3 minute read

Russia's copyright law is different from ours. I imagine there's lots of differences in lots of laws, some of which may be distasteful or just odd to anyone but Russian citizens. This is part of being a sovereign nation, with a different set of institutions and a distinct history, you develop laws according to what you need in your society.'

But America is threatening to quash Russia's joining the WTO due to AllOfMP3.com, an iTunes-like mp3 selling site that takes advantage of certain oddities in Russia's copyright law that enables the legal licensing of media that has not been "released" by its original holder. This means that you can buy Beatles MP3s off of AllOf, but not iTunes, as the copyright holders refuse to allow iTunes to sell digital copies.

Now, folks, if they join the WTO, they become bound by the TRIPS agreement, which would probably close the loophole that allows this. Further, they'd be within a governance stucture where formal complaints could be lodged, with enforcable outcomes. (Whether that's a good thing or a really bad thing is a whole different topic) Shutting Russia out of the WTO for something so trivial just reveals how much power the media industry wields over here, but worse, it's self-defeating.

Now, consider the fact that the US Copyright office has recently quintupled their records-search fees and added a $100 fee for estimating what your cost will be to find records and possibly get copyrighted material that's been orhpaned/abandoned or expired legally release to public domain.

There was a lesson to be learned with iTunes, which is that if you lower the barriers, you increase legal usage -- dramatically. Putting power in the hands of consumers at reasonable costs creates whole new industries (just ponder the VHS revolution!). But it seems that no matter how many times this lesson gets taught, our fine government and the media industry keep wanting to make it more difficult and expensive to act legally, without providing any incentive for jumping through these extra hoops (indeed, often making the end result more restrictive!).