Induce this

We cross our bridges as we come to them, and burn them behind us, with nothing to show our progress but the memory of the smell of smoke and the presumption that, once, our eyes watered.

That’s Tom Stoppard, verbatim, from Rosecrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I copied it, longhand, in pencil,

for no other reason than I happened to be reading it at the time.

It’s not quite a copyright violation – there’s far too little of it copied, so it qualifies as fair use, even on the Internet. (I hope. If I suddenly disappear from this site, you’ll know somebody’s lawyer disagreed.) However, had I the time on my hands to write the entire play out longhand, slip out to a Kinko’s and run a few copies and distribute them to friends, I’d certainly be violating Mr. Stoppard’s property rights. So go out and buy a copy yourselves, you cheap – sorry. Lost the thread there.

The pencil I used was a Dixon Ticonderoga 1388-2/HB. (Ah, how I love 2/HBs. All pencils should write so smoothly.) Came with about a dozen friends in a plainish box that in no way indicated this product could be a weapon of copyright infringement.

Suppose someone in the marketing department at Dixon Ticonderoga slipped off the rails one morning, and thought he might increase sales by adding a flash to the front of the box: “”Can be used to copy out Tom Stoppard plays – longhand!”” The law drops on the good Ticonderoga people like a ton of Staedtler Mars Plastic erasers (white, product No. 2630), and they’re sued out of existence by Tom Stoppard – and, naturally, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.

Absurd, yes? Welcome to copyright under the Induce Act, soon to come before the U.S. legislature for a vote. The Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004 could ban technologies that encourage copyright violation. But of course, as sponsor Orrin Hatch, the Republican Senator for Utah (state slogan: It’s a Dry – and We Do Mean Dry – Heat) would tell you, it’s All About The Children.

“”It is illegal and immoral to induce or encourage children to commit crimes,”” Hatch said in a prepared statement, no doubt marked up with cues for weepy violin swells. “”Some think they can legally lure children into breaking the law with false promises of ‘free music.'””

Hatch introduced the Act with a maudlin, unintentionally hilarious statement before Congress equating file-sharing software with Fagin of Oliver Twist. It’s a tried-and-true manipulation – after all, who could vote against protecting The Children? – the end game of which is the elimination of the legal precedent established in the Betamax ruling of 1984.

That ruling is a foundation of technological advancement. It establishes the defence of “”legitimate non-infringing use”” – a VCR can be used for purposes that do not infringe copyright, ergo, the technology is legal. Had the U.S. Court ruled that that was not a sufficient defence, what technological advancements would not have been put in jeopardy? MP3 encoding *can* be used to compress copyright files for illegal exchange – make it illegal. Media players *can* be used to play illegally copied files – make them illegal. Surreptitious copies of movies and music *can* be stored on hard drives, CDs and DVDs – slap a levy on them. Oh wait. Already did that.

(And on the topic of levies … do the industry associations who are taking a cut of blank CD sales to companies that don’t consume their product treat that levy as protection of their assets, or as an additional revenue stream? Discuss.)

And, of course, I can copy plays with my 2/HB. Make pencils illegal.

It is wrong – counterproductive, dangerous and assinine – to punish technology for crimes committed by people. As a Republican, I’m sure Mr. Hatch would agree, having given it a second thought. After all, didn’t he introduce legislation in March 2000 to protect firearms manufacturers from lawsuits arising from crimes committed with their guns?

After all, technology doesn’t pirate copyright material. People do.

Dave Webb has rewritten many plays and all of them in pencil. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a technology journalist with more than 15 years' experience. He has edited numerous technology publications including Network World Canada, ComputerWorld Canada, Computing Canada and eBusiness Journal. He now runs content development shop Dweeb Media.
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