THE_BATTLE_OF_COPYRIGHT.jpgSpeaking at the Brain Bar Budapest futurological congress in Budapest, Jaroslaw Lipszyc, Polish  poet and President of the Modern Poland Foundation, recounted his own experience of the development of computing systems, from the very earliest days of mainframes and IRC, to chart the potential “Future of Online Media.” But he also pointed out the dangers to open access to media and free speech inherent in the modern networked internet, and especially in global copyright.

Copyright Lipszyc calls “a very interesting piece of legislation” and also “a very new one.” For one thing, “it allows you to control ideas.” Governments as well as corporations therefore have an interest in copyright, which extends far beyond commercial considerations. In his view, “copyright is the new form of good old colonialism.” This is primarily because copyright benefits only two countries worldwide on a net basis: the United States and Japan. “The European Union is losing money on copyright,” because of the money it sends to US and Japanese copyright owners, and it goes without saying that the same is far more true of emerging markets.

“Copyright gives control of the flow of information to a very small group of people, and makes all others bad,” asserts Lipszyc. “It’s no accident that the United States is sending very strong copyright all over the world.” Copyright tallies well with the modern structure of the internet where computers no longer talk directly to each other peer to peer, in Liszyc’s view, but where computing and online media services are distributed via thin clients and mobile devices that talk directly to mainframes. It’s a pessimistic position, but in the light of global trade legislation like TIPP, hard to argue against.


  1. The POV stated is common, but embodies a fundamental error. Copyright gives control of ONE expression of an idea to the people who bring it to fruition. If your country isn’t selling as much IP as you’re importing, then it is clear that your country is failing to either be creative on a broad scale, or to market your creativity effectively.

    There is nothing in Copyright as a concept, nor in IP as a concept, that keeps any one person from competing nose to nose with every other creative person out there. And the only way countries come into play is in their pledges to allow creative people to profit from their work, and to provide structures for that.

    Don’t like the net loss? Do something about making more stuff that other people want. Don’t rip off the folks who are already doing so.

  2. It’s certainly true that the playing field for movies, books, and even music isn’t level. Even without dubing, one done in English has a much larger global audience than one done in Polish. In the case of movies, that larger audience then allows more money to be spent on production, which will typically make it appeal to a wider audience.

    Certain cultures, for good and ill, also have a wider appeal. Even those who’re not American will find a movie based on American culture more familiar and thus perhaps more appealing. I’ve tried a few Polish films, for instance, and found the heroism too exaggerated. Similarly, the clanging and dancing in Bollywood films isn’t a taste I’ve acquired. On the other hand, Chinese kung-fu movies and American westerns do have a wide following around the world.

    The U.S. movie industry also benefits from the fact that it hasn’t been subsidized by a goverment intent on promoting American culture. Hollywood, for all its problems, does know how to create movies that are popular here and abroad. Often the U.S. income covers the costs, so the other income constitutes the profit.

    On the other hand, when European countries subsidize their movie industries, they often remove any incentitive among film-makers to create films that even reach a broad audience in their own country, much less the world.

    If countries in Europe and elsewhere want more copyright-protected income, they need to create products that people want to buy. There’s no intrinsic barrier to that. Tolkien and Rowlings, both British, created tales that are popular in the U.S.

    Also, keep in mind two major factors:

    1. Copyright laws encourage foreign sales. If you don’t like the fact that some particular movie or book is copyrighted in Poland and succeed in getting its Polish copyright destroyed, then don’t expect to see translations of the book or dubbed versions of the movie. End copyright, and the result with be low-quality pirated versions only.

    2. Copyright laws are reciprocal. Trash copyrighted materials from the U.S. in the name of a silly equality and the U.S. copyrights for media from other countries will quickly go bye bye. Deprive a U.S. publisher of the small Polish market, and Polish authors lose the far larger U.S. market.
    Viewed from further back, this argument from a Polish poet simply doesn’t stand up to scrunity. It’s a typical example of a global vice called loser whining. It assumes that because country A makes more selling to B than B does to A that something unfair is going on. That’s unlikely. What’s far more likely is that what A makes is simply more appealing to those in B. If those in B want to sell more to A, then they need to make their products more appealing to A.

