ucla mp3 / legal issues panel - april 15, 1999

highlights from the ucla information studies seminar on ``distribution of music in cyberspace,'' university of california, los angeles department of information studies held on thursday, april 15.

  1. overview
  2. trends
  3. legal
  4. links


this was a two-hour presentation and expert discussion led by professors eugene volokh (ucla school of law), stuart biegel (ucla school of education and information studies) and moderated by samuel trosow, all three net-literate lawyers in addition to their other credentials. phil agre has been putting together semi-weekly panels like this for years with experts on hot technology topics.

audience - was faculty and recognized experts in information studies, education, and law. a few folks i spoke with in back acknowledged they were entertainment industry guests or dj's. average age was over 30. lecture space was over-filled with late-comers standing in the aisles and in the back.

presentations - volokh offered the audience a crash course in ``the future of the electronic library and copyright'' while biegel provided the uninitiated with an introduction to the mechanics (a demo) and legal issues with the ``distribution of music in cyberspace.'' these presentations were a lead-in to moderated group discussion.

discussion highlights - trends

offshore mp3 business! - like online casinos before them, one of the speakers suggested we might see the hosting of internet mp3 distribution move offshore, so the servers are physically situated in countries with less restrictive copyright law. this calls to mind the pirate radio stations (early 1960's?) that once broadcast pop music off the coast of london to improve on the dull bbc programming.

deja vu - the online database vendor (dialog, lexis-nexis, silverplatter) and library community have faced (and resolved) digital content copyright, distribution, and licensing issues similar to the mp3-related legal issues that currently confront record companies, listeners, distributors, and artists.

micropayments - although this term was not used, ``micropayments'' could sum up one of several approaches to compensating copyright holders for use of their works in digital form. a participant i recognized as marcia bates (information seeking behaviour expert and info studies professor) supported this model several times, referring to its application with etexts and describing it as ``token, not text'' -- a paradigm shift from consumers purchasing the actual content (book, music, video) and instead paying for a token to view the content on-demand.

metasearch/metashop - my favorite point, volokh anticipates search engines will come to the forefront as tools for users to locate unused content licenses for the digital content they are seeking.

for example, my public library in los angeles may exhaust a daily supply of listening licenses to play a steven king book-on-mp3 over the net -- but i can query a metasearch engine to locate other libraries which still have unused credits for the book-on-mp3 (or any other digital title) i want to hear at the moment.

similarly, if i am *shopping* for such a license, metashop engines can help consumers find the lowest-cost content license in a jiffy. volokh did not distinguish between metasearching, metashopping, etc. -- but his description pretty much matches the metasearch and metashop resources already available for general web content and certain products already.

loss-leader marketing - christine borgman suggested e-publishers are already succeeding financially with a hybrid model, where an artist or publisher gives away a reasonable chunk of copyrighted digital content as a free ``loss leader'' (such as a free book chapter or song in mp3 format) to entice consumers to pay for the rest of the copyrighted work in digital or physical format.

distributors in danger - while artists and publishers enjoy a symbiotic relationship in the book and music industry, distributors of physical book and music media may be in for a big shake-up, especially if surrogate book and cd products (ebook, rio, etc.) take off.

discussion highlights - legal interpretation

some folks in the crowd (like the hipster next to me whose attention was divided flipping through a dj `zine) really wanted the scoop on how legal common mp3 activities actually are, and what sort of trouble one might get in for violating the new copyright law.

civil vs. criminal - there was some debate over whether copyright abuse through redistributing mp3 files was a civil or a criminal offense [offense? case? violation? please pardon my imprecise use of legal vocabulary] -- the legal experts were quick to point out that it is much easier to get a civil case brought to court than a criminal case, and that the record industry lawyers probably prefer the lesser `civil' interpretation for that reason. contributory copyright infringement was mentioned as a loophole.

loss of revenue - samuel trosow pulled up the actual copyright statute online, which the legal experts helped the audience interpret in the context of listening to copyrighted mp3 material and serving copyrighted mp3 content from a web site without paying for it. a prosecutor must prove you have caused loss of revenue in excess of $1,000 to make their case. this bodes well for private mp3 listeners but makes a very scary situation for web authors who choose to redistribute copyrighted digital music, based on the inflated $15 `value' of a popular music audio compact disc.

what about streaming content? - i asked whether copyright law would apply differently to streaming audio content (such as the shoutcast project) as opposed to law that applies to copyrighted material in static form (such as individual mp3 files). the unanimous response - no, the copyright laws all apply to webcast/streaming as do some legal issues of broadcast which were not explored.


impressive speaker bios circulated before the talk.
mailto:sean@savvysearch.com                sean dreilinger, mlis
 http://www.savvysearch.com               https://durak.org/sean

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