Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Copyright's Control Agenda — Why We Need Reform NOW

Gollum with his invisible Precious
It's easy enough to change the law, but how in the world can you change someone's mind? This is the real issue to address because it underpins the thinking behind our over-long, over-broad copyright terms. I've spent a week trying to understand the other side's point of view, and this is what I've learned: it can all be expressed in one word: Gollum. Here's why.

What we're trying to do

Since January, our one Pirate MEP, Julia Reda, has been trying to effect change in our rather fractured copyright laws, the idea being to end geo-blocking and to make some minor tweaks. In fact, many of her fellow Pirates are questioning her Pirate-ness for not going further in her intent. Here is the Reda Report. Yet the other side has been freaking out at her, accusing her of being a radical, starving authors and stomping on kittens, etc. Right... she's hamstrung by the Berne Convention and couldn't make any more significant changes because the framework of the law won't allow her to. Current status:
Let's be emailing our MEPs to ask them to support this worthy cause. It matters the moment you're outside your own borders for whatever reason, only to find you can't access something you actually paid for because of geo-blocking. Exceptions matter when you're blind or want to illustrate a blog post as I did with my hand/mouse-drawn Gollum at the top of the page. There is an infinitesimal risk of being sued by New Line or the Tolkien estate for making this image to illustrate a post on a blog laden with adverts (not that I make anything from them), but Julia wants to ring-fence my ability to do this without having to pay a license fee or seek permission first. DRM matters when you can't play the DVD you paid for on your DVD player because of where you bought it. These are reasonable things that barely tickle the outer edge of reform but Julia is being hammered by the copyright lobby.

What we're up against

Copyright greed and selfishness
This guy, and people who think the way he does. I actually addressed this in an earlier post, Dear MEPs, We Need Copyright Reform, Stat. It's actually had the most views of any of my posts, so I think I hit a nerve with that one. It's funny how, all by himself, Markus Hassold demonstrates the sheer ignorance and hubris of the copyright lobby. They are all about control and having everything their own way, the rest of us be damned. I've sometimes thought that reformers' descriptions of people caught up in the copyright agenda as entitled was a bit harsh. Having seen one in his near-naked glory capering about, Precious in hand, I've changed my mind. They're being nice about them! Markus is fully and completely representative of the copyright lobby. Don't believe me? See some of their comments about the Reda Report.

The problem: they think copyright is property. It's not.

The losers [of the report’s proposals] are European individuals […]: they lose protection over their own words and images, becoming second class global citizens
Andrew Orlowski, The Register
“It involves what Pirates have always done, and that’s steal
–Richard Mollett, UK Publishers Association

This is the kind of thing Markus would say, isn't it? It's how these people think. But why? Because they think of copyright as part of being part of a family of items grouped together under the umbrella term "Intellectual property." But it's not property, and as Markus very helpfully pointed out today, bless him, whether these items can realistically be categorised as property is a matter of opinion based on artificial scarcity. So as long as you pretend there is only as many copies of an item as the author or rightsholder (these are sometimes different people) is willing to provide, you have to rely on him to provide them otherwise you can't have them, sunshine. Needless to say, they absolutely hate the public domain and the idea of having one, despite the fact that we actually need it and that they benefit from it.

For the umpteenth time, infringement is not theft. This distinction matters

People who refuse to pretend and just make a copy anyway, for whatever reason, are characterised as thieves when they're actually infringing on the rightsholder's temporary monopoly on copying and distribution. These are different things. In the case of theft, you're removing the thing and the use of the thing. In the case of infringement, you're doing what only the rightsholder is allowed by law to do but the rightsholder still possesses the thing and has the use of the thing.

Infringers sometimes make money from copying and distribution but that means they're making money as well; the rightsholder is not prevented from continuing to make money from his work. The point of the monopoly privilege is to restrict the right to copy and distribute to the rightsholder alone so that only he and his designated partners can make money from the item under copyright.

For the record I do NOT think infringement is okay. However, it's unrealistic to continue with a business model that relies on pretending there's a scarcity of copies. Other business models are available.

The copyright agenda relies on lies

Like it or not, the copyright lobby is populated by naive idealists on one side and cynical control freaks on the other. In the middle are greedy, self-entitled prats who see copyright as the gift that keeps on giving. Binding them all together is an authoritarian streak a mile wide cultivated in a cult-like pressure-cooker atmosphere where the tenets of the True Believers must never be questioned. This is why a grown-up man behaved like a petulant toddler towards me until I got bored of it and muted him. I put up with his puerile nonsense for a week so I could link to it here on my blog. But he's not the only one. All True Believers in the copyright agenda think and act like this; in an echo chamber atmosphere, you don't have much choice. To disagree gets you kicked out of the club, so you pretty much have to.

Don't get me started on the way they mischaracterise copyright and its purpose. Look at some of the things these people are demanding as a human right:

  • Free to write, free to publish, free to be a bookseller
  • To choose how their work is distributed
  • To be independent of those who are in power today

Okay, let's take a closer look, shall we?

It's all about control

  • Even if we got rid of all copyright legislation tomorrow, there would be nothing at all to prevent people from writing, publishing, or selling books. And how do I know this to be true? Behold. This bookseller owes no royalties to anyone and is at leisure to publish or sell the collected works of William Shakespeare if he so desires. He can also write about William Shakespeare, riff off the sonnets, sample the sonnets, and quote large passages of the plays if he really, truly wants to. Now, if he wants to cite a Shakespearean scholar who is alive today or died within the last 50 years, he will have to seek a licence to do so. He will emphatically NOT be free to write, free to publish, free to be a bookseller of any such work.
  • Nobody on earth can exert that amount of control over anything, it's simply not possible. Don't believe me? Visit your local Pound shop or equivalent thereof. Browse the bookshelf if they have one (many of them do). Just for my amusement, please check out the RRP on the book jacket. This thing wasn't aimed at the Pound shop market, was it? Think about it: if you see a book on sale in the Pound shop, don't you think, as I do, "Well that went down like a lead balloon!"? It devalues the book itself by making it look as though the publishers are struggling to sell it. So... how does Mr. Author propose to stop his work being displayed in places where the Great Unwashed go to get cheap choccies, etc.? Can I watch?
  • You may or may not have noticed that a) copyright is dependent on the laws of the day, and b) that most of the people pushing for the status quo are the gatekeepers and middlemen. This means that people who rely on copyright rent-seeking to make a living are entirely dependent on those who are in power today to maintain (or expand) the scope and duration of copyright, and to enforce it.

So basically, the copyright agenda depends on people like you, reader, not noticing that or asking those questions. Copyright enforcement guarantees restrictions on our freedoms, which impinges on cultural diversity by creating walled gardens via paywalls, geo-blocking, and DRM. If you want to be able to read, listen to, or watch original works in the future, get your bank card ready and be prepared to pay for it, you filthy thieving pirate! Only a copyright maximalist will say, "Own it now on DVD!" then tell you that he still has the right to control how you experience the content thereon. Ford don't tell you where you can drive their cars, can they? Let's not give them ideas.

What we can do

We can support Julia Reda to the very best of our abilities. While her proposals don't go far enough to address the real problems posed by overlong copyright terms, they're a step in the right direction. Follow her on Twitter and wherever else she lives online and share her posts and status updates. Email or call your MEPs and ask them to support the Reda Report when it comes up in Plenary in July. Take what you want from my own emailed letter to them and feel free to share it as it is if you so desire, I claim no ownership rights or controls over it.

The current copyright regime is all about controlling their content by monitoring and controlling us, and they do that by trying to convince us that copyrighted items are owned property, which they're not. Fight back by supporting Julia whether you think her reforms are weak sauce or not. Every journey begins with a single step. If Julia can get a backward ratchet enacted, we can build on that success and eventually restore copyright to its original intent and scope. This is, of course, why the copyright lobby is freaking out. Let them. It's time we pushed back. Join us!

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