Does VODAFONE really ignore how copyright works? Why?

(update 2011/03/24: good news from Vodafone, see bottom of this page)

Here we go again. According to Italian newspaper Repubblica, Telecom giant Vodafone just launched in Italy an educational website for a more responsible use of computers and mobile phones called InFamiglia (“in the family”): “a community site dedicated to parents, children and teachers, that will contain guides and interactive services that will help adults to get more familiar with new technologies and will teach children how to use them without risks”.

Does VODAFONE really ignore how copyright works? Why? /img/vodafone_in_famiglia.png

Why do I say “here we go again”? Because the second suggestion on the Music, photos and video of the Vodafone portal InFamiglia, see the bottom right corner of the screenshot on the right, reads:

"Spiegare ai ragazzi che scaricare e condividere un file coperto dal diritto d'autore รจ un reato"
TRANSLATION: "`[Parents and teachers should]` explain to students that downloading and sharing a file protected by copyright is a crime"

But this is not true, in the sense that it is not true for all files. Downloading a file protected by copyright is a crime in some cases, but only when that file has not been released by its copyright holders with licenses that allow for its redistribution. Such licenses do exist and are already used to publish countless creative works, as everybody can discover in a few minutes by visiting the Creative Commons website.

Too bad, because from a quick, incomplete look the material offered to explain other topics on the same website may seem obvious, but at least it’s explained in a simple manner and without blatant errors.

Does VODAFONE really ignore how copyright works? Why? /img/vodafone_infamiglia2.png

As far as copyright and file downloads are concerned, instead, continuing to explore the Vodafone InFamiglia portal only makes things worse. The “What I must know about illegal downloading” section goes as far as saying (see screenshot):

  • A download can be carried out lawfully, on dedicated online stores such as Apple’s iTunes, but also through peer-to-peer programs that allow you to download content without paying for it, therefore illegally

  • Besides, many children are not aware that downloading content without buying it them are breaking the law …

Both statements above shamelessly stress (and this would be a site where experts give advice?) the notion that “downloading without paying = illegal, crime”. A notion that is, I repeat, just solemn nonsense.

Downloading without paying is illegal only for works published using the formula “all rights reserved”. But there are truckloads of new software, songs, books and videos that are legally downloadable from the Internet without paying because they have a different license, that their authors could impose just because their works are protected by copyright law.

It is very bad that a company like Vodafone, that can afford battalions of lawyers and other experts spreads misinformation in this way. This is even more serious, in Italy, because unfortunately, Vodafone’s InFamiglia is not the only high-level initiative in the country that perpetuates the “downloading without paying is always illegal” hoax.

Here in Italy, we’ve already seen saying, or at least implicitly encouraging the same confusion Google and the Communications Police, the European Music Copyright Alliance with his Respect Creativity project and, among many others, another article by Repubblica about music and software piracy full of cliches and inaccuracies. But an objectively plain wrong statement remains such even if many repeat it. Why does this happen?

Does VODAFONE really ignore how copyright works? Why? /img/vodafone_in_famiglia_20110324.png

Update 2011/03/24: today at noon I got from Vodafone an email saying that, after reading this page, “as you suggested, we added to that section of the website with mentions of public domain, Creative Commons licenses and Open Source Software"; and indeed, if you visit now that Vodafone InFamiglia page, you can see that (cfr. the screenshot on the left), even if there still is room for improvement, things are much better than yesterday. Thanks, Vodafone.