Non Liberty

This article details the results of a very interesting experiment involving copyright law enforcement and a text that is in the public domain (John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty:

As part of a recent research project, I posted a section of Mill’s On Liberty on the internet (which is clearly in the public domain), then issued unfounded copyright complaints against it. One internet service provider (ISP) removed the chapter almost immediately. This illustrates the problem with self-censorship procedures, which rely on hidden judgements being made by unaccountable bodies.

Interesting story. This points out yet another flaw with copyright law — which was originally architected to govern print media — as applied to the digital age. As the article explains:

ISPs are acting as judge, jury and private investigator at the same time. They not only have to make a judgement whether a website is illegal or not – they also have to act as a private detective agency, investigating the accusations and deciding on the merits of the evidence they gather. Nevertheless, when an ISP removes content it invokes the cyber equivalent to the death sentence. When an ISP acts it can effectively destroy a business or censor a political campaign, by making access to that website impossible.

I would add to this that the British ISP who removed Mill probably has a policy to instantly remove all copyright claims, regardless of validity, simply because it is cheaper to do so than to investigate all copyright claims.

Who should pay for these investigations? That’s a tough call. Either way, this model of copyright is way too topheavy and unwieldy. It is obsolete.

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