Let’s talk law. Specifically, let’s talk about copyright law, and due process.

Disclosure: I am not an attorney. But I know a thing or three about copyrights, patents, and trademarks, consult on intellectual property issues, and as a business person with several decades of experience reading and often writing contracts feel pretty comfortable talking about what “Due Process” means. Short definition: you’re supposed to get a chance to work through the legal system when someone has a problem with something you’ve done.

Yesterday, PCWorld reported that The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a “friend of the court” brief skewering Warner Brothers for the manner in which they’ve been issuing “take down” requests against allegedly copyright-infringing web sites.

I’ve commented before that the EFF often pursues pointless problems; like the Better Business Bureau; it’s a toothless organization better at promoting its supposed importance than actually protecting the people it claims to help. Not this time; Warner Brothers needs to be called out for what they’re doing, and this case could (and should) change the process under which copyrights are pursued to one that takes the word “due” back into account.

Particularly in light of recent changes to laws (or how they’re pursued) limiting the use of so-called “robo-signers” in mortgage foreclosures, this should be a no-brainer. Warner Brothers’ defense of the practices they’re using to go after copyright infringers is that since a computer is doing the work and people never examine what the computers are doing, they shouldn’t be liable for errors.


Holy cow. So not only is due process being ignored, but legal issues are on the table and there isn’t even an accuser to confront!

Copyright law walks a funny line between incredibly simple and amazingly arcane. You don’t even need to apply for a copyright to own one. It’s automatic; if you write/create/compose a work of art, you “have copyright” in that work. I have copyright in the words you’re reading right now.

And as the copyright holder, I have rights that I can re-assign and license to others. I’ve granted a clearinghouse rights to resell these words under certain circumstances, and they’re used, for example, by LexisNexis, who pay for the privilege.

But if someone infringes on my copyrights, my ability to take them to court is lessened—even eliminated—unless I register those copyrights. So I own the copyrights, but defending them against infringers becomes tricky.

Then again, anything you do in a courtroom is tricky; it’s why we have attorneys and why most of them will encourage most of their clients under most circumstances to stay out of courtrooms.

Tricky, huh?

Instead of turning this article into a commercial for why you should Hire The Answer Guy to walk you through the steps of handling business transactions without going to court, I’ll just leave you with some fun reading on trademarks and copyrights, and encourage you to make noise wherever possible about due process issues:

Now, get out there, and make business change. But please: keep due process in mind, whichever side of things you’re working from.

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