Two copywrongs don’t make a right

EDMONTON (CUP) – In a somewhat surprising move last month, Lily Allen came out heavily in support of proposed U.K. anti-file sharing legislation. The "three-strikes" legislation, which would ban copyright infringers from the Internet after three offences, has been called heavy-handed by many, including fellow artists like Pink Floyd and Radiohead.

Allen believed so heavily in her anti-infringement stance that she created a blog, entitled "It's Not Alright,” to speak out against file sharing. Featuring posts from musicians on the pro-punishment side of the debate, the blog initially looked somewhat promising, providing a counterpoint to the hordes of pro-file sharing users on the web.

Promising, that is, until she did some unauthorized copying and distribution of her own. Seemingly unaware of the fact that copying text is equivalent to copying music, Allen copy-and-pasted an interview with 50 Cent from tech news site Techdirt, without attribution. And by without attribution, I mean entirely without attribution – Allen neglected to even put a courtesy link back to the original site, or post the name of the article’s author, or put anything on her blog indicating that she lifted the text wholesale from another source.

Naturally, the Internet erupted with comments on and criticism of Allen’s actions. Bloggers cried foul on her “do as I say, not as I do” attitude, and rightly so. But Allen, instead of gracefully accepting her wrong-doing, posted an all-caps “apology” to her blog, claiming it was “OVIOUS” [sic] that the words she posted weren’t hers.

However “ovious” as it may be, unfortunately, it’s still wrong. If Allen were a university student, her plagiarism would have her kicked out for academic dishonesty. At least the file sharers have the dignity to attribute the tracks being passed around the Internet to their original creators.

But it didn’t end there. Eager Techdirt readers happened upon some more copyright infringement by Allen. Her website had a multitude of digital mix tapes available for download, with much of the content from artists other than herself, some from artists not even on her recording label – content that she had no right to distribute. If the three-strikes law had been in effect, Allen would’ve been booted off the Internet a long time ago.

Her defence? “I didn’t have a knowledge of the workings of the music industry back then.” Well, Lily, neither do many of the people sharing your tracks over the web, and they’d be punished no matter their excuse.

So what’s the lesson here? While I could go back and forth on the topics of file sharing, the music industry, and copyright, the core issue here is hypocrisy. In a medium where you’re often communicating one-on-one with your audience, transparency is key: the Internet doesn’t allow for someone to do one thing and turn around and say something else. Allen’s actions were wrong, but what’s even worse was the fact that she refused to admit any wrongdoing.

In the end, however, justice (in some form) was done, or at least seen to be done. Citing overwhelming “abuse” from commenters, Allen shut down her blog, and deleted all the content from it, pulling the mixtapes from her website as well. Her most recent Twitter update was simply “I am a neo-luddite, goodbye,” so it appears that she’s enacted the controversial three-strikes punishment upon herself, and left the Internet for good. She’s also left the music industry for good – in a statement last week, she said that she has no future plans to record any more albums.

It’s a pity how copyright infringement can hurt musicians.

// By Lucas Wagner
The Gateway (University of Alberta)

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