July 22, 2004

Copyright Is Broken And Nobody Knows How To Fix It

[Not that this is an especially original insight, but today let's call it a classic, in the public domain even.]

So I've just listened to the IICA/INDUCE Act hearing, and been participating in the Freedom-To-Tinker discussion. For a while, I've wanted to write something about Walt Crawford's "Cites & Insights" library 'zine (not blog) Copyright special issue, which has extremely extensive discussion of recent copyright matters. After many, many pages of thoughtful (and non-echo-chamber) discussion, he finally concluded:

I believe in balanced copyright. If that sometimes results in coverage that seems to say "a curse on both your houses," that's because sometimes neither extreme makes much sense.

I kept thinking about this. Because, copyright abstractly makes no sense. By this, I don't mean something silly, not property-is-theft. Rather, I mean something deep, that the technological change has completely disrupted the extremely complex set of functional compromises that made copyright work in practice (for example, formerly being almost entirely a restriction on businesses, but now turning into a control on users and technology development).

Which brings us to the INDUCE Act. Much too much discussion basically boils down to posturing. As I've said in my DMCRA hearing impressions

It would great if everyone could just take a loyalty oath at the start and thus get beyond the endless querying about whether they believe in some sort of heretical radicalism. Something like:

"I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party. I pledge allegiance to copyright, and to the intellectual property system for which it stands, one compensation, responsible, with property and profit for all."

Let's all assume we want artists to be fairly rewarded, and bad people punished. As well as peace on earth and goodwill to all. Now what?

For me, the most chilling moment of the hearing was when Hatch outright said, "Something has to be done here". The problem is that there may be no equitable solution which both preserves openness and current industry profits. Repeating that these both should be served, doesn't make it so. We have improvement in the ability to exchange information again colliding with a social regime which says information must be controlled. I'm on the openness side, but so what? Who listens to me? (except in extraordinary circumstances).

Nobody has the answer. Sorry, I sure don't :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on July 22, 2004 04:31 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
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The problem is that Copyright mistakenly had its domain extended into cyberspace (the Internet).

Extending copyright into cyberspace is just as absurd as extending it into human minds, e.g. "Re-imagining scenes from Toy Story is a copyright infringment since you are making derivative copies".

There is a simple fix: restablish copyright's territory to be the physical, tangible world. It's leaked into cyberspace and it shouldn't be here.

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at July 28, 2004 05:14 AM