Sunday, December 19, 2004

NEWS - Music is More Important than Food and Medicine

Wired news reports that the recording industry, which is currently suing Australian company Sharman Networks, the makers of the Kazaa file-sharing program, for a bunch of things related to its general existence (but manly focusing on copyright infringement), may have a new target: the Red Cross.

Yes, that's right. The Red Cross.

It's not that the Red Cross is secretly hosting billions of illegally-downloaded music on its servers. One of the world's most prominent charitable organizations may get in trouble because Sharman Networks is giving it money.

The Red Cross is the only named beneficiary of a Vanatu-based trust that Sharman funds. The Recording Industry wants "to stop [the Red Cross from] disposing of any funds [paid by the trust]."

Wow.

So this isn't just about stopping Sharman from distributing software widely used to infringe on copyrights.

It really is about wringing every last cent out of the world.

At least the industry is being honest about their belief that the bank accounts of label execs are more important than the work of one of the world's most well-known charities.

I'm not too familiar with Austrialian copyright law, but if this was the United States, the industry could, if it won a similar lawsuit, not only stop the distribution of Kazaa, but also recover damages.

The US Copyright Act allows copyright owners to recover statutory damages from infringers under some circumstances, meaning that the plaintiff doesn't have to prove how much money the acts of infringement cost it. This is how the RIAA extorts $5000 "settlements" out of teenagers' parents: that thousand songs isn't going to cost $1000 even though that's how much those songs would have cost over iTunes. More like $700,000. Illegally download $1000 worth of music and your parents lose your house. It doesn't matter how much what you took was worth because the Copyright Act says that the owner can collect X amount of money.

In this case, the industry wants to collect it from the Red Cross. Specifically, it's asked the charity to freeze the fund until the end of the Australian case against Sharman. According to a member of Australia’s Music Industrye Piracy Investigations, "would be incredibly disappointing if [the industry] had to sue them."

Incredibly disappointing?

Don't get me wrong. I don't believe in illegally downloading free music, but I'm appalled that the industry would stoop so low. This isn't even money that Sharman is using for its own benefit. Trust funds are set up for the benefit of a third party, in this case, the Red Cross. A trustee manages the money and makes sure that the income the fund earns is paid to th beneficiary. The settlor, in this case Sharman, doesn't usually get to use the money for its own benefit. This isn't a case of the industry trying to take back money that Sharman is applying to its own profit here. Taking this money isn't going to stop further acts of infringement.

All it's going to do is make sure that the Red Cross has less money to spend helping people so that industry stakeholders can rake in a few more dollars.

Unsurprising, but sad nonetheless.

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