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Electro vs. Barker and the Future of the Internet

Thursday, November 30, 2006

File sharing seems to be in the news again. In this post, I want to make it clear that I do not wish to put forward my position on the actual subject of file sharing, but rather I want to highlight an event that may be detrimental to all who use the internet. There's a case that's being argued where the question of merely possessing files that are accessible to others is copyright infringement. Below is a portion of an article which I've copied (copyright infringement?) that addresses this:

Now, there's a case called Electro vs. Barker which has become very important. This is a nursing student who was sued in her name. We made a motion to dismiss the complaint because [it] doesn't specify any acts or dates or times of copyright infringement as the law normally requires. We've made several arguments like that before this motion and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) put in an argument which basically fudged it. However, in this case they basically decided to go for the gold and they made a bold argument claiming that merely making files available on the internet is in and of itself a copyright infringement. It was a shocking argument because if it were accepted it would probably shut down the entire internet.

As a result of that bold argument, certain organizations came in putting in an amicus curiae brief to support Miss Barker's motion to dismiss. In reaction to that the Motion Picture Association and the United States Government put in briefs supporting the RIAA trying to... Well, the Motion Picture Association directly supported that extreme argument. The US government didn't quite go that far but it tried to support the RIAA by attacking another argument that had been made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

I can't help but to imagine all the ramifications that could spring from this case if it were decided in favor of RIAA. To be sure, they would be far reaching. Imagine having copies of your favorite CD's in your car. Your car gets stolen and then recovered by the police. After taking back your car, you discover you're being charged for having copies of copyrighted materials in your vehicle. Just try and sort that one out under this broad interpretation of the law. My advice for anyone with shared folders or anyone who uses file sharing software: protect yourself right now. The pending ruling could be so broad that it is really impossible to determine what would be considered unlawful. 
Good luck!
(See also Electronic Frontier Foundation's petition to Congress.)


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