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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Friends

Hello all. Glad to be back at Prawfsblawg for another round of blogging. I'm looking forward to sharing some thoughts about entertainment contracts, the orphan works problem in copyright, and the new settlement between Google and several publishers over Google Books.

Today, I want to talk a bit about file-sharing and friendship. A recent study asked U.S. and German citizens whether they thought it was "reasonable" to share unauthorized, copyrighted files with family, with friends, and in several different online contexts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, respondents in the 18-29 range responded more favorably to file sharing than older respondents in every context. What interests me is that respondents in every context see a sharp difference between sharing files with friends, and posting a file on Facebook. We call our Facebook contacts "friends," but I'm curious why the respondents to this study made the distinction between sharing with friends and sharing on Facebook. I have a few inchoate thoughts, and I'd love to hear what you think.

Megan Carpenter wrote an interesting article about the expressive and personal dimension of making mix tapes. I grew up in the mix tape era as well, and remember well the emotional sweat that I poured into collections of love songs made for teenage paramours in the hopes of sustaining doomed long-distance romances. Carpenter correctly argues that there is something personal about that act, and it seems reasonable that it would fall outside the reach of the Copyright Act.

I also remember copying my uncle's entire collection of David Bowie LPs onto casette tapes when I was in junior high. In that instance, music moved through family connections, and in my small town in Wyoming, there were no casettes from the Bowie back catalog on the shelves of the local music store. But the only effort involved in making those casettes was turning the LP at the end of a side. Less expressive, but within a fairly tight social network.

A properly functioning copyright system might reasonably allow for these uses, and still sanction a decision to post my entire Bowie collection on Facebook, or through a torrent. I'm skeptical of any definition of "friends and family" so capacious that it would include Facebook friends, and I suspect that many people realize now, if they didn't then, that what constitutes a face-to-face friend is different than what constitutes a Facebook friend, but you may have a different impression. I hope you'll share it here, whatever it is.

Posted by Jake Linford on October 10, 2012 at 12:30 PM in Information and Technology, Intellectual Property, Music | Permalink

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Comments

If you have 500 or 1000 Facebook friends, which include pretty much everyone you know, sharing a file with your Facebook friends is like sharing it with the whole world.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 10, 2012 1:30:03 PM

How about some commentary on the sudden deluge of predatory mass copyright troll lawsuits happenning nationwide?

It appears to many to be a shakedown of innocent parties, in addition to the guilty actors.

This would be a relevant exercise for those of us in the position to supervise how our judiciary is being used in a highly abusive manner.

Jeffrey Antonelli

Posted by: Jeffrey Antonelli | Oct 10, 2012 9:50:57 PM

Jeffrey: You might find interesting Shyam Balganesh's recent article, [online at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2150716] where he argues that the best way to fix the copyright troll problem is to allow them to seek statutory damages only when they can prove some actual harm.
I'm curious whether you have any thoughts about my initial question: assuming that it's okay to make a copy of a copyrighted work without the copyright owner's permission for "friends," how might we help a court understand how we should define "friends"? In other words, is there a clean line we can draw, either on moral or legal grounds?

Posted by: Jake Linford | Oct 11, 2012 11:08:30 AM

Orin: That must be right, but the same effect holds true if I give a digital file to one friend, and she shares that file with her 1,000 Facebook friends. Once you have digital files that can be transferred instantaneously, any transfer could effectively amount to a transfer to the entire Internet-connected world.

My initial thought is that one should still be able to share with a narrowly defined group of friends, even in the face of that risk. Of course, I base some of that conclusion on the mix tape phenomenon, and analog degradation limited the utility of multiple generations of tapes created from an initial mix tape.

Posted by: Jake Linford | Oct 11, 2012 11:12:56 AM

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