How Many Times A Day Do You Violate Copyright Laws Without Even Realizing It

Mike Masnick
May 7, 2014


Nearly seven years ago, we wrote about a paper from law professor John Tehranian, in which he detailed just how much he likely accidentally infringed on copyright law each and every day, just doing normal things. He later turned it into an entire book, called Infringement Nation: Copyright 2.0 and You (which, insanely, is priced at $39.99 for the ebook — who thought that was a good idea?). Here was a snippet from his paper:

“By the end of the day, John has infringed the copyrights of twenty emails, three legal articles, an architectural rendering, a poem, five photographs, an animated character, a musical composition, a painting, and fifty notes and drawings. All told, he has committed at least eighty-three acts of infringement and faces liability in the amount of $12.45 million (to say nothing of potential criminal charges). There is nothing particularly extraordinary about John’s activities. Yet if copyright holders were inclined to enforce their rights to the maximum extent allowed by law, he would be indisputably liable for a mind-boggling $4.544 billion in potential damages each year. And, surprisingly, he has not even committed a single act of infringement through P2P file sharing. Such an outcome flies in the face of our basic sense of justice. Indeed, one must either irrationally conclude that John is a criminal infringer — a veritable grand larcenist — or blithely surmise that copyright law must not mean what it appears to say. Something is clearly amiss. Moreover, the troublesome gap between copyright law and norms has grown only wider in recent years.”

Just about the same time that Tehranian’s paper came out back in 2007, we also pointed to a different research paper, by professor Tom Bell, in which he argued that the term “intellectual property” was misleading, and that it should really be called “intellectual privilege” as that was much more accurate. Years later, Bell has now published his own book on Intellectual Privilege, arguing why copyright law needs to be massively scaled back.

To help promote the book, Bell has recorded an amusing video not all that different from Tehranian’s premise, highlighting just how much accidental infringement you do on a daily basis — and, yes, it includes the singing of Happy Birthday, so I’m surprised Warner hasn’t killed the video yet.

Now, some will argue that this is silly because no one is actually going after these kinds of “incidental” infringements, but Bell’s point is pretty clear: “the fact that no one thinks copyright law should be fully enforced, demonstrates the need for reform.” In fact, he notes that pretty much everyone agrees that full enforcement is “undesirable and counterproductive.” And, really that should be a clear sign of just how flawed the law itself is.