Of Vodafone, Copyright, Fair Use and Italy

Two days ago I wrote Does VODAFONE really ignore how copyright works? Why? to criticize the fact that the recently launched Vodafone InFamiglia website contained wrong statements about copyright like: “[Parents and teachers should] explain to students that downloading and sharing a file protected by copyright is a crime”.

Very quickly, through Twitter, my report came to be mentioned on Techdirt, where it generated several comments. Since I’ve seen similar reactions in other places I decided to put my answer to all such comments here in one place, to have only one link to spread around and, hopefully, only one discussion to follow about this story.

First of all, thanks to all Techdirt readers and to the others who commented about this story elsewhere, for their interest in my report! Next, some of these comments, at Techdirt and other places, belongs to a category that may be named, more or less, “Are Vodafone and/or Italy messing with Fair Use?". Regardless of the content of those comments, I think that it is not accurate to frame the debate in those terms.

It seems to me that the general problem here (because it is general, at least in Italy, please read about Google and the Communications Police or the Respect Creativity project, both linked from my first Vodafone post) has nothing whatever to do with fair use, either in the “reproductions on any medium made by a natural person for private use” form or in any other. Redistribution/downloading from the Internet is something else (regardless of if/when it is illegal, or if it should be illegal).

In fact, what I actually criticized in my Vodafone post is how the first version of the Vodafone InFamiglia website explained how things are BEFORE fair use even enters the picture. Fair use is “what you can do for free and without asking permission (format shifting, redistribution, quoting, copying, reselling…), with some copyright protected creative work that you got, AFTER you legally got it”.

Vodafone and others in Italy, instead (again, read the two stories re-linked above for concrete examples) were/are sending the message that, before you can even start wondering what fair use you may make of some copyright protected creative work, you may get it without paying only illegally.

Next, Berlusconi. One of the Techdirt readers commented (but again, I quote this just as an example/summary of stuff I’ve read elsewhere or received by email):

"Considering that Italy's Prime Minister is a billionaire that owns a bunch of newspapers and other entertainment ventures, this doesn't surprise me."

I understand that these days it’s almost impossible to speak of anything about Italy without throwing that person in the picture. And of course it’s a fact that he is a billionaire that owns a bunch of newspapers and other entertainment ventures and that he didn’t get there by loving sharing. However, it should be noted that, here in Italy, selective ignorance of both basic copyright facts and of the way in which creativity, business and digital technologies interact today isn’t by any means limited to Berlusconi, or to the Italian “right” in general.

I have already written about how left-area newspaper Repubblica recently said the very same things that I criticized in Vodafone’s website. There are also (italian article) several movie directors well known for not being fans of Berlusconi or the right that are mad about movies “stolen” from the Internet.

Oh, and I almost forgot the most important thing: after reading my original article and other critiques, Vodafone promptly corrected that part of its website! :-) For details, please see the update in my first Vodafone post.