The Digital Media Project



Michael Topic


TRU #73 to share content with members of a group





Michael Topic

Affiliation/additional information:

The Tropical Group Ltd.

Date submitted:







Name of TRU

TRU to share content with members of a group


Summary description of TRU

Sharing content with members of a group is distinct from sharing content via a public performance.  This TRU is typically enjoyed in the private domain, where the group comprises people with whom the licensee of the content has some acquaintance, either through long-standing friendships, familial relationships or even as mere passing strangers.  Traditionally, people rarely share their content, in the context of a private rendering of that work, with an anonymous group of total strangers. 

Some sharing is serial, in that the work is passed from the first purchaser of the content, to other people, once the first purchaser has finished with it.

Other content sharing with members of a group is concurrent, where all members of the group witness a single rendering of the work simultaneously.

  • Some types of content are typically for personal consumption (a book) – this is an example of serial sharing, where the book can only be read by a single person at a time and is passed to other readers, either when the first reader has finished, or chapter-by-chapter, between a husband and wife, for example.  The book can be gifted or sold, with no infringement of the author’s copyrights.
  • Others are typically shared (newspapers, magazines) – publishers of these works factor in the number of people that will typically consume a single copy into their business models, applying a multiplier to any sales of advertising impressions, for example.  Newspapers and magazines are often supported entirely by advertising revenues. The marginal production cost of the additional impressions of an ad attributable to second and subsequent readers is precisely zero, since no additional copies of the ad have to be printed to make an impression, whereas the advertiser has accepted each copy to represent some multiple of impressions, agreed by reference to audited readership survey data.  So there is economic advantage to the publisher of the magazine or newspaper in having the content shared.
  • Some are typically enjoyed in a group (a movie, a broadcast) – we like to gather in groups and watch things together, for the companionship of shared experience, to bond socially and to perhaps stimulate debate about the issues raised, after the movie or broadcast has finished.  Sharing content with members of a group concurrently plays an important part in creating and maintaining social relationships.
  • Some have both personal and group-wise consumption modalities (music) – sometimes we listen to music to facilitate the euphoria of solitude, at other times to study it in concentrated detail, still other times as background sonic wallpaper to our daily activities and yet others as a group social event.

Sometimes a member of the group, as the author of that work, owns the content that is shared, but often the content’s author is a third party.


Use records of TRU

There are many documented instances of sharing content with members of a group, including file sharing on peer-to-peer networks, playing movies in a home cinema for a select group of friends, acting as the DJ in an audio-enabled Internet chat room, deliberately leaving your newspaper on the train for others to read, placing books into the market for second hand books, reading aloud in literary study groups, gathering to watch the Superbowl on television with a group of friends, making a compilation tape of your favourite songs for your best friend, etc. 

Sharing content is primarily a social act, where generosity can be extended to others.


Nature of TRU

Many of the instances of sharing of content with a group are protected by the first sale doctrine, where the entitlement to control the use of an original work of authorship ends after the first sale of a copy of the work to a consumer.  After the consumer has bought their copy, it becomes their property, to do with it what they wish, unencumbered by the wishes of the author.

The law draws a distinction between public and private performance, tolerating the latter.  Private personal consumption is unregulated.  No author or any other agency has a right, under law, to examine what you are reading, listening to or viewing without your express consent.  By extension, the sharing of media with members of a group, whether formally or informally associated, has been largely unregulated.  Very few jurisdictions limit the right of free association of its citizens or the right to assemble however and wherever they wish.  The distinction between public and private performance seems to hinge upon whether or not a member of the audience for such a performance is exclusively qualified to join, in some way.  A performance made in a public space or where anyone can enter without restriction is public.  A performance made in a private space or where inclusion is by invitation or formal membership of an assembly is private.  There are certain to be many grey areas in between, which is why copyright law makes specific exclusions for some particular associations (such as prisons and oil rigs, for example).

Whereas the home taping act covers the duplication of works for personal use, to make format translations, for the convenience of movement of the content from player to player or to provide a backup against data loss, there is no implied permission to make copies for friends or members of a group.  However, this has been widely tolerated, since it would be inordinately expensive and oppressive, and not in the public interest, to prosecute each and every instance of making a copy for friends.  The effects of such copying can be ameliorated by a levy on blank tapes, DVDs or CDs, for example.  Traditionally, the act of copying involved a cost to the copier, in terms of the time taken, the reduction in quality in the copy due to generation loss and the cost of a blank, which tended to limit the extent of taping for friends. 

What has made copying for friends, as a means of sharing with members of a group, less tolerable to producers of copyright works is the speed with which a copy can be made, the very low cost of making the copy and the perfect reproduction of the original made possible by digital media.  Additionally, copies can be easily distributed globally.  Individual consumers have a cost and speed advantage over traditional media distributors, since the former can replicate a work of original authorship perfectly and distribute it globally within a short amount of time and at a very low cost, whereas traditional media distributors have tended to remain wedded to producing physical, shrink-wrapped copies of the work in capital intensive, central duplication plants, transporting these to consumers via wholesale networks and subsequently via retail outlets.

The perceived need to restrict sharing content with members of a group is the extent of content copying and/or the reach of broadcasting that can be achieved by individual consumers, at very low cost, with digital technology.  Content owners and producers wish to limit how many unlicensed copies can be made, how many people can share a single licensed copy and how many people can simultaneously experience a rendering of the licensed copyright work at any one time.  These limits were implicitly imposed by the nature of the technology for delivering content to consumers in the past, but with digital media, it is argued, these limits are no longer sufficiently restrictive.

