Richard Stallman’s article, “The Right to Read,” expresses the idea of illegal file sharing and the fear that the government or Software Protection Authority is an omniscient watchdog over our personal computer use. Could the government really track each and every one of us and monitor an individual’s file sharing habits?
People like the fictional character Dan Halbert should be the least of the government’s worries. In “The Right to Read,” Dan worries that the government will throw him in jail for letting someone just borrow his computer. He’s afraid Lissa will read his books, which would ultimately lead to an unfortunate run in with Central Licensing and the Software Protection Authority.
Certainly, illegally sharing files like books and music isn’t right, but in the digital world, there is a gray line between what counts as copyright violation and what is allowed. We’re warned about the illegality of burning music, yet most computers have the ability to burn CDs built right into the CD drive. It’s almost too easy.
In a generation when it’s easy to pay 99 cents for a song but even simpler to click “download” on an illegal music sharing site, the government is behind in trying to protect copyright laws and crack down on violators.
Last week in my New Media Frontiers class, I stated that the music industry can and should work to combat music piracy. However, being reactive by fining or jailing people for their actions isn’t the way to go about doing it. The government is currently watching the wrong people—they shouldn’t target the downloaders; instead, they should proactively seek out the pirates who create the illegal sites and shut them down. It seems like the most logical thing to do.
People like Ryan Lackey are the ones the government should be keeping an eye on. Lackey set up an offshore “electronic data haven” where people could store things that might fall in the gray area of file sharing. In this case, the government wouldn’t actually be able to stop Lackey (his company wasn’t just offshore—it’s was “off-government” too, meaning that the government had no jurisdiction over it). However, the government should seek out similar people who work to bend the already vague rules and stop them from opening the gates to illegal file sharing.