Friday, August 31, 2007

Suit Filed with FTC Charges Universal, NBC, Dreamworks, NFL, MLB, and Others With Misrepresenting Copyright Law by Ignoring Fair Use Statute

We have received a copy of the complaint filed with the FTC by the Computer & Communications Industry Association against such content owners as Universal, NBC Universal, the National Football League, Major League Baseball, Dreamworks Studios, and others, for misrepresenting copyright law in their "copyright warnings".

The case is

In the Matter of
Misrepresentation of Consumer Fair Use and
Related Rights
National Football League, NFL Properties,
Inc., NFL Enteprises LLC
Major League Baseball, Major League
Baseball Properties, Inc., Major League
Baseball Advanced Media, LP
NBC Universal, Inc., Universal Studios, Inc.,
and Morgan Creek Productions, Inc.
DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc.,
DreamWorks LLC, a Viacom property
Harcourt Inc.
Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
The complaint starts off saying:
This complaint concerns the systematic misrepresentation of consumers’ rights to use legally acquired content by certain copyright-holding corporations. These corporations have engaged, and continue to engage in, a nationwide pattern of unfair and deceptive trade practices by misrepresenting consumer rights under copyright law, and in some cases threatening criminal and civil penalties against consumers who choose to exercise statutorily or Constitutionally guaranteed rights. These false representations violate the letter and spirit
of the Federal Trade Commission Act’s prohibition against unfair or deceptive acts or
practices in or affecting commerce.
and then goes on to provide very specific examples of false and deceptive statements by the content owners, attaching selected examples as exhibits.

Non-pdf versions of the full complaint are available online here at Groklaw (without exhibits) and here at Defend Fair Use (with exhibits).

Complaint in "Matter of Misrepresentation of Consumer Fair Use and Related Rights* (Full version, including exhibits, in *pdf format)

* Document published online at Internet Law & Regulation

Commentary & discussion:

Ars Technica
C/Net News

Keywords: digital copyright online law legal download upload peer to peer p2p file sharing filesharing music movies indie independent label freeculture creative commons pop/rock artists riaa independent mp3 cd favorite songs


Matt Fitzpatrick said...

I've never seen a legal or technical claim about copyright, from copyright owners, that I'd consider to be honest information.

The most visible and familiar example of disinformation would be the "FBI Warning" on commercial DVDs. Its wording was almost entirely dictated by the studios. Before the FBI approved the standard message, I spotted a general "Warning" on an older Lions Gate DVD that matched the later FBI warning nearly word for word; I think it was missing only the words "investigated by the FBI."

This is the current FBI approved warning:

"Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000."

True? Technically. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution is illegal, aside from that little thing called "fair use," of course. Criminal copyright infringement is indeed investigated by the FBI and carries harsh sentences. So what's the problem?

The message is highly, and likely deliberately, misleading, to anyone who doesn't read legalese. Note the lack of mention of fair use -- more on that later. More importantly, note the words "illegal" and "criminal," right next to each other. Most people don't realize that in legalese, the two mean very different things; in everyday English, the two words are synonyms.

Putting two and two together, to most people, this warning says in clear terms that if you copy the movie without permission, for any reason, you could go to prison, because it's "illegal" and "criminal." This is, as readers of this blog know, an entirely false conclusion, even without considering the full spectrum of fair use available to consumers.

Thus, this warning, dicated almost word-for-word by motion picture studios, exemplifies the sheer volume of deliberate disinformation in this country, contributing to unnecessary intellectual poverty, and the stifling of fair use. It is my hope that this complaint clears the air.

Jadeic said...

This action is long overdue. With rights come responsibilities and it is about time this important fact was drawn forcibly to the attention of the RIAA et al.

raybeckerman said...

Yes I was gratified to learn of this proceeding.