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3 Insane Ways Companies Are Using Copyrights to Bully You

Even the Napster generation has to admit that, on a certain level, copyright law is pretty sick. If we didn't protect the rights of creative people to be able to make money off the stuff they involuntarily squirt out of their brains, then the careers of Stan Lee, Steven Spielberg, and whoever invented inspirational cat posters would've amounted to nothing more than whatever they could throw together on the bus home from the fat-rendering plant. Copyright law protects creators and gives them the incentive to create more, and they need that protection, because God help them if they ever dissatisfy us.

But like Doc Brown's time machine or a bitchin' singing voice, copyright law is an incredible power that can be used for both good and evil, and unfortunately, most of its tunes seem to be striking a particularly evil note. Because it turns out ...

#3. The Whole Point of Anti-Piracy Measures Is to Stop You from Doing Legal Things

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You're probably most familiar with copyright bullshit from your dealings with DRM, or digital rights management. It's a technological quirk that can be as simple as preventing you from playing a DVD from the wrong region or as infuriating as a video game that won't let you play single player unless you're online. That shit may seem stupider than a coffee enema, but it's just a side effect of security measures, right? That's understandable, at least -- I want the people behind House of Cards to make money, because that show inspired me to spend the rest of my life making stupid analogies in a broad Southern accent. In my book, those folks have earned the shit out of their retirement just for that.

Actually, there's a big secret: DRM isn't about preventing privacy; it's about stifling innovation. The fewer things a company lets you do with the stuff they sell you, the less you can tinker with it, and the less likely you are to come up with a newer, better idea. And that's not just speculation -- an actual empirical study found that DRM is stopping more legal things from happening than illegal things. A blind woman who couldn't get her screen reader to read aloud the Bible e-book that she had legally purchased ended up being forced to pirate a copy. Of the Bible. Then there's the arguably worse situation that happened to me, where I wasn't able to take a screenshot of my Aliens Blu-ray to use as my desktop because Blu-ray doesn't let you take screenshots -- even though it's totally legal and I really really wanted to.

Image Source/Photodisc/Getty Images
So now I just have this.

As tragic as it is that the world will never see the high-res collage of Hudson's freakout faces that exists in my mind, the real point here is that all the crap they feed us about "preventing piracy" is just an excuse -- the reality is that they want to use DRM to control the market. That's exactly why the MPAA and RIAA wanted to make it illegal to break DRM -- even if it meant putting your life in danger. And now that you know how their priorities shake out, it shouldn't surprise you that ...

#2. Companies Are Using Our Limited Understanding of Copyright Law to Bully Us

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Confession time: I'm not normally much of a sportser, but ever since Seattle's Football Group crushed whoever the opposing group was in the Super Bowl, I've been riding pretty high on the inflated sense of self-worth that comes with being the Nation's Master Footballers. But as a noob, I thought it was weird how all the bars advertised their parties by talking about the "Big Game" instead of the "Super Bowl." I mean, I get that all of us in the Pacific Northwest are hipsters and fiercely uninterested in stuff everyone else likes, but if it's your fucking job to scribble a notice on a blackboard, you can at least use your retro flip phone to text your friend and ask him to Google what "the big thing happening tonight" is, right? How else will we know this isn't a bait and switch?

Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"Here, just put this up. True football fans will know what it means."

The answer (as you probably know) is that the NFL insists that it's illegal for anyone to use the phrase "Super Bowl" in their advertising unless they're an official sponsor, which is (as you probably didn't know) complete horseshit. There's no reason you can't use "Super Bowl" in casual reference to it existing, because if it were illegal to do that, that law would be completely insane. It's totally fine for Cracked (or anyone else) to talk about the Super Bowl because just using the phrase doesn't automatically imply sponsorship, and if I wrote "Seahawks Super Bowl Champs 2014" on my wall, the only crime anyone could accuse me of is being a poseur. And yet everyone, from newspapers to my favorite bar, heeded the NFL's threats. The ironic part is that by placing such strict controls on how people can reference the Super Bowl, they're hurting every local business' ability to capitalize on the event, even though stimulating the local economy is their justification for existing in the first place -- but they don't give a fuck. They once sued a church for showing the game on a big screen TV. The NFL cares as much about the human social construct of morality as an exterminator cares about the standard of living in a termite colony.

The issue is that even though copyright law impacts our day-to-day lives, most people don't have the slightest clue how it works. How many times have you seen the words "I do not own this video!" in the "about" section of a movie clip that's been illegally uploaded to YouTube, apparently written under the impression that admitting you're doing something illegal somehow makes it legal, even though that's the dumbest thing anyone has ever thought.

Doug Menuez/Photodisc/Getty Images
"No, I tweeted that I was selling crack to children, so this doesn't count! Loophole!"

But the NFL thing isn't even the worst example. A DMCA takedown notice is a legal request to remove illegally used copyrighted material, and big corporations have a habit of blasting them all over the face of any website that looks at them funny. Even if you know you haven't done anything illegal, disobeying that notice can be scary because it involves opening yourself up to lawsuit, and if you posted your copyright-infringing creation on a third-party website, like YouTube, sometimes they won't even let you file the counter-notice. So if you post a negative review of a movie and use a clip from that movie to prove your point (which is totally legal under fair use) and then post that clip to YouTube, the people who own the rights to that movie can shut your butt down. It doesn't matter who's right: In a legal fight, the advantage always goes to whoever has a huge team of lawyers on payroll.

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J.F. Sargent

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