Today: SOPA. Back in 2004: The Induce Act

Back in 2004, we had the “Induce Act” … This is a little something I wrote about it.

The Induce Act – Why?
Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004

Ah, the good old days. Back when there were laws and most of us abided by them. Back when the court systems would translate our laws and our constitution and then make rulings based on their translations.

Oh how I long for those days.

“But it’s still that way” is what many of my contemporaries say. “Our courts and our judges examine the laws, they examine the alleged crimes of the accused and then they pass judgment.”

Yes. I suppose at the core of our system, things still work the same. My problem, though, isn’t so much with our system as it is with those that keep changing the rules that the system relies on.

Now, before, you start telling me that times change and laws need to change as well, let me explain that I agree with you. There are new technologies rolling off the line every day, and in some cases these technologies need to be equipped with a decent set of rules to govern them. I don’t, however, think that each and every new technology needs its own set of laws when current laws cover any crime that could possibly committed with them.

Let’s take for instance the ‘Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004’. This is a bill to amend chapter 5 of title 17, or the United States Code, relating to inducement of copyright infringement, and for other purposes.

Why? Why are we going to amend our Copyrights laws?

Has a new technology caused a loop-hole in the current laws? Has any new technology made Copyright Infringement any different? NO! The only thing new technology has done is to make it easier to break the law, but isn’t that what new technology does – makes things easier?

Lets take a closer look at the core of the proposed amendment.

`(g)(1) In this subsection, the term `intentionally induces’ means intentionally aids, abets, induces, or procures, and intent may be shown by acts from which a reasonable person would find intent to induce infringement based upon all relevant information about such acts then reasonably available to the actor, including whether the activity relies on infringement for its commercial viability.

It seems like a very reasonable amendment, doesn’t it? Really seems like something that should already be a part of the law, right? Well – not exactly.

The words “commercial viability” is where my problem really starts. To the average joe, this seems to say that if your business intentionally aids a person in infringing on copyrights in order to remain commercially viable, you’re liable for aiding the infringement. But it’s much broader than that.

For instance – You develop a technology to assist in 100% legal activity, and then that same technology is adapted to do something illegal causing your company to make a profit and become commercially viable – at any point, now or in the future – You’re liable for what other people do with it.

This still seems like a rather reasonable amendment, right? Well, lets see what you think of a couple real-world examples:

A small internet service provider is struggling to keep itself in business. In order to keep its numbers in the black, it rolls out a technology that increases the bandwidth to its customers, and suddenly the orders start rolling in and they’re making a profit.

They know that there’s people out there using their service to trade files, and that some of this activity might infringe on someone’s copyright. They also know that the only reason they’ve attracted these people is because they’ve increased the bandwidth to their customers. The only way they can stop this activity is to stop providing this higher bandwidth service, but without it they’re not commercially viable. Are they liable?

Lets take this example to a more ridiculous level.

A pencil manufacturer sells pencils – they know that people can use these pencils to copy text that has a copyright. Because the commercial viability of this company is due to the ability of its pencils to write, and writing makes it possible to cause a copyright infringement, one has to assume that they would be in violation of the “Induce Act”.

Another example – this one hits very close to home. is commercially viable (snicker, almost) because we provide the community with reviews of new technology. Could we be held liable if we review an iPod? If we do a review of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, could we be held liable if we describe the copy & paste features?

We could be aiding our readers to choose, purchase and use a device or technology that we know has the ability to be used to infringe on a copyright. God forbid we do a review of a multi-function printer or a DVD burner.

I know all this sounds insane, and maybe a little bit extreme, but it’s all possible. A representative from the EFF states: ‘When the lawyers at EFF first sat down and asked “Whom could we sue under the Induce Act if we were an abusive copyright holder?” the answer was clear: pretty much everybody.’

If we allow our lawmakers to broaden the scope of laws because a group of record companies have decided something is cutting into their profit, we’re going about things the wrong way. Yes, these companies are entitled to make their money and someone should do something about the copyright infringement that is causing their losses.

Taking away the freedom of every American to create a product because they fear someone may figure out how to use it to break the law is as ridiculous as a pencil company being held liable because they know someone, somewhere in the world, is using their graphite to infringe on a copyright.

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