Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Turn over the bootleg CD and nobody gets hurt

The Tennessee State Legislator is currently considering a bill that would require police intervention for copyright owners or their authorized representatives to request purveyors of counterfeit copies of their works to voluntarily surrender the illegal copies. Such counterfeited works, which are better known in the music industry as either pirated or bootleg copies, are often sold at flea markets or in local independent record stores.

If the Bill aims to strike a balance between protecting the rights of copyright owners and the rights of legitimate vendors--all of which are laudable public policy goals--it is seriously off the mark. It is already a crime in Tennessee to illegally take someone's property. That is not what rights holders do when they approach a vendor selling a bootleg. The bootleg is not the vendor's property in the first place. The criminal code already protects legitimate vendors. This Bill simply removes the self-help solution available to rights owners. Which would be fine, if the State of Tennessee was willing to fund a statewide taskforce to police such piracy.

For background, there was an excellent article in the Nashville based Tennessean newspaper today that highlights the competing interests involved. (That article can be found by clicking here.) Also the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has an excellent website highlighting the economic and social impact caused by physical piracy.

The interesting issue here is that copyright holders, like those represented by the RIAA and similar organizations, have a legitimate interest in both protecting their copyrights and assisting legitimate vendors who often must compete with pirates who have an unfair competitive advantage. The involvement and education of local law enforcement in this effort should be encouraged by our laws. Also, a funded law enforcement taskforce would legitimize efforts of rights holders who do attempt to confiscate counterfeit copies of their works. Such official procedures could make the process more effective. Having a local uniformed police officer busting a bootlegger at the flea market would have a clear deterrent affect.

The law fails, however, to provide local law enforcement with the resources necessary to meet a mandate such as that found in the Tennessee Bill and does not add any protection to legitimate vendors. It simply protects pirates. If your local police force does not have the proper resources, this Bill will simply tip the balance in favor of the pirates. That possible unintended consequence should be seriously considered before such a bill is made law.