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Promise of the Post-Copyright World - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal

May. 12th, 2004

01:31 pm - Promise of the Post-Copyright World

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A nice anti-copyright article to send to those who think that copyright exists for the benefit of the artists.

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From:triple_entendre
Date:May 12th, 2004 07:01 pm (UTC)
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That would be interesting: what if it was procedurally really difficult to give away your copyright?


"I'm sorry sir, but you wrote that song. It's yours."

"But I was under contract to Bavarian Illuminati Records!"

"No, sir, I'm afraid not. This is not a right you can just sign away. I see here that you filed a proper 'intent to transfer' form on their behalf, but the 'deed of final transfer' was never properly endorsed."
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From:crasch
Date:May 12th, 2004 08:00 pm (UTC)
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I think that copyright does increase the incomes of some authors, which may incent them to create more than they would otherwise.

However, in doing so, it severely limits the rights of other authors to create derivative works, and drastically impedes the distribution of all works. It's easy to measure the income of Stephen King or Bill Gates, and say, see, if we didn't have copyright, they wouldn't have had the incentive to write Carrie or create Microsoft Word. However, it's much harder to measure novels that are never written, software that is never produced, because the would-be authors were dissuaded by copyright. My intuition is that the number of authors that were dissuaded from creation by copyright far exceeds the number that were incented by it. Why? Because like most artists, very few writers make much money, even under the current copyright system. Most create for the intrinsic satisfaction, fame, and other non-material goods which would still exist even in the absence of copyright. So the creators of completely original works would probably create as much as they ever would. But the creators of derivative works are prevented from creating at all, in many cases.

Despite the difficulty of measuring the "books that will never be", I can point to at least two significant costs that we pay as a result of copyright.

First, without copyright, I would bet the you could get a hard-drive filled with a large percentage of all of the books that have been published in the last century. How valuable would this be to villages in the thirld world, who could not possibly afford the same number of physical books? How cool would it be just to have for yourself?

Second, a lot of the books, newspapers, and movies that were created in this century were printed on cheap acidic paper and nitrocellulose film. Many are rotting away, perhaps never to be seen again, because it's not worth the cost to negotiate the copyright. In the absence of copyright, I would bet that volunteers would be willing to save a lot of these works by copying them to more durable mediums.

Finally, I think that authors, artists, and musicians could still be compensated (to some extent) by serializing their works, bundling them with other services (such as personal appearances, concerts), tipping, performance bonds, etc... However, alternative funding mechanisms have overhead costs of their own. Since everyone is already forced to pay the overhead of the copyright system, there is less incentive for artists to make use of alternative funding mechanisms. In the absence of copyright however, these alternatives would become more attractive and more popular.

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From:crasch
Date:May 12th, 2004 09:08 pm (UTC)
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Yes, there's lot's of derivative dreck, and there would probably be more dreck in the absence of copyright. However, although you and I might consider Star Trek Vol. 401: Klingon Nursing Home to be dreck, many people don't, and they're being deprived of a value they would otherwise have.

Also, have you considered that many derivatives are bad precisely because of copyright? If only the copyright holder can authorize new "official" works, is it any surprise that most derivatives are stale and unoriginal? After all, the original creators probably have worked through many of their best ideas, and they may be more motivated to maintain the "purity" of their original vision, rather than allowing their creation to evolve into something fresh and exciting.

Morever, despite the dreck, there would also be more gems. For example, the original "Family Circus" comic, in my opinion, sucks donkey balls. I cannot remember ever laughing at a single strip. Yet, I found the "Dysfunctional Family Circus" to be hilarious (precisely because it was playing off the staid, saccharine original). Guess who got shut down by threat of copyright infringement lawsuit? What do you think an "authorized" Family Circus derivative would look like?

Although currently attribution is tied to copyright, there is no reason to believe that it must be. You could have the right to redistribution and modification, and still be required to give proper attribution (as many open source software licenses require). Although I would prefer attribution violations be handled via social approbration, rather than law, I would not be too upset if that remained a legal requirement, if copyright were otherwise abolished.
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From:jayfo
Date:May 12th, 2004 06:24 pm (UTC)
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good stuff. I bookmarked that and some of the references
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From:perich
Date:May 12th, 2004 06:52 pm (UTC)
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Maybe it's because I just finished re-reading Nineteen Eighty-Four cover to cover (online, too - ha!), but that's a particularly powerful essay you linked to.
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From:selfishgene
Date:May 12th, 2004 09:43 pm (UTC)
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He does ignore the point that one rich author or musician may inspire millions of wanna-be artists to produce stuff. If copyright is creating even a few rich people that may have a strong effect on creative incentives. People don't always 'do the math' and realize their personal probability of extreme success is small.
I still don't think copyright justifies draconian control of my computer and communications though. If copyright has to die so that free speech can flourish; then the deal is worth it. If this article is correct, that creativity is not dependant on copyright, then so much the better.
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From:crasch
Date:May 13th, 2004 05:19 am (UTC)
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True. The prospect of a chance to become the next Stephen King may be motivating a lot of people. However, my gut feeling is that creativity would flourish even more than it does now in the absence of copyright. That said, I agree with you -- even if new creation is diminished somewhat, it's worth it to avoid draconian regulations and sharp limits on distribution.
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