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GUEST,T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird) BS: Should Music on the WWW be free? ;-) (53* d) RE: BS: Should Music on the WWW be free? ;-) 20 Nov 00

I'm reasonably confident that the tapes in my posession that I made myself are lawful under the provisions of 17 U.S.C. #107 or under 17 U.S.C. #1008. (This is, of course, not legal advice; it's just private opinion).

The question of whether music should be free on the WWW is primarily a question of public policy. There is no a priori principle that all labor utterly without exception must be compensated. A slaver works hard transporting his cargo, but society has decided that this labor should not be compensated. Rather, the slaver should find some other employment.

The existence of copyright laws reflects a collective decision to impose a de-facto tax (in the form of a government-enforced monopoly) on readers for the benefit of writers. This collective decision is contested by some, but even if we accept it we are only slightly further along. As in all questions of taxation, we must decide the details: how heavy should the tax be ? should anyone be exempt, and if so, who ? In the present context these translate as: what should be the scope and duration of copyright ?

In 1998, the already-long duration of copyright was extended for a further 20 years, to a staggering 95 years for works published before 1978. The scope of copyright was effectively expanded in the same year by passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which butressed the copyright monopoly by new-fangled "paracopyright" provisions against "circumvention" and "trafficking in circumvention devices". The courts have interpreted this as making it illegal in some circumstances even to create a hyperlink to the source code for software which can de-crypt DVDs.

The only purpose of copyright is to enlarge the public domain in expression by encouraging authors to write. Many of the recent developments in copyright law amount to a brutal rape of the public domain, rather than its cultivation. In light of this brutality, I feel that those who complain about the free circulation of musical recordings on the web are not entitled to any words of support from me. I don't participate in the circulation of unlicensed MP3 recordings of copyrighted music, but I won't be very quick to condemn it until those who speak so piously about artists' rights show more than a perfunctory appreciation of the public's right to a constantly growing public domain in musical and literary expression.


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