    • Your points are completely valid. One in particular is especially critical. I might phrase it less diplomatically, but more pointedly.

      US culture lauds those things that sell well, according them respect simply because they’re meeting the expressed needs of many people — expressed in the most honest way possible, by their choice to trade something else that they value for it, proving that they value the IP they purchase more.

      But many European countries seem to reserve more of their praise for things that they think that people SHOULD want, regardless of how much they DO want it. This disrespect for the popular will and choices tends to lead to an emphasis in publication and production that is, overall, less likely to sell widely.

      Intellectually sophisticated works have value, without any doubt. But if you want to reduce the IP trade imbalance, then grant respect to less intellectual works, too.

  3. Thank you for your comments!

    The problem i’m trying to address is more complicated than just Hollywood making great sales all over the world. In the past 30 years USA diplomats made a great deal of effort to push american-style, strong and restrictive copyright system around the world. They did it exactly because they recognised the strength of USA exports in the area of intellectual property. At the same time they did exactly opposite in oil trade etc. because of the USA weakness in this area. So if you are a country willing to get into WTO club you need to implement very strong copyright system with pretty limited exceptions and limitations against your own interests. Most of the countries will be just fine with more liberal system allowing for a great deal of flexibility. That happened in Poland in 1993 for example – there are reports of polish politicians how they have been pushed very strongly by USA representatives into accepting extended copyright term (from 25 to 50 years in 1993, 25 years extension), introducing new restrictions unknown to polish legal tradition and so on. So the playing field is not level. It’s biased strongly in favour of american business, because in light of export-import disparity the stronger the copyright the more money we send abroad.

    Keep in mind that information may be copied basically costless. That means that in classical market economy the value of such copy would approach zero. You need to apply artificial force (in this case: monopoly guaranteed by the state and guarded by law enforcement) to make a copy a thing of value. Copyright is artificially created monopoly system and as such it does matter what are specific rules of that monopoly. Right now this is totally legal to quote someone in most countries without any need to obtain a license. But just think: if you make quotations illegal without license – boom, you created a whole new reality for writers, publishers and the like, and you effectively changed the market in terms of cash flows.

    So we may call it loser whining, but problem is real and remains a problem.

    • Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’ve been deeply misinformed. The copyright extensions were required by the Berne Convention, to which the US was a century late. The requirements you listed are necessary to join Berne.

      And Poland may have been later, and may have been pressured to join Berne by the US, but they weren’t our standards. Not at all.

      As for costless — information is costless to copy, but far from costless to create. If you want good IP to be created, there has to be a way to pay for it. And your ideas will guarantee the collapse of creation for profit.

      BTW, the US’s copyright system has one of the most broad exemptions, explicitly written into law, for fair use including quotations, without permission. No license required.

      If Poland failed to do that, it has nothing to do with the US. I suspect that the US delegations asked that Poland create laws more like ours, and your lawmakers messed up by copying not our model, but the European one.

      Your prejudices are showing.

    • Let me emphasize one point: The cost of information comes in two pieces. There are the costs of copying — which even for print books are only about 10% of the total. And the cost for creation — which is far, far, far higher. You confuse the smallest part of the cost with the whole.

      If you aren’t going to give control over the right to copy to the creators, then how exactly would you have them get paid? Musicians can perform, although that drastically reduces their income. But writers? There really isn’t a market for any performance, or other product, from almost all writers.

      So, before you destroy the ability of all creators to get paid, including those who write software and those who invent machinery and processes, and send us back to Dark Ages models such as patronage and guild secrets, think hard about alternatives.

      Oh, and don’t rely on crowd-funding. Look at the stats on that one especially how many books and other items get funded in total vs. copyright, and how much people pay from the goodness of their hearts, compared to how they much pay when they must if they want the content.

      It’s enough to make you despair for human nature. Crowd-funding ought to be a good solution, but it would not come within 1% of funding as much creativity as copyright — far less if current stats hold.

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