Paul Carr on copyright

“can anybody send me a link to a single decent argument for reforming copyright law in favour of thieves”

10 comments ↓

#1 Labour Matters on 05.29.08 at 11:49 pm

Did you post this because you agree with it Tom? If so, I have to say that I totally disagree (and I’m a content producer, so I have a vested interest in the continuation of copyright).

I won’t go into all the arguments, but let me give you some fundamental points which you might like to mull over.

Firstly, copyright is anti-socialist because it stifles creativity and knowledge, and builds a barrier based on inflated prices.

Secondly, Mr Carr is wrong that high quality content can only be produced if backed by a army of paid professionals. There are numerous examples of non-copyright, out of copyright, and other-copyright content which is profitable and better than competitors which are copyrighted.

Thirdly, arguing for a status quo whilst criminalising any alternative is the action of Luddites protecting what they have, not a valid argument that the status quo is correct.

Fourthly, innovation has always built on the work of others. The caveman paintings didn’t need copyright, nor did Da Vinci, and nor do any artists (of any media), but what if they had it? What if the very use of paint were to be restricted, or the use of a particular colour, as increasingly it is today?

Finally, copyright is being perpetually extended, destroying any sound argument there might have been that a content creator requires protection to maintain hyper-profits to recoup the investment.

Now, none of this is new, and indeed the arguments currently being made against today’s ‘pirates’ isn’t new (despite the novelty of digital technology) either. But here’s the rub: every time a similar challenge to copyright has occurred, the pirates have always won. That’s because copyright is wrong and can only be defended by manipulating truth, innovation, and creativity by holding up so-called victims as examples of why piracy is theft.

I realise that it’s become fashionable on the left to also support copyright, not least because heros who previously challenged vested interests, such as Billy Bragg, have themselves become advocates, but this is a mistake (and Billy is wrong)!

There are few coherent advocates on the other side of the argument, but Lawrence Lessig is one. Take some time Tom to listen to what he has to say, and then think more deeply about what is being done in the name of protecting artists.

Here’s a 20 min quickie: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6122403781064290619

This is a better, but longer version:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7661663613180520595

#2 John Lilburne on 05.30.08 at 1:42 am

There are plenty of good arguments for reform because the current laws make me a criminal despite being a purchaser of large amounts of music. I’m the kind of customer that the music biz really doesn’t want to alienate. Have a look at wired.com’s reader responses to Metallica’s recent outpourings if you want to see what cheesed-off ex-fans really think.

File sharing has changed my listening habits enormously over the years because I’m fed up with listening to the morons that talk in between songs on the radio. Music on TV has a problem because it’s usually ruined by crass, distracting videos.

So how do I get to hear new music? Friends sometimes recommend artists, online music reviewers do the same plus I still buy and read MOJO every month. If something grabs my attention I’ll find a copy online and check it out. If it’s good I’ll buy the CD (MP3s are hopeless quality) and if it’s crap it goes in the bit bucket where it belongs.

Enlightened artists are treating free downloads as a means of getting their work to a larger audience and it’s successful – people are buying the CDs too. High profile examples such as NiN and Radiohead spring to mind plus up-and-coming artists such as Beth Thornley have all converted downloads/online listening to CD sales in this household. More power to them.

But file sharing is nothing new. When I was a teenager I’d make cassettes for friends and they’d do the same; we were our own John Peels. We got to hear other artists that we may not have come across and if we liked them we’d buy the record because we wanted something tangible with sleeve notes and decent artwork too.

By the way, there is no such thing as copyright “theft” unless I download a song and then claim that I was the composer and start collecting the royalties.

I’ll leave you with a great quote by a wise mind:

“Music was born as a social and cultural shared experience. Music labels and people making a living out of it should never forget that.” – Jose Luis Martinez

#3 Paul Carr on 05.30.08 at 2:04 pm

Hi Labour Matters,

Thanks for taking the time to post a response to my copyright post. I just wanted to clarify what I said in the hope that it might address some of your points. I hope Tom doesn’t mind me using his comments box for the purpose (I’m going to cross-post to my blog too).

Firstly, I didn’t say “that high quality content can only be produced if backed by a army of paid professionals.” What I said was that “what we can safely assume is that, without IP protection, high quality content production will go down.”

It will. It is an absolute fact that, without the revenue from sales and controlled advertising, many high budget films and TV programmes will go unmade. Likewise many mass-market books will go unprinted, unpromoted and unread.

It’s interesting that you mention cave painting. I did too…

“Noone is assuming that content creation as a whole goes down without copyright protection. Humans are a creative species and cavemen didn’t need to add a little copyright symbol to their pictures of wooly mammoths.”

See. We agree on that at least. Although there’s a Gary Larson cartoon idea in the copyright symbol gag.

It’s more interesting that you mention Da Vinci. Da Vinci was paid. He was paid a lot, in fact – by a variety of rich benefactors who commissioned him to produce one off works. That was his revenue model – selling his work. Of course, there were countless knock-offs produced but there were no laws at the time to criminalise the thieves. I’m pretty sure had the laws existed, Da Vinci, and his benefactors who had paid for an original – would have been glad to use them. And rightly so.

