Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Freedom to be Free

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"Fildelning" is Swedish for file sharing. It is a topic in the mass media in Sweden but it is a difficult one. The problem is that Sweden has a high density of broadband connection and 1.3 million Swedes have shared a file sometime in their lives....OH MY GOD! This is according to a recent article in Dagens Nyheter (Daily News) where they explain:

"File sharing is illegal foremost when one shares a file that someone else has the rights to"

Now this is debatable but I just want to look at my real life today and see how it contextualises this statement. Today I was sent a file via email from a gifted author living in Tasmania. Anyone can download his latest book, Before Country by going to his website. Presumably I can post a copy of the PDF text to anyone who wants it. We are sharing a file. Next I uploaded a file to FreeSound. A 20 second sample of didgeridoo that anyone can download and use under a Creative Commons licence. I own the rights to the sample but it is free to use when not for financial gain. We are again sharing a file. Finally I uploaded a video of a talk given by danah boyd in August last year at the University of North Carolina to Google Video. I did this because the talk is a brilliant introduction to social network media and should be widely available. It is already available as a bit torrent and a direct download from the web but it is so slow to download, even from my fairly fast connection. It is the property of ibiblio but it seems that the videos of their speaker series are free for all (although they are not very well kept with older links broken and pages mashed up). Now back to the world of policy and law.

The Swedish government is discussing allowing access to IP numbers by private interest organisations from the recording and film industries. This would allow them to track those that are hosting material, but I am not sure they could do the same for those downloading unless they entrapped those downloading by hosting material themselves. It could be a nightmare for the legalities of it all. At the same time as my recounting of my evil file sharing day today shows, in this technology there exists a potential for knowledge sharing that we have not yet had the opportunity to develop. By smothering it in its cradle we could be making a mistake that will change the course of our development as a society.

Thankfully other countries have thought about this. Canada, which is getting some terrible (and false) press in the USA at the moment as the center for lawless video cowboys who copy films by videoing them in the cinemas, is looking at copyright in a way somewhat removed from the European, the United States and Australian contexts. I present the Copyright Policy Branch:

"Copyright has typically been the concern of creators and a select group of industry players, government officials and academics. But with the globalization of the information society and the advent of digital technology, new issues are coming to light, and the number of people involved in the debate is increasing. The Government sponsors intellectual property studies to clarify its legislative and regulatory decisions."

In several texts I have read from the Copyright Policy Branch archive the rights of the consumers are considered to be equal to those of the copyright holders. This is in contrast to the Australian situation where an amendment to the Copyright Act has just come into effect. The amendment strictly follows the recommendations of the traditional publishing industry and even removes rights held by the academic sphere regarding fair use for research that have been held for decades.

I end with an often asked question regarding copyright which the attorney general of Australia, Phillip Ruddock, took the time to answer on his department website:

Q.Will I be able to share my music collection with a friend or family?
A. You will not be able to sell, loan or give away a copy you make to a friend, but a friend can listen to your music with you. You will be able to loan your copy to a family or household member.

Its nice that we are still able to listen to music together. And loaning a copy to family member is OK...but not to a friend.

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