In his paper Infringement Nation: Copyright Reform and the Law/Norm Gap, law professor John Tehranian explains how the normal activities (see pp. 543-48) of a typical Internet user–he takes an “average American, …take an ordinary day in the life of a hypothetical law professor named John”–someone who does not even engage in P2P file sharing–could result in up to $4.5 billion in potential liability annually, for copyright infringement. The acts include:
-having his email program “automatically reproduce the text to which he is responding in any email he drafts. Each unauthorized reproduction of someone else’s copyrighted text—their email—represents a separate act of brazen infringement, as does each instance of email forwarding….” (twenty emails in an hour: $3 million in statutory damages);
-distributing in his Constitutional Law class copies of three just-published Internet articles presenting analyses of a Supreme Court decision handed down only hours ago;
-absentmindedly doodling a sketch of the Guggenheim museum on a notepad during a boring faculty meeting, i.e. making an unauthorized derivative work;
-reading a 1931 e.e. cumming poem to his Law and Literature class, an unauthorized public performance;
-emailing to his family five pictures his friend took of a local football game–his friend owns the copyright;
-having a Captain Caveman tattoo and revealing it while swimming at the local university pool: violating Hanna-Barbera’s copyright by the reproduction and public display;
-singing Happy Birthday to a friend at a restaurant and recording it on his smartphone videocamera, an unauthorized public performance and reproduction of a copyright-protected work–as is the painting on the wall of the restaurant that is captured in the video footage; and
-reading on his email a magazine that itself has clips of interesting items from other publications, a contributory infringement leading to up to $7.5 million of liability.
Obviously, some of the scenarios are a little more far-fetched than others. However, the very first item is very concerning: copyright violations occur when you reply to an email?! Are you serious?