Group Guards Copying Freedom

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 3, 2005 | Go to article overview

Group Guards Copying Freedom


Byline: Fred Reed, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

You were probably just thinking: What is the Electronic Frontier Foundation? Good question. EFF, based in San Francisco, concerns itself with "protecting freedom where law and technology collide."

The almost overnight arrival of the digital age produced a large number of legal questions that affect everyone. Often they involve constitutional rights.

Early on, the questions involved the rights of citizens against the government: When could the FBI read people's e-mail? Who would be the watchdog?

Then the focus shifted to a different question: To what extent is the entertainment industry entitled to limit freedoms of the public for commercial reasons? Hollywood, the music industry, and software companies are engaged in a titanic struggle against people who illegally download or copy movies and music.

The problem is that the crucial decisions are made by obscure committees, and by court cases that do not get a lot of attention. The entertainment industry, desperate to keep control of its property, can afford lobbyists. The resulting laws, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, are incomprehensible to laymen and tend to reflect the desires of the industry.

Who represents the public? The legal cases are complex, though they are well explained on the EFF Web site. Because digital reproduction and transmission of copyright material is so easy that only unreasonable and Draconian laws can prevent it. Laws that prevent piracy often have undesirable consequences, such as preventing legal copying, and research and development.

Suppose I wanted to make illegal physical copies of the Oxford English Dictionary and sell them. …

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