Had an interesting breakfast discussion with David Weinberger and a few others about copyright. I seem to be having more and more heated debates about copyright these days and the more I become familiar with the arguments of old-school copyright guys, the more frustrated I become. As Lessig often says, we're not saying that there shouldn't be copyright or that artists should not be paid. The issue is that the current copyright framework and more importantly, the corporations who are currently entrusted with the task of managing these copyrights are dysfunctional. We need to fundamentally restructure the business of creating and being paid for creating artistic works and it's likely that this business doesn't involve record companies.

The Internet has the potential to greatly enhance and enrich our culture, but old-school copyright people are trying to make their controls even stronger than the real world. The important point is to talk about the commons and the public, not about protecting the "rights" of the custodians of the "files". At one level, we're all conduits passing inspiration and knowledge from the past to the future by re-mixing, rendering and editing things that inspire us in ways that will inspire others. Talking about copyright is talking about the files. We should be talking about how to increase the commons and enrich culture. THAT's not about the files, it's about the the commons.

Inspired by David's blog entry.

4 Comments

Sure, we can talk about the commons. We can even help it grow -- that's what Creative Commons, for example, is doing. There is more to it than the files... but the files are still there. Championing the commons alone isn't enough enough to rebut the record industry's claim that people are stealing songs.

What Lessig and others did effectively in the Eldred case, IMHO, was show how the commons actually enriches the files. Disney's great creations draw on public-domain works, yet today thousands of old films molder because it's too expensive to find and neogiate with the rights-holders.

So, as you say, it's not for or against intellectual property, it's copyright extremism vs. copyright. The commons was always there, we just didn't fully appreciate it.

Copyright Propaganda

[[[ I do not disagree with Abe Lincoln, but I do disagree with Eisner because while he may laud the principle he has distorted and abused its application. And those of us that get fed-up with Eisner and his ilk sometimes lash out at the whole artfully constructed facade. This is a dangerous position for us to be in; as I wrote two years ago, "... it's difficult to voice this opinion because the small encroachments of copyright and patent that led to the present system are largely unseen. It's a creeping heaviness, but to complain of the invisible weight is thought to be unreasonable." However, my own reason does begin to fray when presented with a continued discrepancy between noble principles and unprincipled action: ...]]

Followed by a list of offensive copyright actions that would frustrate Gandhi!

Time horizon is the issue. Because of the discount rate, the present value of future profits past 10 years is almost nothing. Throw in an extra few years to cover the time it takes to get it to market if you are a nobody, and the incentives are still just fine. Anything over that only benefits current holders of older copyrights, it does not benefit society as a whole since the incentive to product is not affected.

While that is probably true in some cases, there are clearly big exceptions. Disney would be one. Their copyrights are still very valuable even after all this time.

I wonder, how did you come to find that the present value of future profits past 10 years is negligible, considering these cases? Is it that these cases are few and are insignificant when averaged across the entire economy? That would not seem to be true, intuitively...

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