A pretense that was not addressed in Part 1 of this series was that of the simple ambiguity of licensing. That is, what one is legally entitled to do with something for which he has paid. Most simply do not know, and presume it’s simply a matter of “If I bought it, I do what I want, but can’t give it to someone else.” In reality, things are extraordinarily complicated. I’ll also note that I am addressing simply downloading, and not distribution, which is murkier territory.
Firstly, legality depends on your country. A simple contrast is between the United States and Canada on the downloading of copywritten music. In the United States, it is in fact illegal to downloading copywritten materials (though prosecution and burden of proof is incredibly difficult), while in Canada downloading is permitted, as well as copying CDs (http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/sc_mrksv/cipo/cp/copy_gd_protect-e.html).
But morality is not legality, and this only covers you insofar as you ethically agree with the law. So where do we draw that line? This is the second point: There is no line. Follow the example, even in the United States, whether something even qualifies as protected by copywrite. Keeping with the music trend, it is not uncommon for some or all of an album to now be released with full distribution rights for free on the Internet, as seen by Weird Al Yankovich (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5482774).
Where things really get confusing is with regard to streaming public video sites such as Youtube. It is even more common for record labels to release music videos on Youtube. In less time than it would take to search out the song on a peer-to-peer client, I could rip the audio from that Youtube video and have the music in MP3 form. Would that be copyright infringement? Should the downloader even have to be the one to figure it out?
The same concepts pertain to television, as seen by the many NBC clips released by NBC itself. Would a video uploaded by NBC be legal and moral, but if someone downloaded the NBC clip itself and uploaded it, would it be illegal and immoral? What if it’s the same clip, but TiVO’d?
The last item, most mind twisting, is that once downloaded, if presumed entirely legal to have been distributed, what license then is given? Personal viewing? Personal and public viewing? Distribution rights? Selling rights? There are no license agreements for most digital media. In the case of Youtube, the site itself attempts to dictate licensing, but its own Terms of Service remain ambiguous at best. For example, “You agree not to alter or modify any part of the website”. What does this mean? Technically I’m modifying their site by increasing or decreasing my browser text size or applying a custom stylesheet.
Ultimately, Terms of Service, licensing agreements and the like are anti-social means of dismissing all liability with complete disregard for consumer rights. On an ethical level, the entire premisce of 10 pages of legal jargon as a means for determining what you can or cannot do, which in the case of CDs, can restrict even listening to it on your iPod (http://220.127.116.11/search?q=cache:www.copyright.gov/1201/2006/hearings/sonydrm-ext.pdf).
Trying to define ethics by the definition of the law and licensing agreements is clearly in poor judgment. Part 3 will address the music issue further.