Copyright vs. Common Sense

Two tales of copyright idiocy crossed my inbox yesterday. The first, by Techdirt’s Mike Masnick tells the tale of the Village People’s Victor Willis, who has regained the right’s to many of his band’s famous songs under the ‘termination rights’ clause, which allows artists to regain copyright of their songs after 35 years, no matter to whom they had assigned it. Willis, as Masnick reports, is trying to use his new ownership rights to stop the current version of the band from performing songs such as YMCA for which they are known.

The second story comes my way via BoingBoing, who reports on a study coming out of Australia which shows that ‘three strikes’ laws (which give authorities the power to cut households off from internet service after three copyright violations) don’t actually reduce piracy. “There is no evidence demonstrating a causal connection between graduated response and reduced infringement. If ‘effectiveness’ means reducing infringement, then it is not effective,” the article says.

So what do these two stories have in common? They both showcase an upsetting, but not entirely trend we’re seeing toward the abandonment of common sense where intellectual property is concerned. Take the case of Mr. Willis, for instance. Okay, so he now owns the songs again. Great! So, why does that mean he has to stop letting the band use it, exactly? As the classic children’s song says, ‘it’s mine, but you can have some.’ Charge a licensing fee if you want to, that’s your prerogative as ‘owner’ of the copyright. But why lock it up completely, just because you can?

Similarly, when the three strikes laws first came out, the tech media was filled with objections to them, and not because tech journalists particularly like or support piracy either. There were just so many holes in these legislations, for instance, that they have no provision for ascertaining just who amongst the potentially numerous users of an IP address had done the allegedly dirty deeds. Add to that the fact that there are numerous non-infringing uses for torrent software which these monitoring programs lack the sophistication to distinguish between, and that many of the laws presume guilt and not innocence, in a reversal of the standard judicial process, and you’ll see why many found them problematic. Now, if they actually did help solve a big problem, maybe that would be worth it. But if this study is showing they don’t?

Nobody—not here at Teleread, anyway—would ever say ‘yay, piracy!’ But bringing some common sense into the discussion is called for sometimes. And asking for reasonable consumer rights does not equate to having it in for artists and authors.

 

7 Comments on Copyright vs. Common Sense

  1. Copyright isn’t just about making money. It’s about controlling how one’s work will be used. Copyright encourages creatives to publish their work by promising that they’ll remain in control of how the work gets shared. Until the work passes into public domain — and I’ll agree that the time-span for that has become ludicrously long — the public has no right to the work. It’s entirely up to the creator.

    Again, it’s not just about money. There are places one doesn’t want to see one’s work used. For example, I wouldn’t want any of my work being used by hate groups. In some cases, a creator might regret a work entirely: Disney has locked “Song of the South” away from the public for more than 20 years.

  2. Sometimes, although the copyright or license to sell comes back to the creator, it’s an uphill struggle for the creator to get the income stream, as well, so Willis may be shutting down the old deals so he’ll see the money.

    Or maybe, he wants to renegotiate the use of his songs.

    Or, this is yet another major fight over who exactly owns a franchise like The Village People and has the legal right to say, “Yes, this is the group that is allowed to use the name.”

    Or maybe he’s just as sick as some of us of all the Village People songs and wants everyone to stop singing them. (evil grin)

  3. I don’t know; “commonsense” is a pretty vague term I hear used by all sorts of people meaning all sorts of things. I realize people want to hear or see or read works they want to see/hear/read. But, there would be no works to want to see… if the creators had not created them. I see no reason why the rights of the creator should not have precedences over a work, no matter how much people want to see/hear/read it.

  4. “But why lock it up completely, just because you can?”

    Why, the answer is contained in the question: because they can.

    Seriously, that’s the result of creating a patently absurd concept — that you can control the replication of something that can ONLY be accessed by copying — turning it into gospel and treating it that way for centuries. Cognitive dissonance for the win!

    (And yes, seriously, the simple act of reading a poem copies it into your brain. You can then trivially write it down elsewhere. And there’s absolutely no way around that if you want people to read your poem at all in the first place; that’s how information works.)

    That, and the entitlement culture we’re living in has led to almost everything being treated as property, even when it makes zero sense. We live in the age predicted by the movie Man Friday; a lot of people spend every waking moment running around and shouting “this is mine, this is yours”, while the entire *point* of owning stuff increasingly eludes them.

    As for the myth that people wouldn’t create if they didn’t have control over their creations… I’ll just point out at thousands of years of culture before copyright was invented. Not that anyone can be bothered to remember about… oh I don’t know… Shakespeare when it comes to the “necessity” of copyright. Too inconvenient an example I guess.

  5. Felix said, “As for the myth that people wouldn’t create if they didn’t have control over their creations… I’ll just point out at thousands of years of culture before copyright was invented. Not that anyone can be bothered to remember about… oh I don’t know… Shakespeare when it comes to the “necessity” of copyright. Too inconvenient an example I guess.”

    You were obviously listening to pirated music when you should have been paying attention in class.

    Shakespeare made his living as an actor, an administrator for a number of acting companies, and as the playwright for his company. The writing fueled the income for the company, and Shakespeare got a larger chunk of the income because of his writing. His acting companies also had very rich and influential sponsors.

    Despite the fact that ideas were stolen right and left by Shakespeare and every other playwright from each other and famous works from the past, the language of the plays were strictly those of the individual writers. Ideas can’t be copyrighted, but the expression/language of the idea can so, surprisingly, our concept of copyright was followed. Without copyright and print production, a vast majority of other playwrights’ works have disappeared. Shakespeare’s still exists because of the folios.

    Before the invention of the Gutenberg press then the creation of an educated middle class who had the time to read, creators of plays depended on rich sponsors and performance to make their living. The rich sponsors controlled the content and the political and social aspects of the works.

    Novels came into being in the perfect storm of cheap printing, a growing middle class with the income and time to read, and writers who were willing to produce those novels for the income. The writers depended upon the income, but some had sponsors or a publishing house willing to fork over enough money (advances) to keep the writer eating while he created.

    Copyright came into being, not because writers were greedy parasites, but because that period’s version of large-scale content pirates who were greedy parasites began to devastate the publishing industry and its writers so the publishers, writers, and various governments had no choice but to create copyright.

    If a magic wand was waved and copyright disappeared, many writers who wanted to be paid for what they write would again be forced to go back to rich sponsors. Would you really want Donald Trump, the Kardashians, and various political and social groups to control what you could read?

    If the Kickstart model were followed, only the most popular ideas and types of books would be created so you’d be forced to read what the vast majority of people want to read. Again, would you like to spend your life reading what now passes as bestsellers?

    Copyright protects readers as much as it protects authors, and it is the greed of the pirates and their readers that makes such things as DRM and copyright necessary, NOT the greed of authors.

  6. Jonathan Darrows // September 15, 2013 at 11:29 am //

    “Without copyright and print production, a vast majority of other playwrights’ works have disappeared. Shakespeare’s still exists because of the folios.”

    Shakespeare’s plays exist because every theater could play it without paying a licensing fee. Since everyone was playing it, it became popular due to its easy of access. Same goes for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, or H.G. Wells War of the Worlds.

    “Copyright came into being, not because writers were greedy parasites, but because that period’s version of large-scale content pirates who were greedy parasites began to devastate the publishing industry and its writers so the publishers, writers, and various governments had no choice but to create copyright.”

    No, copyright came into being because Queen Mary feared the rise of Protestants against her rule and sought to stifle any rebellious publication or literary work. On the other hand, the rise of unaffiliated printers meant that the guild of printers would soon lose their monopoly over the publishing industry and the authors. So, in a perfect storm of convenience, Queen Mary I gave a royal charter granting the “exclusive right to print – and the responsibility to censor – literary works”. In other words, copy-‘right’.

    “Copyright protects readers as much as it protects authors, and it is the greed of the pirates and their readers that makes such things as DRM and copyright necessary, NOT the greed of authors.”

    Copyright doesn’t “protect” readers and authors anymore than paying “protection money” protects shopkeepers from thugs. How does DRM or any other form of copyright increase the fan base of the authors, which ultimately is the livelihood of authors. If anything, copyright with its ridiculous length (I mean, 75yrs AFTER author’s death??) decreases the number of fans because it’s too expensive, too inaccessible, or even worse, no one buys it because not enough people ever read it in the first place.

    Copyright ultimately is result of the greed of middlemen who leech from the brilliance of authors and the willingness of the consumers to blindly pay. And I for one would gladly see it go.

  7. Jonathan, Shakespeare remains because his plays were so incredibly good, not because of copyright or lack of it.

    His plays, like most plays, are so incredibly expensive in time and money to produce that few plays are performed, and most plays in and out of copyright are never performed.

    Longevity is about whether people want to see or read something for its quality. You can’t claim copyright changes this effect one way or the other because it doesn’t.

    There was an article in the local paper about the “Don’t Call” registry which prevents telemarketers from inundating people with phone calls. You sign up, and legitimate telemarketers can’t call you. One man was fussing because he is still getting called and believes that it was because the state and national government aren’t doing their part to crack down on those who break the rules. But, according to the experts, the problem is that crooked marketers are using software to fake their numbers so they are almost impossible to track down, and others are out of the US where they could avoid prosecution.

    So, some people still get called despite the Registry. Does that mean we should get rid of the Registry and return to the days of fifty or sixty calls a day from people trying to sell you goods or trying to scam you instead of an occasional call from some crooks?

    Most sane people would say “hell, no!”

    The same is true of copyright. You don’t toss it out because some people don’t like it, and some use it illegally. It’s the only protection authors and other creators have.

    And, what would happen if you could wave a magic wand to remove the copyright you so hate?

    All you see is free stuff, but most of the new stuff would gradually disappear because money is the fuel for all entertainment.

    New books by favorite authors wouldn’t be written. TV would lose all its drama and comedy because media needs more than first run money on such expensive productions. Instead, all you’d see is reality shows, news, and sports.

    Movies would have to be made much cheaper so, goodbye, blockbusters, and hello, “small” pictures.

    That’s just a hint at what would happen.

    If you still think, it’s such a good idea to get rid of copyright may you be trapped in a room with A TV playing KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS and HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO until you change your mind.

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