Previously, I expressed my desire to defuse the idea of a 'war on copyright' because it creates an artificial polarity that does not help to further the necessary discussion and debate that needs to take place on this increasingly important issue.
I pointed out that the only people
impacted by restrictive and intrusive DRM are legitimate users, who pay
an over-inflated price for an inferior product.
I suggested that these self-defeating practices that are impoverishing the creative industries might
be rectified by lowering the price of digital goods (the nominal
distribution cost of which is zero) and removing the DRM that more and
more closely resembles malware and spyware.
this second article, I would like to backtrack a little and explain
where I stand with respect to copyright, and why I think it is so
important for creators to receive suitable recompense for the products
they create, online or otherwise.
understanding of copyright is quite straightforward. I am no lawyer and I
have no special knowledge on the subject - please let me know if I have
anything wrong if you know more than I - but, as far as I understand
it, copyright is a protection against plagiarism that enables creators
to earn a living. That is it. I am sure that there are all sorts of
complicated legal precepts with which copyright is associated and I know
that there are hundreds of different licenses under which works can be
copyrighted, but, as far as I am concerned, the notion that creators be
paid for the products of their hearts and minds is perfectly fair and
Some argue that the 'digital
revolution' and resulting information abundance has made copyright
irrelevant, that the concepts of propriety and freedom are antithetical
in a digital world. This strikes me as wrong. Propriety is surely an
important part of freedom.
Why it matters
of the most eloquent and informed writers and speakers on the subject
of copyright and digital distribution is Corey Doctorow. He earns what
appears to be a very good living as a science fiction writer, technology
journalist and public speaker. Having worked as a computer programmer,
he knows about the technical realities of modern computing, and, having
worked for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, he is very well informed
about modern copyright law. I would not dream of contradicting him about
any of the finer details of what are called the copyright wars, but
which, I think, need a new name. As I am about to outline, I agree with
him in almost every respect, but one. Creators should be paid for
If you will allow me to
paraphrase, Corey Doctorow says that the copyright wars are the front
line of a coming war on general-purpose computation. Corporations and
control freaks like the idea of turning general-purpose computers - as
embodied by the PC (probably running Linux) - into tethered media
appliances with limited functionality and spyware as standard, all in
the name of security and convenience. Computing devices that match this
description are already available on the market - you may well be
reading this article on an Apple iPad, probably the most prevalent of
this new vanguard. The
fundamental point is that DRM is a slippy slope towards more
authoritarian forms of control that might limit access to digital
information. The solution therefore is for people to reject DRM in all
its forms - and I agree with all of that.
removing DRM and weakening copyright does not necessarily improve the
likelihood of creators to be paid for their work online.
The copyright industries
have do far been very polite and attempted to choose my words very
carefully to avoid any sense of prejudice on my part. But I feel like it
is time to put my cards on the table and declare where my interests
SOPA and PIPA were notionally
promoted by the MPAA to protect the interests of its members - Universal
Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox
and The Walt Disney Company - all of which are either subsidiaries of or
in themselves transnational corporations. This was an industrial
response to what is essentially a creative problem, or to be more
specific, a problem for creators. Personally, I could scarcely care less
about whether the Big Six survive the digital transition. They have
made themselves culturally irrelevant by rigid adherence to a franchise
filmmaking formula aimed
almost exclusively at young boys and their families, and they have made
themselves financially precarious by only making films with the insanely
large budgets. Personally, I think I can live without another
Transformers sequel or Spider-Man reboot.
interest and my concern is for free-spirited and independently minded
creators. The problem of digital distribution is a problem for creators
not corporations. Several years ago - maybe 15 or 20 - cyber utopians
promised that the Internet would usher in a new era of pluralism and
creativity, eliminating boundaries to entry for new
writers/musicians/filmmakers/programmers. That was true enough, in the
sense that millions of people were given a platform to publish what they
wanted - everything from new political treatise to the ever popular cat
picture. But, the utopians failed to anticipate the profoundly
destabilising impact the Internet would have upon previously stable
The most readily reported (ha!)
is probably journalism. Thousands of jobs on local and national
newspapers have been lost because of the advertising dollars that were
lost to the Internet. Maybe that was necessary. Maybe those people were
not producing anything of any value and the papers in question are now
better. I do not know. But I am worried.
money that previously went towards paying journalists did not then go
towards paying the bloggers who nominally replaced them. Those jobs were
lost, not to be replaced, while the vast majority of bloggers (even the
good ones) continued to work for nothing, earning money elsewhere. This
deprofessionalisation of journalism is starting to occur in other
industries - music, films, games. Practically everything that the
digital magic wand touches. People in low-cost manufacturing had better
watch out because as soon 3D printers go mainstream their jobs will be
subject to the same market forces.
A false economy
this confusing cacophony of amateurs struggling to make a living,
working elsewhere and indulging their passion in their spare time, enter
Google, with an offer for creators. You can publish your text, music
and video on our platforms - Blogger and YouTube - for free, provided
that we keep the logs. In return, we will place targeted advertising
around your content, earning us dollars and you cents. And, put simply,
it sucks. Creators do all of the work so that the companies that own
the servers that host the content can make almost all of the money. I
think can do better. I think we need to try to create a business model
that puts creators in control of their own works and enables them to
earn a living.
Doctorow seems to propose that creators should give their works away
for free over the Internet in order to attract sales in other media. He
gives away free copies of his e-books and his audiobooks without DRM via
his website and seems to make a very good living from physical books
sales and his speaking engagements. He says that most author's biggest
problem is not theft but obscurity. This may well be true, but there is
only one Corey Doctorow. If I have misrepresented his position, I would
love to hear from the man himself.
may be right. It is not possible to control the distribution of digital
content without DRM, but I would like to think it is possible for
creators to earn a living in a digital world. Surely it should be
easier, in fact. Imagine the possibilities; instead of being
impoverished, creators could be empowered. Creative people do not need
or want to make millions, only enough to cover their costs, with a
little bit extra to support their lifestyle while they work on their
next project. Simple. I think that the best way to achieve this is
probably through some form of direct payment. In this context, paying
for what one wants to read, watch and listen is a social act, one that
enriches society as a whole, as opposed to an elite minority of
executives to whom people begrudge payment.
what such a system might look like is difficult to determine, but I
feel like I am gradually grasping towards an understanding. I may need a bit of help putting the bits and pieces
I write professionally and for fun and am learning all the time. My aim is to write stories and articles that touch the core of reality; what William Faulkner called, ‘The human heart in conflict with itself’.
My principle interests are entertainment, technology and the internet – and I frequently review and write critical essays about movies.
Find out more by digging into the archive and receive alerts by following @lostleonardo on Twitter.
Your comments and (constructive) criticisms are welcome.