Any restrictions placed on the sharing of content should not interfere with other TRUs, such as those personal rights of use enjoyed by consumers with content that has both personal and group-wise modalities. 


Benefits of TRU

People often define a significant part of their personalities and sense of identity by the types and styles of content they are interested in.  For that reason, people have traditionally shared their content to communicate or suggest qualities and attributes about themselves that they prize.  Books are passed to other readers both to give another person the opportunity of enjoying the work, but also to be seen as a generous person, with certain tastes and interests.  When a book is donated to a charity, for example, the person donating the book experiences an elevated sense of well being in having given their property freely for a good cause. 

Content sharing also has a social justice and wealth redistribution element, in that people that have purchased content will often give it to people that do not have the purchasing power to buy their own copy, or sell it to them at reduced rates, either directly or via the second hand market in content.  Because the content a person selects communicates much about their identity, the experience of sharing content concurrently in a group is a means of discovering social similarities and shared values amongst members of the group, which can have positive, community-enhancing or peer-group cementing effects. 

The purpose of sharing content with members of a group has been to extend pleasure, both to the person sharing the content (feeling good about sharing) and the group with whom they share it. 

The word “community” has its etymological roots in the concept of “giving amongst ourselves”; so sharing content with members of a group can be understood as a community building activity, which increases the stock of social capital in the world.

Sharing content with members of a group has a significant value to society, which should not be discounted by limiting the discussion to purely economic arguments (private capital).


Possible digital support

Technologies to Limit the Extent of Copying

         Pay-per-copy levies, analogous to a levy on blank media, with proceeds distributed to a pool of copyright owners, or to the artist whose work is being copied.

         Reference counting, to limit the number of copies made from a single master (e.g. serial copy protection bit and broadcast flag).

         Disallow repeat copies or renderings (private performances) from a single item of content for fixed periods of time (a week must elapse before another copy can be made, for example).

         Destructive copying – a copy from source to destination destroys the source.

         Sharing by invitation only, with named individuals – limit the number of participants in a private online audiovisual chat room, for example.

         Artificially inject digital noise in the copied digital media, degrading the quality of the copy compared to the original.

         Permit unlimited copying of excerpts, but use DRM to gate copies of the entire media file.

         Differential pricing, controlled by DRM, based on the time elapsed since the media was first released, becoming cheaper to license, the older it is (thus creating a disincentive to unlicensed copying).

         Watermark digital copies with both the identity of the source and the identity of the person making the copy.

Technologies to Limit the Reach of Sharing

         Copying limited to local network neighbourhood addresses (imposing small worlds).

         Copying limited to specific branches or domains of the network.

         Copying limited to pre-defined geographies.

         Reference counting to limit the number of serial copies made from a single source. (The copyright holder can choose the number of serial copies they permit).

         Permit sharing only to explicitly named group members.

         Limit the number of concurrent group members with whom the content is shared.

         Limit the total number of other people that the content is ever shared with, over the duration of the copyright protection.

         Reference counting (or estimation) to limit the number of simultaneous copies in existence at any given moment, over the entire population of copies, to some multiplier of the number actually sold to date.

Technologies to Clearly Delineate Online Private Performances

         Publishing listings of the content you have available to share, in a machine searchable way and available to persons unknown to you, perhaps constitutes public performance rather than private.

         Sharing content in a private, invitation-only, online audiovisual chat room, with limited membership numbers, constitutes a private performance.

         A condition of participating in a shared virtual data space, such as a shared document repository in a collaborative workgroup, for example, may be the waiving of your rights to control access to and copies of original works of authorship that you contribute to the shared data space.

Technologies to Adequately Compensate Copyright Owners for Unlimited Copying and Sharing

         Price content according to some multiplier representing the average number of users with whom it is expected the content will be shared, as determined by audited circulation surveys.

         Enlist consumers as content distributors, permitting users to redistribute content, so long as the copyright owner gets paid (and the redistributors also gets paid).

         Permit a single philanthropic licensee to bulk-purchase licenses in a work, perhaps at a discounted rate, allowing the licensee to give those copies away for free, to whomever he or she chooses.

Technologies to Enhance Access to Content for People with Limited Purchasing Power

         Differential pricing controlled by DRM, relative to the net worth of the consumer.  The more their net worth, the more they pay to license a copy and vice versa. (Simulates the traditional second hand market, but with a continuum of pricing levels for people of differing economic status).

         Allow content owners to waive most but not all of their copyrights, publishing their works into the public domain, under a creative commons license, for example.

Technologies to Protect Metadata Representing Personal Preferences for Content

         Class the metadata representing a person’s preferences for particular content as “content” itself and protect the copyright of that listing of favourites with DRM technology, so that the person’s information about their personal content preferences can be monetised or offset against the cost of licensing content.



Any devices designed to limit the extent and reach of media dissemination, when used in the context of sharing content with members of a group, requires some harmonisation of the laws governing what is legitimately tolerated and permitted, over all jurisdictions.

Limitations to sharing content with members of a group must not prevent all sharing, since sharing has a value measurable as social capital.

Limitations to sharing content with members of a group must not restrict other rights, such as rights of personal, private consumption, where that content has multiple modalities of use.