Technologies which assist in copyright violation exist in realms outside of cyberspace. Photocopiers and dual-tape decks (which facilitate the easy dubbing of cassettes) are just a few examples of such types of technologies.

Since technology-related copyright violation is not a new problem, it seems to make sense to adopt the same philosophy toward the cyberspace-inspired technologies as has been adopted towards their predecessors. With the exception of those technologies which we have explicitly noted as being actually and inherently illegal, our research has led us to resolve that, although these technologies occasionally facilitate illegal behavior, they are best left unregulated and unconstrained.

There are four major reasons we advocate this philosophy:

Although the manufacturers of technology should not be held responsible for the crimes committed with their technology, we cannot escape the fact that crimes are occurring and that there are grieved parties (namely those whose copyrights are being abused) who have a reasonable expectation that the government enforce the laws put in place to protect them. The problems with enforcement are two-fold. First, tracking copyright violations is difficult. How can the government or any other regulatory agent detect and punish copyright violations? Right now, copyright violations are only enforced when the infractions are egregious. The chances of the cocky guy down the hall getting caught and charged for the copyright violations he committed when creating his 1000+ MP3 collection are relatively slim. It simply too difficult to micro-manage copyright violations.

The other problem with enforcement is that our society glamorizes, or in the very least disregards, copyright violations. If you make a tape mixing together your favorite songs, no one thinks twice. If you avoid the cost of buying a book by photocopying the few relevant pages, you are applauded for being so resourceful. It is this societal attitude that promotes the type of technology-assisted copyright infringement that our project concerns. Until that societal opinion is altered, we will continue to see these types of small-scale crimes committed a rampant basis.

In the face of the information age, when copies of knowledge may very well be our most valuable commodity, the severity with which copyright violations are addressed will become undoubtedly become a major issue for legislators and the courts. In the future, a way of detecting copyright infringements and applying penalties that make people take the crime more seriously will need to be found.


Ted LeVan   |   Huat Chye Lim   |   Marissa Mayer   |   Ann Rose Van

Computer Science 201 Final Project
Stanford University, March 1999