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Doctorow On Copyright Reform & Culture 243

Posted by Soulskill
from the part-and-parcel dept.
super-papa sends us to Locus Magazine for an article by Cory Doctorow discussing the conflicts between copyright law and modern culture, and arguing against the perception that copying media is still unusual. Quoting: "Copyright law valorizes copying as a rare and noteworthy event. On the Internet, copying is automatic, massive, instantaneous, free, and constant. Clip a Dilbert cartoon and stick it on your office door and you're not violating copyright. Take a picture of your office door and put it on your homepage so that the same co-workers can see it, and you've violated copyright law, and since copyright law treats copying as such a rarified activity, it assesses penalties that run to the hundreds of thousands of dollars for each act of infringement. There's a word for all the stuff we do with creative works — all the conversing, retelling, singing, acting out, drawing, and thinking: we call it culture."
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Doctorow On Copyright Reform & Culture

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  • by aussie_a (778472) on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:51PM (#25684699) Journal

    Seriously, this is just preaching to the choir at this stage. Although it'd be nice if this picked up some mainstream coverage.

  • BRAVO! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:54PM (#25684715)

    So when is the author going to spend $50 million of his money making a blockbuster movie and then give it away for free to everyone? I *eagerly* await that...

  • by argoff (142580) * on Friday November 07, 2008 @09:56PM (#25684731)

    The problem is that copyrights are like the guilds. For example, you can call the right to make shoes a property right, buy and sell it, make profit off of it. But on no uncertain terms it is not a property at all and in fact it is an immoral restriction on peoples liberties.

    Well the same is true with copyright. Contrary to myth copyrights don't promote creation, all they do is force the market to center around creation controls instead of creation services. Well, lawyers are good at controling things, while creators are good at creating things.

    In fact, even when they do all these lawsuits, it's gotten to the point where they are not even trying to get copyright infringers any more. They know darn well it's unenforcable. Their only goal now is to sue guilt and intimidate people into buying overpriced content. That is why we have a moral duty to promote copying no matter what and treat it like a moral duty, not an infringement on peoples property.

  • Re:BRAVO! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iminplaya (723125) <iminplaya.gmail@com> on Friday November 07, 2008 @10:23PM (#25684893) Journal

    With copyright out of the way, it might not take $50 million to make a "blockbuster" movie. And I don't know about you, but I'm not going to slit my wrists or shoot up a shopping mall if they suddenly stop making $50 million blockbuster movies.

  • Re:BRAVO! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sayfawa (1099071) on Friday November 07, 2008 @10:28PM (#25684923)
    You must have missed the point in time in which we stopped needing $50 million dollar passively-watch-and-let-our-brains-erode blockbusters for entertainment. Remix-Reuse-Recycle licences like Creative Commons provides far more entertainment for those of us that still have an imagination. And yes, Cory Doctorow's life work is freely available under said license.
  • frustrating (Score:5, Insightful)

    by theheadlessrabbit (1022587) on Friday November 07, 2008 @10:41PM (#25684991) Homepage Journal

    for me, the most frustrating part of the whole copyright law vs. culture thing is how the big guys calling the shots always say that they are doing this 'for the artists'.

    well, i am an artist, and copyright law isn't helping me, it's getting in my way.

    there have been many times when I've had to work around it. yes, i can usually do *almost* what i originally wanted to do, but a lot of my time is wasted researching laws, re-recording, writing new material, re-shooting things, covering up certain parts, etc.
    Not only does this water down what i originally wanted to say, but it also wastes valuable time that i should be using to make my next piece (or post on /.)

    copyright should not be abolished, there are legitimate uses for it, like stopping subway station vendors selling burnt CD's and DVD's for $2 a pop, but we need a sudden outbreak of common sense to be injected into this debate immediately.

    non-commercial infringement should never be a crime.
    re-appropriation should always be fair use. permission should not be required.

    i believe that if the 'creative commons attribution share-alike non-commercial' was the default license that creative works would be released under; and people had to register for 'copyright, all rights reserved', we would all be much better off.

  • by maxume (22995) on Friday November 07, 2008 @10:41PM (#25684993)

    Copyright exists to promote sharing, not creation. A talented song writer is much more inclined to share his creations in a world where he is able to benefit more from the sharing than others. In a world without copyright, he is quite likely to benefit a lot less than a better funded entity (at least until he manages to establish himself).

  • Re:BRAVO! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Selfunfocused (1215732) on Friday November 07, 2008 @10:46PM (#25685021) Homepage
    Doctorow has mentioned many times that his main problem as a writer is obscurity. Giving away his books build a fan base. At the same time, he and his publishers still make money on hardcopies of his works. A similar model is at work when AdultSwim streams its shows for free and then sells fans DVD box sets (except they would likely sue you for remixing their content). True, Doctorow and AdultSwim don't capture the value at every possible point, but they definitely get by.
  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Friday November 07, 2008 @10:49PM (#25685043) Journal

    To be honest, an actually talented songwriter would share his creations with the world even if he wasn't able to profit off of it. It turns out that human beings had a pretty rich musical culture for the several thousands of years we lived before the advent of recording and copyright.