Another thing worth remembering is that music is just one aspect of copyright law, which in turn is just one part of IP law. IP laws were developed to encourage, not stifle, creativity. They were introduced to ensure that someone who spent their life creating works that enriched the cultural landscape, would be rewarded for the duration of his/her lifetime plus the lifetime of the immediate next generation. That’s why the term of copyright was lifetime plus 50 years, before going up to lifetime plus 70 years when the laws were later harmonised.

After that time, the work enters the public domain and everyone gets to build on the original creativity to produce their own works, be they books, films, designs or inventions. (I’m aware these have different copyright terms, but this isn’t the place for law school footnotes). Sure, with the ability to sign away copyright to record labels or to other third parties, that intention is capable of being undermined, but that’s the rub with all property ownership. You can sell it and it can be stolen by thieves (which is why ‘thieves’ is the word used to describe those who seek to permanently deprive copyright owners of their right to exclusive possession of their property).

You head towards a conclusion with this phrase…

“That’s because copyright is wrong and can only be defended by manipulating truth, innovation, and creativity by holding up so-called victims as examples of why piracy is theft.”

Now, you see, up until that point, you were making a reasoned response.And yet with those three lines you undermined your credibility, entirely. “Manipulating truth, innovation and creativity?” Who is manipulating creativity to a greater, and worse, extent? Is it the author who slaves for years writing books in an Edinburgh cafe, gets turned down by publisher after publisher, before eventually getting a deal and becoming a literary sensation largely responsible for bringing an entire generation back to the written word and then expects to receive an income for her work, and the risk she took in devoting her time to it? Or is it the unimaginative teenage schmuck who distributes a PDF of the latest Harry Potter book on a P2P network to gain mad propz from their mates? Or for that matter the market trader who flogs the DVDs of Order of the Phoenix from the back of his van?

If you’ve read by original post on the subject – also on my blog – you’d know that I think copyright owners should go easy on the individuals and clamp down hard on the dealers, which is largely what they are doing now. But in terms of who the law should be protecting – forgive me, but I’m on J.K Rowling’s side. And the filesharer and the pirate and the dealer can pick up a pen, learn to write, and then slave for years to produce their own bloody masterpiece.

Don’t make this a left vs right issue. It isn’t. It’s right versus wrong. And on copyright, you’re just plain wrong.
Best,

Paul

#4 The CDPA: manipulating truth, innovation, and creativity since 1988 - Bringing Nothing To The Party: Official Blog Of A New Media Whore on 05.30.08 at 2:43 pm

[...] Yesterday, Tom Watson MP generously linked to my competition to find a convincing defense of copyright theft (which in turn was a follow up to my earlier post which was… etc). [...]

#5 Labour Matters on 05.31.08 at 11:19 pm

There is no evidence that the absence of IP protection results in reduction of production quality. There is plenty of evidence that, where it is permitted, collaboration on a collective, but ‘amateur’ basis works. Online, much of the best software is exactly this. My Firefox browser is too.

you also claim that the system works, but in actual fact it fails a large number of current content producers. The producer of the rather good ‘The Man From Earth’ film is soliciting donations from the filesharers because, despite having a DVD contract in the US, they’re still 50% short of breaking even: http://thepiratebay.org/tor/4069276/The.Man.from.Earth.2007.SWESUB.PROPER.DVDRip.XviD-Appe (see comments)

The continual extension of copyright terms, which you crow about at life plus 70 years, demonstrates that it’s nothing to do with rewarding the author who slaves away in the coffee shop.

Again, Lessig explains it berrer than I: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5019701320793854990

#6 Mark on 06.02.08 at 8:04 pm

Paul says: “They were introduced to ensure that someone who spent their life creating works that enriched the cultural landscape, would be rewarded for the duration of his/her lifetime plus the lifetime of the immediate next generation.”

Totally wrong, and typical of the copyright extremist’s arguments.

Copyright, in the UK at least, was introduced to protect book publishers in England from competition. It was not introduced to ensure a reward for artists and their families.

Very few actual artists gain any benefit from copyrights. Most are signed away to record labels in a exchange for a pitiful amount of royalties. Once the record company decides it’s not commercially viable and stops selling it, the vast majority of artists get nothing.

The “think of the artists” argument is cheap and is designed to appeal to emotion. It’s a lie used by wealthy corporations to justify their greed.

#7 tim f on 06.03.08 at 11:28 am

If the music industry is going to find a solution that is realistic and works for users it is going to have to stop messing around with DRM and other models that annoy and inconvience users, and innovate. Currently the only people who are innovating seem to be artists and not labels – Trent Reznor, Saul Williams, Prince, Radiohead, Coldplay etc

It is also going to have to release its stranglehold on artists and become more of a contractor of services than a nurturing ground for new artists.

