The world of copyright protection is a mess, and each day brings new craziness.

  • A Federal District Court judge granted a ruling for summary judgment against a family that had run Kazaa on a computer with copyrighted material in a shared folder – with no evidence that anyone had ever downloaded those files. “It is no defense that a Kazaa user did not directly oversee the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material,” the judge wrote, citing a case concluding that “the mere presence of copyrighted works in a shared folder is enough to trigger liability.” Here’s a news item with more details. This is truly breathtaking – a family is potentially going to have a huge judgment entered against them for things they might have done, without any proof that improper acts ever happened. (If you saw Steven Spielberg’s movie Minority Report, you’ll recognize the reference in the headline to the Department of Pre-Crime.)
  • Another federal judge just issued a bizarre discovery order in a motion picture industry lawsuit against TorrentSpy, a Netherlands BitTorrent tracker. (Like all torrent trackers, TorrentSpy does not host any copyrighted material; it helps people search for torrents running on other computers.) TorrentSpy had not been logging any information about computers connecting to it, so recording industry attempts to obtain logs had been unsuccessful. TorrentSpy argued that any information about the IP address of a computer connecting thru the site was transient information in the server’s RAM, not subject to a discovery request. The judge ordered TorrentSpy to log all information passing through the server RAM, on the basis that the storage of data in RAM — even if not permanently archived — makes it electronically stored information governed by federal discovery rules. Can you imagine the ramifications if that meant what it said? When you type a letter, change your mind and backspace, then type something different – those first keystrokes were in RAM for a moment and would have to be produced by that definition. That’s absurd, of course – but so is this ruling. (TorrentSpy in the meantime turned off access to its site by US residents, so the order is moot for now.) Here’s more information about the ruling.
  • Russian web site, which sold high-quality audio files for pennies, was finally forced to close a few months ago after years of heavy US pressure on Russian authorities, courtesy of the well-heeled lobbying arm of the recording and movie industries. Recently, though, a Russian court ruled that the site was not guilty of copyright violations under Russian law and the site will reportedly reappear soon.

The news media tends to report that the recording industry “wins” some of these cases, but that’s not true in anything but a technical sense. The recording industry has not won anything but hollow victories for many years. It is despised by almost everyone, its music in increasingly ignored, and its business is caught in a spiraling decline that is entirely its own fault.

My favorite item doesn’t involve copyrights but it does concern the difficulty of locking down information. The Australian government proudly unveiled its $84 million porn filter – software to be downloaded and installed by nervous parents. Oops! A 16-year-old defeated the filter in about thirty minutes. In a nice touch, the student was able to leave the icon by the clock as if the filter was still running. The embarrassed government added a second filter to its web site; it took the student almost forty minutes to bypass that one. Here’s an article about that debacle.

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