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On IP Law

This is in response to this post

First off, I’m a supporter of Lessig, the Creative Commons and the general “copyleft” movement, and I’d like to point a few items that you seem to be overlooking. I hope you will give the points I raise some real consideration.

First, I want to point out that in all of my reading and listening to Lessig, he has advocated reforming copyright, not eliminating it. Until that reform happens, the CC licenses are a way to enable people who believe that their work should be Free will be Free in the current climate of effectively infinite copyright extension. While Bob’s Photography may theoretically benefit from copyright extensions, it’s doubtful that they do in practice. I would love to see some examples to the contrary, but with the rare exception of the work of truly noteworthy artists (Ansel Adams comes to mind) the commercial value of a photograph beyond 14 years after it was taken (the original period laid out in American copyright law) is going to be vanishingly small. As a result of this, I don’t see this “it helps small business” argument as a sound support for a law which also has the effect of locking up truly significant works of culture indefinitely so that they may only be built upon by the corporate entities which control them. This greatly decreases the value of those works to the society as a whole. An additional side effect of this is that any works for which the copyright status is unknown are, in the current climate, likely to stagnate and be forgotten to history if the authors or their heirs are unreachable to gain license from them. Would you rather that the brilliant work of some unknown artist be lost in the sands of time because the law frightened someone enough that they chose to leave it out of their project which would have preserved it? Or that the TV series you loved in your childhood is never released on DVD because licensing for the music it featured cannot be obtained?

Add to this the new abundance that Brandon mentions above, and you have the fact that each individual creative piece is worth less than it used to be. This is simply a fact that creators need to come to terms with. Ideally, they will not only come to terms with it, but learn how to exploit this new abundance, this new ease of distribution, to drive new revenue streams. You can see a number of articles about how this can be done at http://www.techdirt.com .

In this new sea of creative output, attention is worth more than any one individual work. Your name as a good artist has more value than any single image you can create. This is why I support the concept of CC-attribution licenses. When I create something I want as many eyes on it as possible so that my name will become recognized. I can then take that reputation and use it to leverage revenue from things that are actually scarce, like my time and talent, rather than try to force artificial scarcity on something that by nature is abundant. Obscurity is a bigger threat to you individual prosperity than the CC ever could be. Zach Arias is a great example of a photographer who has leveraged his reputation to create new revenue streams that have nothing to do with selling his photos. I have no idea what his opinions on IP law are. He has though, intentionally or not, learned how to leverage the value of “free” to create what seems to be a respectable income.

IP law is, and always has been, about creating an incentive to create and enrich society. In the past, creating was expensive proposition, with tremendous up front costs. The best way to encourage people to create despite these costs was to grant an artificial monopoly on the commercial exploitation of those creations. However, we’ve now begun to realize some (arguably) unintended consequences of those monopolies within the new context provided by modern technology. The biggest of these is that the system has been abused and modified over the years by monied non-natural legal entities who have the sole goal of extracting value from the creations they control indefinitely. As a result, these laws are no longer serving to enrich our culture, they serve primarily to enrich those entities instead. Unfortunately, this attitude of feeling like one is entitled to profit many times over for a single piece of work has become the norm in many industries. The music industry is the most absurd example, whose party line seems to be that they deserve to get paid for each and every play a of a song, regardless of the circumstance.

In the end, there are only two groups who truly benefit from IP law as it stands. The first are the corporations. There are examples all over chronicling how they have locked up cultural artifacts to the detriment of new creators. The second group are the lawyers, who are able to play both sides against each other and profit, while adding no value whatsoever.

I’ll leave the response to the anti-corruption bit for another post….

Posted in Life, Media, Politics, Tech.

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  1. Tweets that mention On IP Law – Feeding The Machine -- Topsy.com linked to this post on May 13, 2010

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