April 3rd, 2004

Macbeth the Usurper

Criminalizing IP

In the news, attempts to put criminal pentalties to IP violations. Doh!!!!! That's the dumbest free-speech idea I've heard in a LOOOOOooooonnnnnggggg time. The practical effects of this will be that it will be used as a free-speech squelching bat, wielded by lawyer, to scare the populace.

I think this is bad for two reasons. I've already stated the first. The second reason that I don't like this is that is removes wiggle room from the application of law. The more specific and universal we make the laws of IP, the harder it becomes to apply them. We can then either create insane systems to manage all the conflicting rights (which the companies often don't understand themselvses and frequently go to court over them, because the contracts are that complicated). Image the current SCO vs Linux debate going on if Linux Torvaldus were extradited and put onto trial for IP violations before SCO ever proved that it had those right!

Secondly, criminal law has a bad tendency to become uncontrollable. Once the system begins moving, stopping it can become problematic. Imagine a company saying, "We want to drop this case," and the law responding, "You turned the case over to the FBI. We are under federal requirements to take this to trial." This leads to really stupid outcomes.

The application of IP law is best left to civil courts, where there is much more flexibility. People often have arguments about rights, and these arguments are often legitimate. Criminalizing the loser is a bad idea.