Complexities

2007-06-07

In my various posts about copyrights and the public domain, I have often made categorical statements such as copyright is not a right. But you might have noticed that I don't argue for specific policy changes that would reflect my viewpoint. Why not?

There are several reasons:

  1. I recognize that these matters are complex and (for those who write or compose or otherwise create) quite personal.
  2. I'm not seeking to force anyone to put their works into the public domain -- I'm simply presenting it as a reasonable option.
  3. Technology is quickly changing the ground underneath our feet, with the result that specific policy prescriptions might not make sense five or ten years from now.

This last point is especially important, I think. Copyright depends on a specific technological context. Copyright would not have been appropriate in the Middle Ages, when "copying" meant visiting a scriptorium and laboriously copying a text by hand. With the invention of printing, it became somewhat easier to copy a work, but it was also easy to enforce copyright because the ability to make copies was limited to well-capitalized publishers and printers. Nowadays, your web browser is automatically making a copy of this blog post as you read it, and it's trivially simple for you to email or IM it to someone. The more widespread becomes the ability to copy something, the more invasive must be the methods for enforcing copyright. Instead of controlling what a few English entrepreneurs were printing in 1500, now the government would need to control what you and hundreds of millions of others can and cannot do with your computers, PDAs, mobile phones, and other devices.

With increasingly ubiquitous high-bandwidth connections and cheap storage mechanisms, it will become easier and easier to copy music, videos, and anything else that can be digitized. This implies two things:

  1. Methods for enforcing copyright will become more and more draconian.
  2. Creative types will make money by selling experiences that cannot be digitized, such as live performances.

To be continued...


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