Thursday, April 05, 2007

Some philosophical questions of law

A judge recently made a ruling which said that a specific form of DVR (TiVo-like system) violates copyright law (reference). Now, the boxes that you buy to put in your living room are not contained within this particular subset of DVR technologies, so don't get too concerned. The form that was labeled as a violation is the form of DVR which is essentially a subscription service. You subscribe to a content host who will record shows you request (via the remote control) and plays them back on demand. The primary difference between this system and the more traditional TiVo system is that the recording equipment, storage media, and playback equipment are all "somewhere else" instead of in your living room.

This raises a legal question that is related to the technological society that we live in. Who is it that is actually doing the recording when I push a button on my remote? Am I doing the recording, or is the company that records and stores the show doing the recording? If I sign up for a service and then find a way to make use of that service illegally, is the provider of that service liable in some way for not making their system immune to that sort of abuse?

Now that automation has become so widespread, these questions will arise more and more. Because it's common for a person to sign up for some sort of service and make use of it without another person ever being privy to what's exactly going on, there would never be a person in the loop to pull the plug on some illegal activity that I'm doing.

For instance, if I purchase computing resources and network access from a company, and then use those resources to initiate an illegal attack on some website/corporate intranet/whatever, obviously I'm responsible for this, but what about the people who provided those resources to me? Are they going to be held accountable on some level? If a person stores pirated software on my server (whose services I'm leasing to him) and distributes it to his friends, am I party to this crime? Does it make a difference if it's just some buddy that I'm letting use the space for free because he's my friend?

No, Tom, I'm not using your server to store and distribute pirated software. *goes and deletes the Red vs. Blue episodes* Also, I'm no longer using it to store and distribute pirated machinima. (-:

Anyway, these are all questions that somebody who's looking to start their own business - especially one that provides automated services - will want answers to. Random food for thought.

1 comment:

JadeGordon said...

I don't know, but it might be a toss up between greed and vistims that motivates the desire for accountability... but it seems like people who get overly adamant and persnickety about who should pay tem for what "abuse". As a creator of media, I enjoy copyright protections, but I worry that nobody wants to be patient, helpful, fair, reasonable or nice about it anymore.

And... I kinda wish folks would stop butting in on my privacy... all that thumbprints and file DNA and spy stuff just makes me sad.