Byte Rights: Fair Use Manifesto

Nathan Edwards

Hi, I’m Quinn Norton, and I’ll be your new Maximum PC guide to intellectual property—that’s copyright, patents, and so on for the unwashed non-lawyer masses. It’s a wacky field. In the past few years, this once extremely dry bit of law has spawned everything from Swedish street protests over The Pirate Bay website to more than 20,000 RIAA lawsuits—including four college kids sued for around $100 billion. That’s right around the GDP of Peru. See? Wacky.

I’ve been acting out my unhealthy interest in issues like copyright and copy protection for 10 years, or a lot longer if you include teenage adventures in game dongle subversion (not to advocate piracy, or 90 percent of the other things I did as a youth). I’ve spent years trying to make intellectual law easy to understand for people with more healthy and normal interests. Also, I tend to drink a lot with IP lawyers.

This will be a space for me to explain the news, share some stories, and point out details most people have almost certainly missed. I might even try to tell you what’s likely to happen next.

Here’s where I stand: I’m with the Norwegian government in that accusing you of hacking your own computer is incoherent. I tend to agree with Thomas Jefferson that copyright is there to encourage the useful arts and sciences. Though if we really wanted copyright to encourage the useful arts and sciences, it would last just as long as you need to get the next thing done, and the end of term would be accompanied by a team of ninjas “encouraging” you to get back to work.

I think I agree with most people that the last eight years have shown that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is simply the stupidest bit of law passed since we thought banning beer was a good idea. I heart Creative Commons giving people options to share and I giggle at overreaching patents. I find the way trade secrets get used alarming. And I think fair use is a good thing, like love, puppies, and Christmas.

Quinn Norton writes about copyright for Wired News and other publications. Her work has ranged from legal journalism to the inner life of pirate organizations.

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