The Copyright Divide
MSU-DCL Public Law Research Paper No. 01-21
116 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2003 Last revised: 8 May 2023
In September 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America filed 261 lawsuits against individuals who illegally downloaded and distributed a large amount of music via peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, such as KaZaA, Grokster, iMesh and Gnutella. Although the industry’s approach was controversial and resulted in major criticisms from legislators, academics, civil libertarians, consumer advocates and university officials, the RIAA's aggressive tactics are not new.
Indeed, copyright holders have been known for using, or encouraging their government to use, coercive power to protect their creative works. Only a decade ago, the U.S. copyright industries lobbied their government to use strong-armed tactics to coerce China into protecting intellectual property rights. Succumbing to U.S. trade pressure, the Chinese authorities eventually raided pirate factories and handed out harsh penalties, including life imprisonment and even death penalty in severe cases.
The similarities between the RIAA and China stories is more than a coincidence. In fact, the two stories can be further linked to a third story, which happened two centuries ago when the United States was still a less developed country. At that time, book piracy was rampant, and the United States was considered one of the most notorious pirating nations in the world.
This article brings together, for the first time, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America, twentieth-century China and twenty-first-century cyberspace. Using a cross-cultural, cross-systemic, cross-temporal and cross-sectoral approach, this article highlights the striking similarities among the three stories and argues that these similarities provide insight into the war on piracy, intellectual property law reforms and international harmonization efforts.
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By Ann Bartow