  • Re:BRAVO! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kohaku (797652) on Friday November 07, 2008 @10:52PM (#25685059)
    It's impossible to make a blockbuster movie without charging for it. Not because of the reason you think, but because the definition of "blockbuster" is that the film makes more than USD$100 million.
    HTH :P
  • Re:BRAVO! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mprx (82435) on Friday November 07, 2008 @10:52PM (#25685063)
    Lesser known actors will work for cheap/free, cameras are getting cheaper all the time, better cameras will work with natural lighting, CPU time for rendering is dropping in price even faster than the cameras, less time is needed on CGI modeling when you can freely reuse existing models, better 3d tools are improving productivity. Real props aren't getting any cheaper, but they're usually a minor portion of the budget, and rapid fabrication systems could cut costs here in the future.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 07, 2008 @11:04PM (#25685153)

    Well the same is true with copyright. Contrary to myth copyrights don't promote creation, all they do is force the market to center around creation controls instead of creation services.

    Exactly what is your data to back up this claim?

    Moreover, why is "creation services" what we want to encourage? Do we really want to dismiss the value of creating new compositions - as currently encouraged by sales of copyrighted material - and instead encourage bands to play lots of shows with covers? It's already a lot easier to make a buck as a musician playing in a covers band than writing your own stuff - hell, a lot of older bands are essentially covering themselves as people in live venues mostly want the old and familiar, rather than new and foreign.

    The patronage model for albums, the only alternative to the live band that I've heard talked about by anti-copyright people, is extremely problematic - I've typed about it too much before, so I'll summarize: Essentially it not only requires bands give away initial creations for free, but to be competitive for patron fees from the public they'll want the initial recordings to sound the best they can; this will eventually lead the artists to get backers to produce those initial creations, and those backers will make the artists sign agreements in order that they have a good chance of making some profit, and that sounds a heck of a lot like the role record companies already fill. Considering how poorly that would go (with occasional exceptions, of course), just imagine how terribly the patronage model would work for movies.

  • Re:BRAVO! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by aussie_a (778472) on Friday November 07, 2008 @11:26PM (#25685295) Journal

    Lesser known actors will work for cheap/free

    In the hope they'll get noticed and make it big.

  • Re:BRAVO! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lordsid (629982) on Friday November 07, 2008 @11:39PM (#25685351)
    I completely agree with you. Without price fixing (read: copyrights) media would reach a normal balanced price that both the producers and the consumers would be happy with. Instead the market is artificially inflated by pseudo protections. This is exactly why people pirate media of all forms, because it is much easier. The answer here isn't to make it harder for people pirate the stuff they want. That will only encourage people to work harder to find ways around those mechanisms. Instead you make your product more available (i.e. cheaper) and quit being such a greedy fuck. This then returns two fold. People will stop pirating your stuff and actually pay for it and your market will grow. It has been statistically proven that pirating does not harm a market of any type. Corporations try to play it off as theft when in fact the people that are "stealing" are in the fact the ones that would never buy their product in the first place. So instead of getting money for their product they instead receive the most valuable commodity of all: free marketing (i.e. word of mouth).
  • by drquoz (1199407) on Saturday November 08, 2008 @01:01AM (#25685689)
    Parent was modded funny, but that site actually allows you to share your ideas with the President-Elect. Maybe if enough of us send him that article, he'll read it. http://change.gov/page/s/yourvision [change.gov]
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday November 08, 2008 @01:06AM (#25685709)

    It is pure ego. Nothing more.

    yes it, is. But not in any way like you claim.

    It is about the ego boost someone gets by sharing something cool with other people, the sharer gets praised for finding and promoting something of value to others. That ego boost is human nature that every single person on the planet has and unlike almost every other real crime - like murder, theft, rape, etc.

    That commonality of sharing is Doctrow's point - not that sharing on the internet is massive scale versus sharing in one-to-one contacts. It isn't the scale that matters, it is the act.

  • Missing the Point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mdm42 (244204) on Saturday November 08, 2008 @02:08AM (#25685891) Homepage Journal

    Actually you've completey missed Doctorow's point. (Didn't RTFA, did we? :)

    The crappy little 450x300-pixel, lossy-compressed-format, lousy audio version would be free and on the 'net. But if you enjoyed the storyline, you might well be willing to pay something to watch it on a big-screen in 7-channel. Or to buy a high-def limited-edition DVD that comes with a bunch of (physical) other stuff. Or perhaps you'd pay serious money to attend a local premier where some of the stars and technical people attend, together with dinner afterwards and a DVD-signing.

    It's not about the content. It's about the differing values that people derive from these various format. The "premier, dinner, signing" thing is about being able to say to your friends, "I was there!" (Presumably they'd be impressed by that.)

    It's about the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.

  • Re:BRAVO! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <.bassbeast1968. .at. .gmail.com.> on Saturday November 08, 2008 @02:22AM (#25685933) Journal

    Actually you wouldn't even need that,you give the people the best reason to pay: More of what they want. Kinda like how Joss Whedon suggested. Take a show like Firefly that the network didn't get,or an idea like Faith the Vampire Slayer or Ripper that a lot of the fans wrote in about. To get up the cash for the first one you can have several ways for the fans to give: donations(Give $50 and get a cool t-shirt that you will ONLY get here! For $100 it'll be signed by one of the stars!) auctions for walk on roles(who wouldn't want to wear the vamp makeup and get turned to dust by Eliza?),plus you can have product placements,etc.

    Then you tell the fans "Hey! You guys want another movie? Buy the DVD and tell all your friends! And don't forget the new limited t-shirt for the sequel! Just come and donate!" plus you can sell memorabilia from the set of the first movie,etc. Just think,if movies and shows were made like this we would have probably never had "The Dukes of Hazzard" or "Bewitched" stinkbombs. Personally I have my Joss Whedon collection sitting on the shelf in the nice pretty boxes but would be happy to buy more stuff for a new Firefly or FtVS or even a Spike and Dru TV movie. How about you?

    But no matter what we REALLY need copyright reform. I have said this before,but in case some missed it I'll say it again as it bears repeating. For those that don't think copyright is broken I have one sentence for you: Steamboat Willie is still under copyright. The man has been dead a half century,and his FIRST work,one made when most cars on the road had to be started with a freaking handcrank,is STILL under copyright. That is just totally fucked up,no ifs,ands or buts about it.

  • by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Saturday November 08, 2008 @03:04AM (#25686067) Homepage

    highly beneficial to artists, with little drain on the commons; short for me means 5 or 10 years).

    It may be difficult to see it from where we are now, but even a 5 year copyright period might be enough to prevent *most* artistic works from ever being made.

    A key function of works in the cultural "commons" is to serve as the basis for new works. The number of possible derivative works that can be created based on a single basis work is practically unlimited. Further, artists are most likely to get the idea for a derivative work when the basis work is new and popular. Exactly what the function of disinterest is would be interesting to look at, but certainly with the current copyright period almost no-one cares about a work by the time it gets out of copyright. It doesn't seem entirely unlikely to me that the majority of interest in creating derivative works would come in the first year or so of the existence of a basis work, so it's certainly possible that a 5 year copyright could eliminate tens or hundreds of derivative works per work - stopping most artworks before they are ever created.

  • Re:BRAVO! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dwillden (521345) on Saturday November 08, 2008 @03:39AM (#25686143) Homepage
    I agree with you with one exception, this concept of crowd sourced funding is how this stuff is paid for in the first place. It's called the stock market, and investors buying the stocks of the media companies they feel are likely to make them a profit, are the crowd who are financing these movies.

    The Studios aren't printing the money it costs to make these movies, they are using invested funds and the profits from prior sucesses to fund new movies. The only hard thing to understand is how this system still manages to put out soo much garbage. Oh, that's right, they claim it's art. (Bullcrap, it's business, and a cutthroat business at that.)
  • by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Saturday November 08, 2008 @03:42AM (#25686155)

    Perhaps, but it's not yet common to see the topic covered with such clarity and thoughtfulness.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 08, 2008 @04:16AM (#25686245)

    Someone has to speak out about it. The state of copyright is fucking ridiculous. Do you think it's right that someone can create something and profit off it it for the rest of their life and their heirs for 95 years after their death. Do you think that draconian copyright enforcement is right? Spending our hard earned tax dollars to make sure fat rich corporations get fatter and richer? Copyright is a contract between the creator and society. We invest tax dollars for a fixed amount of time to give the creator of the work an exclusive right to their work and then it belongs to society. These days society is on the shitty end of the stick with creators, be it corporations or individuals, being able to enjoy our tax dollars while profiting off of their work for a practical eternity while society gets jack and shit. I applaud this man for trying his damnest to get the word out that copyright in the United States is a fucking sham.

  • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Saturday November 08, 2008 @04:52AM (#25686339)

    Fair enough, but the HD version will end up being free when someone rips it and seeds it on PirateBay too. Hence the interest in DRM by the content industry - they want to sell the 'premium' version to one person without that person republishing it to everyone for free.

  • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Saturday November 08, 2008 @05:07AM (#25686381)

    That's a license though. Guthrie could choose to release his works under that license. Metallica can choose to release theirs under a much more restrictive one. Copyright laws give the content owners that choice. And you'll notice I didn't say artists, because the artists sold the rights to a record company.

    Now if you remove copyright, that all breaks down. The record companies can publish the artists work and not pay them a dime, the artists would have no legal comeback. Hell Chinese CD factories already make most genuine CDs and a lot of fakes. At the moment selling the fakes is illegal so to get them in the shops in the West they need to license the IP from the record companies who bought it off the artists. But if there was no copyright, fakes would be sold cheaper than the genuine CDs. But neither the artists or the record companies would get paid, all the money would go to the guy that owned the CD factory.

    It would be the same with software. There would be no way to enforce the GPL and thus no reason for big companies to release changes they made to GPL code. My guess is that the amount of source code people released to anyone would drop spectacularly. Some commercial company would end up releasing a 'good' branch of Linux and the free one would wither away. And clearly there's less possibility to make money off recording records. Metallica and the like could survive as performance artists, but you have to wonder what types of musicians and programmers would not be able to survive in the bold, new copyright free world.

  • Re:BRAVO! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) on Saturday November 08, 2008 @07:16AM (#25686767) Journal

    Thats how movies should be financed

    ... if possible. Sure, it is possible that a Borne or Bond movie could be financed this way. Sure, if people can overcome the inevitable apathy and resist the inevitable tragedy of the commons, I could even see this becoming a stable business practice. But what about people who's tastes don't fit in the mainstream? Who's going to finance their movies?

    As a matter of fact, I can just see movies becoming like the political system today:

    a) Art becomes a matter of popular opinion, and people can vote (but with their wallet, in this case)
    b) People will be apathetic in their vote, secure in the belief that someone else will take care of it
    c) What we actually get is something that makes nobody really happy, but relatively few truly unhappy either
    d) The field will become dominated by rich, corporate interests, since they are the ones with the most money and influence

  • by Locklin (1074657) on Saturday November 08, 2008 @08:19AM (#25686949) Homepage

    In such a world only a very few would be able to afford to live off the fruits of their labour.

    That's how it is now. The vast majorities of artists in any discipline don't survive off their art. In your example, I would argue that more people would be able to earn money from their art (more live performers), there would simply be far fewer people made rich from their art.

  • Re:BRAVO! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mr_matticus (928346) on Saturday November 08, 2008 @08:50AM (#25687091)

    What you're describing is a nascent movie studio.

    Once people have an investment, it's only a matter of time before profit begins to drive things, and consolidation reduces the number of shareholders to a manageable few, or alternatively explodes shareholders to the point of no longer having a non-financial interest--simply the equivalent of an IPO of the next Columbia Pictures or whoever.

    You end up right back where you started. There's nothing wrong with community financing models, but it's not a viable solution for the entire industry. It's a variation on the existing theme.

    When you get right down to it, what right exactly do you think you'd buy for your $10? Reproduction? Distribution to your friends? If the 5 million "shareholders" acquired that right, who would be left to pay to watch the film? There's little opportunity for profit there.

    In the end, you buy a ticket to watch the film. This $10 ticket is your share in the venture, and it covers the expenses, from the capital and operating costs of the cinema to the production, distribution, and marketing costs for the film. What you gain for that investment is viewing access.

    More generally, and not in response to the above, the media industry is the only one in which success and large profits are viewed as a bad thing by a jealous and greedy populace--as if most artists enjoy that kind of success and as if they should be forced to perform an at-cost service because people are capable of taking without paying. This isn't energy or healthcare, which are essential human services. This is entertainment and frivolity. Apart from "record oil profit" stories, there's no real outrage at corporations making money. But god forbid that someone who spent millions of dollars developing the video game you want should have the audacity to sell it on the terms and the price he chooses--that's unjust. If you want to regulate the conduct or cap profits, do it. But an arbitrary and ill-informed, ill-reasoned, ill-advised assault on a very old, very basic, and very global system is not the answer. Copyright isn't the problem. Copyright allows the creator to do what he pleases--from BSD and GPL licenses to utterly restricting transfers and sales. It's a system that works well, and its abuse is your run of the mill corporate asshattery, rewarded by your run of the mill fickle consumer and damaged by your typical greedy pirate. No amount of copyright reform or abolition will fix or compensate for those basic underlying factors.

    Can you imagine what the world would be like if people simply took it upon themselves to decide when others had more than they "deserved" and just wantonly took what they considered the "excess", pointing and laughing at "laws" and "locks" and "doors"? Holy hell. What ever happened to the very simple "no thank you" when someone was selling something you felt gave you less than you wanted for more than you were willing to pay?

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