Worldcon banned by UStream for copyright infringement

If you tried to watch the livestream of the Hugo Awards event at Chicon 7 (Worldcon) last night, you were in for a rude surprise. The feed cut off, never to be restored, just as Neil Gaiman was giving his acceptance speech.  Why? i09 has the scoop, but fingers the wrong culprit.

Worldcon banned by UStream for copyright infringement

What happened was that the Hugo Awards showed clips from some Doctor Who episodes and a Community episode prior to Gaiman’s speech. UStream’s copyright enforcement robots detected this and shut down the feed, as they had been programmed to do. io9’s editor-in-chief, Annalee Newitz, lays the blame on UStream. Its copyright enforcement robots are too dumb to realize that not only did the Hugo Awards have permission to show those clips but that, even if they had not, showing them would have been fair use anyway.

Is it UStream’s fault that its copyright enforcement robots are unable to distinguish between illicit copyrighted content and copyrighted content the user has permission or a fair-use defense for airing? Should UStream spend more money on smarter robots? if it’s even possible to code smart enough robots to do this? I don’t think so.

The bulk, if not all, of the blame should be placed instead on copyright itself — or rather, on the politicians who vote copyright protections into law, the bureaucrats who enforce copyright law, and the anticompetitive special interests who lobby for stronger protections and sue infringers.

Copyright law is a confused mess with a bogus rationale, and it is becoming increasingly draconian. Fair use is simply an ad hoc, abitrary attempt to paper over the absurdities and alleviate the evils of copyright law; it is risky to rely on it. Copyright, like all intellectual property, is an illegitimate and anticompetitive state grant of monopoly privilege that can only be enforced by violating the real property rights of others in scarce, physical objects.

Rather than blame UStream for covering their own asses from lawsuits with zealous copyright enforcement robots, we should abolish copyright. And, as libertarian philosopher Roderick Long points out, this case is an example of copyright coming back to bite those who support it.

Do you agree? Let us know in the comments.

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About the Author

Geoffrey Allan Plauché Executive Editor

Geoffrey is an Aristotelian-Liberal political philosopher, an adjunct instructor for Buena Vista University, the founder and executive editor of Prometheus Unbound, and the webmaster of The Libertarian Standard. His work has appeared in Libertarian Papers, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, the Journal of Value Inquiry, and Transformers and Philosophy. He lives in Edgewood, KY with his wife and two children.

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