Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Copyright law and transient copies

A commentator on ancients.info recently tore into me for claiming for claiming that it may be infringement to copy something for personal use. It turns out that one can infringe without even making a copy!

MAI Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc. holds that copying from a computer disk into RAM infringes without permission from the copyright holder. Although there was no permanent copy made it's still considered reproducing. This is why web radio broadcasters need both a license to perform a work and a license to make “ephemeral copies”. (These laws may be based on on precedents in the 1970s regarding per-seat licensing of mainframe software.)

It may even be an infringement to tell someone how to make a transient copy without actually making one! Hacker Eric Corley (AKA “Emmanuel Goldstein”) published computer code to load DVD movies into main memory from a DVD-ROM device. This code is necessary for software engineers to write DVD player software and requires a secret key that had been a trade secret until a Norwegian teenager had figured it out. Movie studios greatly feared this code because playing a DVD is half the process to copying one. They were worried that the code published by Corley would aid bootleggers. Mr. Corley lost Universal v. Reimerdes and this case forms a precedent in New York. A similar case in California went the other way. (Often when there is a split between high courts the Supreme Court jumps in to explain things but that isn't happening here.) Lower courts must follow precedent so in New York it's probably an infringement crime to tell people how to make a transient RAM copy of even a single DVD frame.

I believe that making transient copies shouldn't be infringement. It would be ridiculous to say that holding a book in front of a mirror is infringement. Only a fool would claim that opening a book in daylight and allowing photons to bounce off the ink is an infringement. Copying into a computer's RAM is more like those activities than operating a printing press. My government disagrees with me and until that changes an infringement apparently happens every time a bootleg PDF is opened up in a PDF viewer. FTPing a file may trigger thousands of infringements as each packet stops in a different router.

No comments: