Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I'm sitting in the Italian Parliament (I think.) The panel I was on was dealing with the impact of digital/Internet on content creation and distribution. It started yesterday and continued today. I think it lasted about seven hours or so in total. I found myself in violent disagreement at the beginning because they kept talking about piracy. The interesting thing about this panel (probably more common in other cultures, but new for me) was that we had to come to a written consensus by the end of the session and present it in the Parliament building. It would then be distributed to politicians across Europe as a recommendation.

I found myself negotiating like some UN diplomat.

In the end, here is where we ended up on a few of my "hot buttons".

Organized, for-profit, commercial piracy was different from P2P file sharing by individuals. We could not agree on the impact of P2P file sharing, but we agreed that punishing file sharing was not the only/best way to deal with the issue. I pushed for a stronger stance, my position being that as Chris Anderson says in The Long Tail, it's a matter of price and convenience. People will pay if the experience is better. That was not included in the statement, but "education" was used instead. Blah. I just made a statement that I disagree with this and that there is not enough evidence that P2P filesharing of music is really bad for the music industry.

It appeared that people had a VERY bad image of Creative Commons. For some reason they thought that CC was trying to force people to share and was anti-copyright. I explained the CC was built upon copyright and was trying to help artists choose their copyright.

This part turned out quite well in the statement. They said that CC was a tool, not to steal from artists, but to give them the choice to share and lower the parasitic costs (legal) of choosing a license. They concluded that CC was NOT a threat as they had originally envisioned, but a complimentary and a good thing. The tone was very pro-artist and less tolerant of distributors, the idea of giving more control to artists seemed to be quite attractive.

I'm about to have a chance to object to some of the issues I see in the statement and give an address about my thoughts. I'm going to talk about the value of the Long Tail and Creative Commons.


keep fighting the good fight. seems like you are providing a good representation of the stance held by many.

As Andrew said, please keep up your efforts.

Organized piracy is much more of an issue in Europe and Asia than it is in the US and Japan. P2P piracy may not be as much of an issue now, but it will be. There is no getting around this fact. As broadband speeds, CPU and storage increase and come down in price, the rate of mass consumer piracy will increase. As more content becomes available for longer periods in the P2P networks, the commertial value of back catalog content will decrease as well and the long tail will be worth less and less to artists and distributors.

Just curious, since this was an EU thing you attended, was the concept of "moral rights" of artists addressed? That is a concept which does not exist in US or Japanese copyright law.

Yes. We discussed moral rights. I'm not a real expert, but I think that the way the Europeans look at moral rights was the rights that authors have on things like derivative works that the distributors couldn't/don't take away from them. In this sense, Creative Commons made a lot of sense. Allow the author/creator to select the terms of the copyright, but also allowing them to give up certain moral right. Making it clear to people what their intentions are. I think in legal terms, moral rights are rather sticky to deal with in the fluid/frictionless world of CC and Internet, but the idea of giving the artist more control and the distributor less, certainly resonated I think.

Your efforts to spread enlightenment are much appreciated :-)

To think that some eedjits have objected on your blog, on environmental grounds, to your frequent plane travels, while ignoring the myriad of unproductive tourists who criss-cross the world's skies...

One interesting thing was an elderly but very well know movie director said, "the definition of 'best seller' is that it sucks." Down with the head! ;-)

Thanks for helping dissipate some of the fog that permeates the Italian IPR environment. I am astounded at the Creative Commons misconceptions they had.

I don't really think 'parasitic costs' is what you mean there. That would imply that legal costs work like parasites, taking but not giving. People certainly wouldn't pay for legal costs unless they got something valuable in return (and often they don't feel the value proposition is good enough, so they go to arbitration instead), so these should not be called 'parasitic'.

I would suggest the more common terms 'transaction costs' or simply 'legal costs'. You will probably get the added benefit of pissing off fewer people in the legal community that way, as well.

I would stick with "Parasitic" because the only reason that the procedure of traditonal copyright / licensing is so convoluted is so that legal professionals can overcharge and maintain a monopoly on something that should basically be easy enough for you or I to do.

The copyright legal system creats these complicated procedures for the sole reason of creating more work for itself. It feeds itself through control. Hence, "parasite".


Obviously, you haven't really thought deeply about a lot of the reasons behind that complexity, and the problem of how to be fair.

There is always a trade-off between having bright-line rules that under- or over-compensate for inequity, and having more complex standards that attempt to make finer distinctions and be more fair.

Sure, at some point, the costs of the complexity become so great that the benefits of the better standards outweigh the benefits of a clear bright-line rule. But there's always a push and pull, always a trade-off. Extreme positions are usually not the best way...

I would argue that, from what I've learned in law school, most of the complexity in the law is there for good reasons, and would soon reappear if we were to remove it, because it often makes things fairer.

Sure, there are complexities introduced by special interests, but that's really NOT the whole story. That's all I'm saying.


The "these things exist for a reason!" lament is the de facto standard for defending something that can't be argued and defended very well.

First of all, there is not only "bright-line" rules and "complex standards"; I never said that the answer was over-simplification. There is a happy middle ground, but for now the bias is completely on the complex side. And, to quote you... "Extreme positions are usually not the best way". :)

What I was referring to was that I've been witness to many situations where the legal entities had created a framework system that only themselves could understand; thereby guaranteeing that they will be its sole supervisor.

From what I've learned speaking with local artists, the complexity that exists today regarding copyright issues hinders their creativity and their output. So, regardless of what the law books tell you, try justifying that to a starving artist who has to shell out $xxxx to a high-powered Ferrari-driving lawyer. :\

Special interests? There's nothing special about them. It's a secret nor a conspiracy; the legal system systematically complicates issues - whether accidentally by its lack of understanding of the matter (for example, the tech sector, such as the INDUCE Act, etc), or very deliberately, as is the case for copyright law.

And you're right, that's not the whole story. It's a major part of it, though. *That's* all *I'm* saying. :)

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