As an Eagle Scout, I was incensed to read that the MPAA has enlisted the Boy Scouts of America in its quest to bowdlerize U.S. copyright law, Pierson, D., “A Merit Badge That Can’t Be Duplicated,” Los Angeles Times (Oct. 21, 2006). The Boy Scouts have no business engaging in this line of activity, because it conflates “civic responsibility” with “law enforcement.” Even if they did, there’s no reason why they should concentrate on something like intellectual property law, which is militantly policed by some of the wealthiest multi-national corporations in the world. Why not something like picking up stray dog poop, or eradicating graffiti, which would make a genuine contribution?
What organizations like the MPAA and the RIAA fail to realize is that copyright law is a hierarchy of correlative rights and duties. When there is a “term” of copyright protection, for example, this means it is perfectly legal to use (formerly) copyrighted material, upon the expiration of the term. The “first sale” doctrine means it is perfectly legal to sell used books and records. The “fair use” doctrine means it is perfectly legal for journalists and others to report the news, even though copyrighted elements may comprise part of their story. The Sony Betamax case means it is perfectly legal to time-shift television and music programming, and migrate it to other devices, such as the iPod. And, that it should be illegal for companies like Sony and Warner Bros. to sell CDs that are contaminated with spy-ware, or that won’t load into your computer, respectively. These only are a few examples.
There should be more emphasis on what people can do under copyright law, and less on the pejorative consequences of what you can’t. Ironically, the very same issue of the Los Angeles Times carried an article about sports videos appearing on YouTube, Johnson, G., “In Sports Highlights, YouTube is No. 1,” Los Angeles Times (Oct. 21, 2006). There is no credible scenario that this type of use derogates from the rights of copyright holders. Indeed, if anything, it enriches them by effectively marketing and promoting their events to an audience of committed constituents. Should the Boy Scouts start worrying about this, too?