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We cannot enforce a law which society does not accept

Is sharing music really a crime? Should personal data protection be put above companies´ economic interests or can we give a film distributor personal data about people who illegally download his film? How does one cope with second-hand software?  

Almost forty young law students from five countries dealt with these questions at the Summer School of ICT law in Wrócław in Poland.  The School, held at the beginning of September, was organized by five European universities, including Masaryk University via its working group for law and ICT at the Faculty of Law. It is the only activity of its kind in Europe. One of the lecturers was Andreas Wiebe, professor of information and communication technology (ICT) law at the Wirtschaftsuniversität in Vienna.

You are interested in intellectual property law. Besides copyright and patents this includes ICT law. Thanks to the development of the internet, law has to deal with many new questions. What are the hot topics in this field at the moment?
One of the big topics is the illegal downloading of files and the exchanging of these with others via P2P networks. Today this means in particular the sharing of music and also films that often haven´t been distributed in cinemas yet. In recent years cases have been heard in court where big companies only had IP addresses of users and have required from internet providers data on the identity of persons who have downloaded their files illegally. But providers didn´t want to give them the data. It went all the way to court and the companies won most of the cases.

Do you personally think that these data should be given to recording companies?

The connection between an IP address and the identity of a person who has downloaded a film from this address, is not openly available. That´s why this connection is protected by data protection laws and telecommunications secrecy. I think this data should be given to companies only directly by the court. A judge – after considering all possible information in a particular case  – can refuse to release the data or conversely order their release to a firm.


In your opinion – is sharing music a crime?
When you hurt somebody or you steal something, then it is a crime and everyone understands this. But in the case of downloading and sharing music it is a big problem, especially in the meaning by which these activities are accepted in society. In this situation maybe we should start thinking of changes to copyright. We cannot enforce a law which society hardly accepts at all. Recording companies or film studios should think about other ways than applying pressure for the tightening of regulations or the banning of these activities.

In one of the comparative sessions you talked with students about a case of second-hand software.
Yes, but in these cases we are talking about something different – this is about companies buying excess licences and trying to resell them. This question – if the practice is indeed possible in spite of the disagreement of the copyright owner – still hasn´t been solved. We could compare this with the reselling of used cars. But the main difference is that digitally you can spread information in a file many more times. I personally agree with the opinion which says that the selling of second-hand software shouldn´t be possible without the permission of the copyright owner, and contemporary practice confirms this opinion.

Some of the Summer School´s participants could become ICT lawyers. How do you see the future of these graduates?
 In the last two years in particular we have seen increasing interest on the part of firms in lawyers with such skills. Their big advantage is that besides the knowledge they have about different types of law they understand a lot about technology. Nowadays this specific field of law is developing really fast – new situations arise which have to be reacted to. It is a big challenge that very often we still haven´t got a settled interpretation practice or precedents for it. All this lies behind the big demand for ICT lawyers.