Above the Law

Everyone has probably seen the story about McCain’s campaign complaining to Youtube about campaign videos being removed and reviewed because of possible violations of copyright. Google News has a roundup of them. My favorite response so far is from CNET. McCain’s campaign wants special treatment. Tgdaily put it this way:

The McCain camp’s biggest complaint was that the copyright act does not favor the user of the material, but usually the copyright owner. If the video creator feels that their video has been pulled inappropriately, the act doesn’t give them any wiggle room in trying to get the video put back up before a period of ten to fourteen days.

Is there any response a librarian can have other than: Wow! Where has McCain’s lawyer been living the last ten years that this should come as a surprise? As many have noted, McCain (or at least his campaign’s lawyer) is asking for a special exemption from the same DMCA that he himself voted for. The person who would want you to be fined for making a copy of your own DVD for your own use wants to use CBS news clips willy-nilly in his campaign videos.

There are so many issues here it’s hard to know where to begin, but the biggest one is political, not legal. Youtube has undoubtedly taken the right stand in reminding McCain and his lawyer that they aren’t above the law. McCain is being subjected to the same law as everyone else, because if any citizen stands above the law, then the law is an arbitrary force lacking authority and legitimacy. I’m sure that if he understood the issue, even McCain – perhaps even the new creature McCain has morphed into over the past few months – would agree.

McCain or his lawyer is right to feel irritated by this, though, because it’s obvious to almost everyone that the DMCA is an unjust law that is too restrictive of copyright. If there weren’t such a feeling, then millions upon millions of people wouldn’t violate that law every day with no qualms whatsoever. Is there anyone who feels even remotely bad about, for example, copying their own DVD to load onto their iPod? Is there anyone except the big studios who cares if anyone else does this for their own videos? Does anyone feel like such a person has committed a crime? Of course they don’t. No victim, no crime.

The same goes for Youtube. Is anyone really bothered if someone puts up a few minutes of a TV show or a mashup of different copyrighted materials on Youtube? Of course they don’t. The copyright holders protest, presumably with the argument that using their material is losing them money, but I think that would be hard to prove. If someone directs me to a video clip from a copyrighted TV show I might watch it, but if it weren’t there I wouldn’t seek it out in it’s copyrighted source. i just wouldn’t watch it.

Since I’m often a glass-is-half-empty sort of person, I have trouble believing any change to copyright will come out of this incident, but I have to admit to just a tiny bit of schadenfreude at the moment.