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February 25, 2013

Printing error in law could mean more money for record companies

Filed under: IT,Technology by Branko Collin @ 1:20 pm

Here is some free advice for our government. If you want the difference between gigabit and gigabyte to be clear, do not abbreviate those words!

A small printing error has made it so that multinational record companies can pump even more of our tax money out of the country, at least in theory. In October last year the Ministry of Justice published a table of copyright levies in Staatsblad, the official government newspaper in which laws and decisions must be printed to become legal. Where the ministry wanted to write ‘gigabyte’, it wrote ‘Gb’, an abbreviation meaning gigabit. When talking about storage a byte typically contains 8 bits.

This means that legally speaking people who for example buy a smartphone with 2 gigabytes of storage would have to pay a higher price.

In practice this will likely not occur. Jochem Donker, a legal consultant working for Stichting Thuiskopie, the organisation that will collect the levies, told Webwereld: “We agreed upon gigabytes, so I find it hard to imagine that parliament suddenly changed its mind. This is probably a capslock error. I expect we will not abuse this.” Several lawyers called the use of ‘gigabit’ “an apparent mistake” (kennelijke verschrijving).

The ministry has decided that it will not correct the text until the levies are up for revision in 2014. “If we had meant gigabit, we would have written Gbps.” Fail! Gbps means ‘gigabit per second’. Later the spokesperson admitted that the ministry had made a mistake. “But it is evident that we meant ‘gigabyte’. The reports of the lower house also say ‘gigabyte’.”

Here is more free advice. If you desperately do want to use abbreviations, for instance because you are printing a table and the columns aren’t very wide, explain your abbreviations in a legend.

(Image: Staatsblad)

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June 28, 2008

There is such a thing as illegal downloading, says judge

Filed under: Film,Music,Online by Branko Collin @ 4:14 pm

In a case that at its surface did not seem to have much to do with the legality of downloading music and films, a three-headed court in The Hague has declared that downloading from an illegal source is itself illegal (Dutch). The court baffled observers (Dutch) by failing to specify why it would be illegal, other than referring to a three step European Union test that downloading apparently fails.

The Netherlands has an exemption to copyright that says that copies made for private use are not infringing, regardless of whether the author was paid or not. Originally this law applied at a time when ordinary people could not easily make exact copies, and when negotiating a contract with every author about every copy would have been too much of a burden on all concerned. With the advent of the personal computer and the internet as perfect copying and communication tools this law has come under fire, even though studies show that for instance the average musician suffers no ill consequences from downloading.

In order to pay authors for supposed losses they suffer from private copying, the law allows for authors’ organisations to collect levies from users, for instance by having users pay extra for blank media. These levies are then distributed to the authors. This law suit centered on levies: a rights organization was sued by makers of blank media over the way it calculated the height of levies. One of the questions put to the court was: is downloading a form of private copying? If it is not, then rights organisations have no legal right to raise levies for it. That though for some strange reason was not a conclusion the court was willing to draw. If a law becomes so out of touch with the times that even the professionals don’t know how to apply it anymore, what chances do mere mortals stand?

(The three step test is in Directive 2001/29/EC, paragraph 5: “The [private copying] exceptions and limitations [...] shall only be applied in certain special cases which do not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work or other subject-matter and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the rightholder.”)

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