Monday, November 10, 2008

COPYRIGHT VS. CULTURE

Cory Doctorow, Locus Magazine - Until a very short time ago, copyright was an industrial regulation. If you fell under copyright's domain, it meant that you were using a piece of extraordinary industrial apparatus - a printing press, a motion-picture camera, a record press. The cost of this apparatus was significant, so adding a couple hundred bucks for the services of a skilled copyright attorney to the deal wasn't much of a hardship. It merely tacked a couple percentage points of overhead onto the cost of doing business.

When non-industrial entities (e.g., people, schools, church groups, etc.) interacted with copyrighted works, they did things that copyright law didn't have anything to say about: they read books, they listened to music, they sang around the piano or went to the movies. They discussed this stuff. They sang it in the shower. Retold it (with variations) to the kids at bedtime. Quoted it. Painted murals for the kids' room based on it. . .

Enter the Internet and the personal computer. These two technologies represent a perfect storm for bringing ordinary peoples' ordinary activity into the realm of copyright: every household has the apparatus to commit mass acts of infringement (the PC) and those infringements take place over a public conduit (the Internet) that can be cheaply monitored, allowing for low-cost enforcement against ordinary people by the thousand.

Copyright law valorizes copying as a rare and noteworthy event. On the Internet, copying is automatic, massive, instantaneous, free, and constant. Clip a Dilbert cartoon and stick it on your office door and you're not violating copyright. Take a picture of your office door and put it on your homepage so that the same co-workers can see it, and you've violated copyright law, and since copyright law treats copying as such a rarified activity, it assesses penalties that run to the hundreds of thousands of dollars for each act of infringement. . .

The reason copyright exists is because culture creates a market for creative works. If there was no market for creative works, there'd be no reason to care about copyright.

Content isn't king: culture is. The reason we go to the movies is to have something to talk about. If I sent you to a desert island and told you to choose between your records and your friends, you'd be a sociopath if you chose the music.

Culture's imperative is to share information: culture is shared information. . .

The natural inclination of anyone who is struck by a piece of creative work is to share it. . .

It's entirely possible that there's a detente to be reached between the copyists and the copyright holders: a set of rules that only try to encompass "culture" and not "industry." But the only way to bring copyists to the table is to stop insisting that all unauthorized copying is theft and a crime and wrong. . .

Because if copying on the Internet were ended tomorrow, it would be the end of culture on the Internet too. YouTube would vanish without its storehouse of infringing clips; LiveJournal would be dead without all those interesting little user-icons and those fascinating pastebombs from books, news-stories and blogs; Flickr would dry up and blow away without all those photos of copyrighted, trademarked and otherwise protected objects, works, and scenes. . .

If culture loses the copyright wars, the reason for copyright dies with it.

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