefore, does not create victims of talented creators but instead supports them. The current state of the distribution industry is caused by self-defeating business practices.

Against legalisation

Would cause loss of revenue for creators

Creators would lose and important source of income, resulting in a disincentive to produce works.

Those in favour of legalisation argue that the freedom to share files at no cost has only lowered the price of content, and is still profitable; payment would be to ensure the simplicity, ease and speed of obtaining the content, as with iTunes, Spotify, etc. There are also studies that show that file-sharers tend to buy more content than those who don't (study looked at music file-sharers buying music). Legalisation of non-commercial sharing may ultimately mean that artists earn more because of this and as the existing 'middleman' distribution model becomes largely redundant.

Many creators are in fact dead and so require no income, yet their copyright is still enforced; although rights holders would argue that they need to recoup their investment, copyright exists to reward creators not financial backers.

Other problems

EULAs of proprietary software

While a change in copyright law may allow the non-commercial sharing of software, an End User License Agreement (EULA) may forbid it.

See also: How the Swedish Pirate Party Platform Backfires on Free Software, Richard Stallman and Free Software (Policy Discussion Workspace)

Forum topics

Votes

Manifesto Ratification 2010

The manifesto ratification vote ran from March 6th to March 16th, in which 160 of approximately 650 members participated. The question asked regarding non-commercial sharing was:

Copyright to apply to commercial exploitation only
Copyright will not apply to private individuals who copy or share, without receiving any payment. This means that:
  • Format-shifting and time-shifting for personal use will be legal
  • Non-profit copying for friends and family, and on reciprocal P2P networks will be legal
Explicitly selling copyrighted material, or counterfeiting, where money is directly paid to the supplier of the media, will remain illegal. Note that simply indexing and linking otherwise legal actions under the above exemption will also be legal (no "secondary infringement" or "contributory infringement").

The options and results were:

Option Votes Percent of vote
Yes 176 93%
No 14 7%

The winner was the option with the largest proportion of votes.

Policy Discussion Workspace
Copyright ActivationBackupsCopyleftDigital Rights ManagementDurationFormFree SoftwareInternationalNon-Commercial SharingOrphan Works
Patents Drug PatentsForm
Privacy CCTVID CardsInternetNaked Body ScannerPersonal Data
Freedom of Speech CensorshipLibelNet Neutrality

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