What follows is my briefest introduction to “copyright”, as I limitedly understand it, followed by my personal thoughts on yesterday’s RIIA initiated DMCA takedown of the project “youtube-dl” from github.com.
The full request for the takedown of “youtube-dl”, and many of its forks, is at
“Copyright”, from an economic perspective, is a set of monopolies given to creators, to incentivize “creation”. The rational for these incentives is that creation is hard, failure-prone, and copying is relatively trivial.
However, if these monopolies were excessive, for example lasting “forever”, then creators, their heirs, or to whom the rights/monopolies were sold, would constitute a permanent bottleneck between the creation and the opportunity for society, as a whole, to benefit from it, with unrestricted freedom. Thus, the monopolies are time-limited – they have an expiration date.
There are also exceptions in the law. In the USA, “fair use” is the chapter to read, to understand exceptions. For example, showing a copyrighted video to a class of students, in an educational context, will likely be valid.
In Europe, exceptions are similar – international treaties signed by most countries have “harmonized” national copyright systems -, but include explicitly enunciated use-cases, that bypass the chance of litigation and will not require a judge to interpret particular situations as “fair use” or not, namely some learning acts at public libraries.
The creator alone has the exclusive rights to decide who/what can be done with the creation; if/how it can be modified, and if/how it can be distributed. Societies, in the so-called “Knowledge Economy” we are living in, will mostly progress fueled by better knowledge, so creators are the professionals that modern societies need and “Copyright” law must keep evolving to keep the proper balance between the creators’ rewards and the societal benefits.
The “DMCA” (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is one of the many changes that Copyright law incorporated, in the USA. However, it is an ugly one, because until year 2000 clean reverse engineering practices would probably be legit, and since then, if for bypassing certain TPMs (Technology Protection Measures) that can “compromise” the creator, they might not be.
Clean reverse engineering practices usually are extraordinary innovations and should not be barred. The perverse effect of making certain TPM-defeating processes illegal, even when identified cleanly, with absolutely no access to the source intellectual property, is that the knowledge of the available bypasses will rest in the hands of the very few who do manage to find them. The chance for improvement is lost and asymmetries intensify, with solutions only available to few, definitely not available to the entire community, leaving most under the false believe that the current fruition model is the single possible one. This has fueled “bug bounty” programs, thus contributing to alternative reward systems.
These are very hard topics to discuss lightly, and this post sure is light. But, right now, I find it very negative, wrong on many levels – economical and intellectual -, damaging for all in the long-run, and intensely disrespectful for the thinkers, writers and coders involved, that RIIA is attacking years of hard labored source code developed by a community of intellectuals.
The “youtube-dl” source code has probably done nothing more than to promote the exact same artists that, allegedly, are being hurt by it. This is truly unfair. Have common sense! Some of the referenced artists themselves should take a good look at the mirror and try to assess if these tools are taking food out of their tables – what they are indirectly doing, is taking the creation pleasure out of the lives of innocents, who just enjoy creating software. Have some decency. Live and love, and let live and love.
I also tweeted about this: