Abolish All Copyright!
Lawyers turn rights into wrongs
September 1, 2007
Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.
Economist

In an ideal world, one would be able to copyright writing or music that one creates, and the copyright would expire with the death of the author. One would be able to sue for copyright violation only when one can prove that the copying had taken place and harmed the ability of the author to benefit from his work, and the compensation would only be for the amount of lost revenue plus a moderate extra amount as a deterrent.

But we have moved far away from this ideal. The copyright laws are now being used to plunder the wealth of people who have not even copied the work. Copyright has become a random tax on the population — you can be attacked by the copyright tyrants at any time.

I have always supported the ability to copyright, but now the abuse of copyright is so great that I am switching positions, and call for the complete elimination of copyright.

The main tyrant is the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). As stated in the Recording Industry vs The People web site, the RIAA has initiated "tens of thousands of extortionate lawsuits against ordinary working people." There is a long list of court cases.

Even when the defendant wins the lawsuit, he has to pay many thousands of dollars of legal expenses. You will lose even when you win. Some attorneys are advising the victims to settle or declare bankruptcy.

The RIAA has become a cartel of recording corporations that are colluding to commit financial terror. They accuse people of using their computers to illegally download or copy protected music. In many cases, the plaintiffs who initiate these lawsuits have no evidence to support their claims. Evidence is not needed when they can frighten those accused into paying up rather than facing even more expensive court cases.

The article, How the RIAA Litigation Process Works says, "since no investigation is made to ascertain that the defendant is actually someone who engaged in peer to peer file sharing of copyrighted music without authorization, there are many defendants who have no idea why they are being sued and who did nothing even arguably violative of anyone's copyright. Defendants have included people who have never even used a computer, and many people who although they have used a computer, have never engaged in any peer to peer file sharing."

These are often " persons who paid for internet access which the RIAA has reason to believe was used by some person — possibly the defendant, possibly someone else — to engage in peer to peer file sharing... After getting the name and address of the person who paid for the internet access account, they then send him or her a letter demanding a 'settlement.' Their settlement is usually for $3750, non-negotiable."

One case involved a girl who in 2005 was accused of illegally downloading gangster rap songs when she was seven years old. The accusers allegedly called her school to seek information about her, pretending to be her grandmother. Her mother offered to let the accuser examine her computer, but the accuser refused and went on with the suit. The case attracted a lot of negative publicity for RIAA, which finally dismissed the suit.

The RIAA gets away with this because the U.S. legal system is controlled by lawyers. Attorneys dominate the state legislatures and Congress, and judges come from the lawyer class. As thousands of innocent persons get hit by these lawsuits, people will fear to obtain copies of music even when they have paid for it or when it is offered by a legitimate free service. Ultimately, musicians and composers will suffer when their American market shrinks as customers boycott the RIAA, even as overseas pirating continues.

There may be a class-action lawsuit against the RIAA. However that turns out, the fundamental problem is the American legal system, in which a person who is sued and wins the case still has to pay his legal expenses. In the British legal system, the losing plaintiff has to pay the defendant's costs. The ultimate remedy for abusive copyright lawsuits is to either change the American tort system so that the loser of a suit pays all the court costs, or to abolish all copyrights. Unless that is done, the RIAA will have a government-granted licence to inflict taxes in the form of lawsuits in exchange for nothing.

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Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.
Economist

FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., is an economist and has been writing weekly editorials for Progress.org since 1997. Foldvary's commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He has taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and currently teaches at San Jose State University.

Foldvary is the author of The Soul of LibertyPublic Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary's areas of research include public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.

Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.