~ How I See It ~

By Finn61

A few people ask for my views on copyright and intellectual property laws. First, if you really want to know what I think copyright should be about and what it currently is not about, read this very good essay by Richard Stallman.

Misinterpreting Copyright by Richard Stallman

There's no point in me writing exactly the same thing when Stallman has explained so well how intellectual property laws are being misused by greedy monopolists with no regard for the good of the public.

You will get a much more concise, well executed, intelligent argument reading his essay, than you will trying to piece together my scraps of recalcitrant ramblings.

But if you must, here are some points in my own words...

I don't have a problem with copyright law. I do have a problem with people manipulating copyright law (and other IP laws) in order to create a cash cow monopoly. It is contrary to the original intention of copyright which was to provide authors of original works with a minimal amount of time in which they could monopolise the return for their toil.

The actual idea that an artist or author of an original work should be able to produce something and then be compensated indefinitely for that work is flawed and unfair in most western societies.

Most people get paid for the work they do, usually based on the time they spend doing it or sometimes a once off set amount. If I do a days hard work on Monday, I don't expect to kick back for the rest of the week at home and still expect to get 5 days pay.

But for some reason, if you are a content creator, you expect to be exempt from this model of toil and renumeration. You can expect to put in some hard work creating something, and if you did a good enough job, kick back and keep getting paid.

Importantly, it's not always the artists that are doing the kicking back. It's others who have bought the rights and profess some sort of legal ownership of the art.

So I don't really buy into the whole 'poor starving artists' argument. The irony is that the 'poor artists' might be going to work every day in some animation sweatshop, for an hourly wage like the rest of us, to create content which some corporation will monopolise for 90 plus years.

It sounds harsh but I think artists should stop expecting to be compensated for their art for more than a reasonable initial period. If they want to continue to be compensated then they should continue to produce.

And don't get suckered into thinking that artists will stop producing art if they no longer have the prospects of becoming unbelievebly rich. If anything, I think we would find that there would be less crap art being produced by not so skilled artists who are only in the game on the off chance that they are one of the few that become unbelievebly rich.

Of course this gradual increase in locking down intellectual property using law has artifically inflated it's value. And where there is money, naturally we find people clinging to these paradigms, lashing out at anyone or thing that threatens the status quo.

That's yet another thing that disturbs me about this emerging mess. The quite extreme punishment of IP crimes. I have no problem with penalising people for breaking the laws of society. I do have a real problem with the secret police kicking in your door in the middle of the night because your 15 year old daughter has been sharing the latest Britney album with her friends on the net.

It's really a manifestation of another apparent trend. The punishment for property crimes (any type of property, physical or intellectual) is becoming as harsh or harsher than the punishment for crimes against humanity. By that I mean physical crimes against another persons body, such as assault, rape, murder etc.

So when someone is being fined squillions of dollars and having lengthy jail terms dangled over their head because they downloaded mp3's and the wife beater in the next trial gets off with a 10 month suspended sentence I think we have some serious problems in our society.

As far as my own actions go, I have no qualms about the fact that I have infringed copyright. In my case it is purely opportunistic (ie.because I can). I sleep at night because I know we do spend some of our limited budget on actually buying entertainment media. The other stuff that we got for free we would NOT have been able to afford anyway, and that means it is NOT lost revenue for the content owners (contrary to what the RIAA, MPAA would have you believe).

Really, it's silly to think that because you have 'stolen IP' on your computer that you are somehow depriving the author (or whoever the author has sold away the rights to). Only if you would have otherwise paid for it and now you have decided not to, then you are depriving them. And I use that term stolen incorrectly, just as content owners use flawed logic to come up with preposterous figures of lost revenue (all based on the fantasy that anyone who downloaded something would otherwise have paid for it) there is no such thing as stealing copyright.

Property law and copyright law are two different things. If you take someones property unlawfully it is theft. If you use a work which is covered by copyright without paying/acknowledging the copyright owner, it is copyright infringement. Not theft. You haven't actually stolen anything tangible. You haven't removed anything from another persons possession. You have infringed copyright.

But it is just another example of the psychological spin being pushed by groups that have benefitted from these warped laws for far too long. Backs against the wall these parties would have us forget about the origins of copyright, how it once was, and have us believe that the way it is now is how it always has been, and oh how hard done by they are now that everyone is freely passing around popular art (which is essentially a part of modern culture) without paying for the privilege.

Coming next you can read what I think about software patents.

After that I might write something about what I think will happen to popular music.

Here's some more resources if you are interested in keeping abreast of these issues:

Weatherall's Law: An Intellectual Property Blog from Oz
Electronic Frontiers Australia - Intellectual Property On-line
Australian Digital Alliance

I've included some things here that have an expired copyright and are now in the public domain.

WARNING: Do not download and read this text if you are in the USA!

Nineteen eighty-four, by George Orwell

If you live in the USA then you connot legally download and view this text as the author died in 1950. US copyright law currently extends to 70 years after the authors death but if you are in Australia this work fell into the Public Domain at a time when Australian copyright law protected works for only 50 years after the authors death.

Australian law has since been harmonised by the US-AUS free trade agreement and on 1 Jan, 2005 copyright now extends for 70 years after the authors death. Fortunately it did not retrospectively revive any previously expired copyright so Australians can enjoy George Orwell while Americans will still have to pay for the privilege.

Superman: Electric Earthqauake (1942)

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You are deep inside SixtyOne - (c) Finn61