It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.
This slightly anarchistic, yet intuitively true and acceptable statement has been on my mind many times lately. In Finland the public discussion about copyright often circulates around some legislative questions and arguments for and against certain standpoints. I call this "the EFF tradition". In contrast in Sweden and some other Northern European countries the people active in this discussion represent the Pirate Party line. (Which also exists in Finland but is newly founded and not a dominant voice yet.) While the Finnish discussion follows the EFF-like traditions - raising questions like DRM is bad - the Pirate Party goes right for the other extreme: legalise "piracy" altogether. (Note than then it obviously wouldn't be called "piracy" anymore.) In practice, the stances of EFF/EFFI and the Pirate Party are quite close to each other, for instance on privacy issues or software patents, but the public image and the means towards the end are completely opposite.
Helsinki recently hosted the Eurovision Song Contest 2007. Related to this a comical YouTube-figure Markku from Finland made his appearance some time in 2006. Markku from Finland is a stereotypical (and embarrasingly so) Finn, who is eager to present Finland to all those tourist coming to the ESC. As Markku is an avid sport fan the videos always start with some familiar music that is often used as a theme in Finnish (YLE) broadcasts of the Ice Hockey championships.
So now for the crucial question: Did (the producers of) Markku pay the collecting society Teosto for the right to use this music on YouTube? I'm pretty sure he didn't. Did anyone care? No, everyone in Finland was just happy and proud for his success, it would have been absurd if some Teosto lawyer to raise the issue. (Not that they don't do a lot of absurd demands already - come to think of it...) Markku's character became so popular that he got his own TV show during the weeks running up to the ESC final. These episodes too are on YouTube and by the way, on these "professionally produced" ones the music is now gone.
Some months ago I was interviewed for Finnish radio about the Google Books project and the lawsuit by authors and publishers against it. While on some very technical grounds it might be true that Google is in breach of copyright - since during the scanning process the scanner makes copies of the books onto it's tiny microchips - the lawsuit is in my opinion silly. Google is not out to publish the books on the net or anything, it is actually creating a search service so that users could find and buy more books. So while the Google scanning apparatus might technically be breaking copyright, the intent of what Google is trying to do is not.
And by the way, did you ever realise, that the Google search engine itself is against copyright too? For the search engine to work, Google makes a copy of the whole Internet. So who gave Google permission to copy my homepage? I'm sure I didn't. And did Google pay some money-collecting organisation for doing it? Nope.
And this is exactly my point, which I think I didn't fully realise before. As the world is changing to a more digital one, you can waste your time arguing about what is allowed by some 100 year old legislation, waiting for it to possibly change, or you can just go ahead and do what you intend, and perhaps create something revolutionary yourself. Just go ahead, you don't need the permission!