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Down with loading!

One peculiarity of Dutch copyright law is the fact that obtaining a copy of a (copyrighted) work that is not offered in a legal fashion (i.e. the person offering the copy does not have a license to do so) does not in itself constitute infringement. In other words, you can take, but you can’t offer. Sounds a little like “do ask, but don’t tell” to me. I believe a similar situation applies in Canada. Both countries also have a “copying levy” applied to blank media.

The effect of this situation is to turn all the Dutch computer magazines (the non-technical ones anyway) into “where to get yur music n vidz” catalogues. Something that I feel does the notion of copyright a disservice. [[ I should note that it's possible to disagree with the notion of copyright itself or the implementation thereof, but here we're mostly weaseling to escape the fundamental restriction that it should be the author of a work who controls what may be done with it. ]]

[[ Additional warning: all links in this blog entry lead to Dutch-language pages, so be warned that they may contain Hottentottententententoonstellingen and other examples of that raspy tongue down by the sea. ]]

In the past few weeks there have been repeated kerfuffles around enforcement of copyright — in the music business, not software — but the Dutch government has now stated that it intends to make downloading illegal. Well, fortunately a little more subtle than that (although the umbrella for copyright organizations has in the past tried to paint a picture that all downloading is illegal, until the NLUUG and others called them on that). It hit one news site as free downloads should be punishable; another headline (same site) was gov’t to ban downloading. What I make of this is that “downloading” in Dutch apparently means “obtaining a copy of a work from an unlicensed source.” See the perverse effect on language?

This kind of news hits lots of channels, and you can see, for instance, on — the usual kind of discussion focused on “music biz needs a new business model” and “copyright lasts too long” and “implementation is infeasible because I’ll use encryption.”

But let’s take a closer look at the sources (maybe not the most-original source, but closer than reports in the media): a press release from the ministry of Justice. The summary of the press release reads:

Thuiskopieheffingen op informatiedragers zoals blanco cd’s en dvd’s moeten op termijn worden afgeschaft. Daarvoor in de plaats komt een regeling die het downloaden van beschermde werken uit (evident) illegale bron verbiedt. Verder wordt het toezicht op auteursrechtorganisaties sterker en zal de contractuele positie van auteurs en uitvoerende kunstenaars worden verbeterd.

[[ Loose translation in English: ]] The blank media levy (which covers home copying of music and video) on cd’s and dvd’s should be scrapped in due time. In its place, downloading of copyrighted content from (obviously) illegal sources will be prohibited. In addition, the oversight of copyright-related umbrella organizations will be strengthened and the contractual position of authors and performing artists will be improved.

I suppose I can only say I think I applaud this (the devil’s in the details, of course), as it moves to a somewhat less actuarial approach to copyright violations and tries to come up with something that works more closely along the original setup where the author had control over the protected work (within the scope of copyright law, which is the social contract governing the use of creative work, along with its explicitly allowed exceptions).


5 Responses to “Down with loading!”

  1. Jos van den Oever Says:

    So how do I know if what I download is legal? I cannot inspect it until the download is done and even when it is done, the file might be copyrighted or not.

    This change in law will only give us the scaremongering and preposterous damage claims that the US has.

  2. adridg Says:

    I think the weasely answer there is in the “(evident) illegale” wording. Apparently people are supposed to know what a legal source of a work looks like and what an illegal one is. Assuming that we agree that file-sharing is illegal (it is, under current copyright law, in most cases, but we could also argue whether it’s wrong or not), then a random file-share should be “evident illegaal”. On the other hand, something like BlueThingy — the Beatles catalogue — or a professionally done scam-site would be much harder to judge. So, yeah, I’m not convinced there.

    But you claim you cannot inspect the file to find out if it is legal to download beforehand. True, but copyright metadata doesn’t need to be *solely* embedded in the file — it could be attached separately. Then of course, we end up with copyrighted copyright metadata :)

  3. adridg Says:

    See also the UK approach, where there is also some effort to change thingsl, although from the reporting in the Register — reporting on OUT-LAW — it looks a lot more contractual than the Dutch proposal.

  4. jospoortvliet Says:

    I would like to point out for those non-dutch who are flabbergasted by the word Hottentottententententoonstellingen that it is NOT a normal, common term used on a daily basis ;-)

    Especially because it doesn’t have R’s and K’s in it. We like those a lot.

  5. adridg Says:

    Ah, “zevenentwintig kilometer file voor het Terbregseplein”. If you say that on a plane, they’ll think you have Mexican flu or something (er .. A(H1N1), just in case Gamaral is reading this :) )