Average people suffering from copyright laws

Ars Technica published a brief article about the woes of an average legal MegaUpload user suffering because he cannot access his legal content. At the same time Techdirt, points out that there are several large companies (NBC) and prominent politicians (Lamar Smith) using copyrighted material and will likely not receive any sort of punishment for these infringements.

This isn’t exactly the most surprising turn of events. Most of these companies will likely settle or just open up their large portfolios of copyrighted material to Apple or whomever and strike a deal. As users we typically don’t have the same rights and are expected to give up our rights when we use services.

In many cases the content that users generate are the value of the website or service that is being used. This network externality comes from other people using and building the network for the site. I like to argue that perceived value of the iOS and Android operating system aren’t the systems themselves or the hardware they are on or the cellular network, but rather the applications that are available within these environments. For example look at the problem that Nokia and Microsoft are experiencing with their phones and application stores. The quality of the OS is second to the application environment. Nokia’s N-9 that would have used their Meego OS appeared to be an amazing piece of machinery, but it was killed before it ever got a chance. Mostly because Nokia didn’t think that it alone could build the application environment needed to make the product a success.

In the case of user created content, the user’s rights typically are minimal and likely to be changed at any time. I think part of the reason we consent to these agreements is through ignorance. We don’t really know what we’re agreeing to for two reasons. First, when we go to a website we don’t even know we’re agreeing to a terms of use. Second, because the terms of use are complicated. Some websites have taken to writing the agreements in plain English but that’s few and far between.

How can this change? First there will have to be legal challenges. In the case of user created content being sold to a third party based on some esoteric terms of agreement, the validity of these sales are going to have to be challenged in court. In some cases they will likely be over turned in others they might not.

Users will also have to fight against these agreements and refuse to accept them and potentially sue places that abuse the content that users put on the site or that allow third party sites to take their content without permission.

Balance between the large players and the users needs to be restored.

Edit: This story about HuffPo also highlights this imbalance.

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