Canadian Judge Rules File Sharing Not Illegal

...at least not under Canadian copyright law.

In his ruling, von Finckenstein compared the actions the file sharers to the presence of a photocopy machine in a library. "I cannot see a real difference between a library that places a photocopy machine in a room full of copyrighted material and a computer user that places a personal copy on a shared directory linked to a P2P service," he stated.


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A friend brought that quote

A friend brought that quote to my attention yesterday and I sent him this response:

Here's the difference:

  • A library acquires it's copywritten materials through the voluntary consent of the copywrite owner [1]. It is understood by the owner that his or her materials will be placed in a forum where the public will have almost open access to it. It is the stated purpose of libraries to offer literature to wider society.
  • A computer user who rips and encodes music to his or her computer and then allows public access to the directory where those files are stored does NOT have the voluntary consent of the copywrite owner [2]. It is understood that when someone buys commerical music, the person buying that music is obtaining no public rights to broadcast that music to a public audience without the permission of the copywrite owner.


  • [1] There are probably exceptions to this. Some authors may not want their books being placed in a forum where people can copy pages within at their whim.
    [2] Ditto, conversely; some musicians may not mind at all if their music is openly shared. But if they are being distributed by anything remotely resembling a major label, those concerns are probably going to be overridden by the contractual agreements the musican signed with the label.

    Futhermore, copy machines in libraries cost money to use. The $0.10 or $0.25 you pay per page is exponentially higher than what a RoadRunner user pays for the folder after folder of freely shared music.

    The judge isn't comparing apples to apples.

    I'd say the judge is

    I'd say the judge is correct. There are perfectly legitimate uses of file sharing of IP that do not violate IP rights. If I'm entitled to make archival copies of media I've purchased then there is no violation of IP rights if I get the archival copies from another owner of the media via file sharing. Certainly many use file sharing to violate IP rights but that is no reason to ban file sharing, any more than the fact that people use other technologies to violate rights is a reason to ban them.

    The comparison to copying machines is apt.

    Mr. Kennedy, I'm not

    Mr. Kennedy, I'm not defending the current system or advocating the prohibition of file sharing. I just don't think the judge's comparison was apt. For one thing, the entities in the example aren't comparable. One is a (near)free market of individuals going about their economic business. The other is an arm of the state and all the questions of the legitimacy of it's actions that entails.

    For another, a copy machine at a library isn't likely to be used to copy entire books - it's there to copy small portions in page-size units. File sharing services give you what the users are willing to share, and since what the vast majority of users want are full-length, high-quality songs, they aren't going to be sharing 3-, 5-, or 10-second clips.

    Chaz is right to point out

    Chaz is right to point out that a fundamental distinction between copying on machines and file sharing is that machine copying is only practical when used for small portions. Not even artists themselves have problems with tiny samples of their music being distributed.

    Unfortunately, stealing CDs worth of songs is inordinately easy. While that doesn't mean that file sharing itself should be illegal, Canada, as well as everyone else, should make more of an effort to crack down on the thievin'. Too bad it's impractical.

    It's not a difference in

    It's not a difference in priciple guys, it's simply possible to violate IP rights more efficiently with a PC in many cases.

    And you can violate rights efficiently with a handgun too.

    There is no violation of rights intrinsic in providing any of these technologies which can be used for good or ill.

    Your site is really good.

    Your site is really good.