If we can reform the copyright laws to encourage the industry (and others which might go the same way if electronic books etc become a more viable model) to innovate then that will help everyone. If the argument is just “keep what we’ve got” vs “abolish copyright” then we’ll never get anywhere.

For example, perhaps we could reform the copyright laws so there are different rules for those with a profit motive to individual “home” users – that would give the music industry an incentive to look for ways to add value to their products, while protecting artists’ intellectual rights.

Perhaps we could also find ways of incentivising types of licences which encourage co-operative models of production, eg Creative Commons? If we devoted some resources to protecting artists who chose to use such licences, it might give artists more confidence to use them without worrying that other people will find ways of making profit off their product more efficiently than they can, and squeezing them out of the market.

#8 Frank on 06.07.08 at 8:29 pm

Thanks for highlighting this, Tom.

The extreme contempt shown towards creative people by the Lessigs and the nerds borders on the pathological.

In order to make their mean-minded philistinism (and thievery) smell fragrant, they must tell themselves lies. And then try and persuade us these lies are reality.

LabourMatters is a great example. He has convinced himself that an artistic economy is oppression. Right on, brother! Or that when it succeeds, it cheats creators. But nothing cheats creators more than the abolition of the ability to earn remuneration from their talents.

When that fails, he tries the (structuralist) argument that there’s no such thing as creativity anyway. So creators don’t need to be paid – so it’s cool to steal!

Only a nerd could come up with something like that. Can’t we dump such people on an island somewhere, give them a hundred years, and see what contribution they make to human creativity?

#9 Phil on 06.09.08 at 12:37 am

Unfortunately the argument that Paul comments on is meaningless. The article he links to by Hank Williams says as much. Of Arrington’s comment Hank says “Without specifics, this is an empty, meaningless statement.”, and all the direct responses are straw men, used to espouse a pre-conceived idea rather than tackle any given issue or idea. Sound and fury indeed.

So, a few notes:

Frank, I think you mis-characterise this. In particular it’s amusing that you harangue Lessig, given that he is a high-quality content producer in his own right. Some valuable IP right there, which you’d have thought he’d want to protect ;)

Despite Frank and Paul’s statements in the comments, it’s also true that in the US at least, views on copyright extension laws have been split mostly along party lines. Looking at the voting records and speeches made in the UK Parliament it does seem as though the same is occurring here.

Aside from the rare J K Rowling, copyright law in the UK frequently works in the favour of the publishing corporations (whether it be art, music, books or even computer games) rather than the original creator(s). That may not have been the original intent but modern copyright law, again this is more obvious in the US, does seem to be stifling innovation and creativity of content creators in favour of ever-longer terms and ever-more-puntive laws for the benefit of the publishers.

The current friction with online resources and the related copyright infringements is absolutely a problem but has been exacerbated by a decade of bad behaviour by both sides and in particular a reluctance by corporations to accept the changing technical landscape. To be fair, this hasn’t always been their fault and many companies which were solely in the business of publishing physical content suddenly found themselves facing digital distribution channels which they had no idea how to deal with. It was CEO of Universal Music who said that they had no idea who to hire and just about anyway could have given a believable spiel to the people in charge: http://tinyurl.com/2cs7f5

The argument as a whole is fascinating and, for me at least, it highlights a growing awareness amongst the public of the unfairness of the existing system of deals between content creators and their publishers (and likewise with distributors). Perhaps it is here that better regulation should be sought? In particular, given a level playing field of a digital platform (marketing aside), publishers should be involved less and less in exposing valuable IP, but of course a system has been built around their existence which is hard to break out of (c.f. the cost of music studios).

These days however, now that they realise that the internet can’t be litigated away, corporations *are* giving away material for free. Not only the quoted artists above, but in particular corporations are putting out full albums. TV stations are putting their content online for free. Both of these have their own restrictions – quality and time respectively, but they are both used to *generate* revenue. That is, they are giving away their content to produce demand for a better version of the original (a paid-for album or DVD) and more demand for and awareness of their products in general.

To lower the tone slightly, Paul’s last comment is also a muddle. I assume it’s not deliberate but he seems to confuse a number of topics and I’ll just highlight one particularly gross deception, this one from the blog post you link to: “producing high quality intellectual property takes talented people, working full time, backed up by teams of production, sales, marketing and distribution professionals.”. High quality IP does not require this. End-result high-value IP might do, but the quality of IP is not dependent on sales, marketing or distrubution (production teams can help develop IP of course). I imagine a terribly boring argument about perceived-value versus actual-value will occur on this point.

#10 Paul Lockett on 07.06.08 at 3:27 pm

Paul Carr: (which is why ‘thieves’ is the word used to describe those who seek to permanently deprive copyright owners of their right to exclusive possession of their property)

No it isn’t; the use of the word “thieves” is simply propaganda. Like the use of the word “pirate,” it is used by the corporations which profit from copyright to paint those who make unauthorised copies in as bad a light as possible.

The there is no such offence as copyright theft, because in law, theft must involve the taking of property. Physical object are property, a government granted privilege is not.

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