Thursday, 5 May 2016

The Psychology Of Copyright

A lawyer who specialises in taking down kiddie fiddlers has taken an interest in copyright. However, since her main source of information is a maximalist lobby group, she's been writing twaddle about it. On Psychology Today.
Being a lawyer and loving movies doesn't qualify you to discuss copyright effectively, and I'm really uncomfortable with the fact that it's been published on a psychology blog since it implies that those of us who disagree with her are not just criminal apologists, we're nuts.

This raises the question, then: who is qualified to discuss copyright effectively? Anyone who has taken the time to learn about the history of copyright and its laws, who can cite the laws that contributed to landmark legal events in copyright law cases, and who understands the public interest angle as well as that of the artists; maximalists don't because that would contradict their position. So, then, you don't need to be a lawyer or IPR specialist, you just need to care enough to know what copyright is, what it does, and how it affects us. And as a Pirate I'm more qualified than she is.

Well if a lawyer can opine on copyright on a psychology blog, could I opine on the psychology of rightsholders there? I doubt they'd take a submission from a Pirate so I'll just post my comments here. Okay, then, what motivates the controversy over copyright? From personal observation I'll say three things:

  1. proxy parenthood
  2. proprietary control-freakery
  3. total personal investment

Let's take a closer look.

1. Proxy parenthood

One of the many arguments I've seen used to defend copyright maximalism is "It's my baby. I conceived it, I carried it, I nurtured and gave birth to it. I feed it. I clean it. I clothe it and nurture it. And therefore it is precious to me." And they are ferocious in their defence of their "child." You can see a little of this attitude in Mary Rasenberger's response to Mike Manick's post in Techdirt, Authors Guild Petulantly Whines About How Wrong It Is That The Public Will Benefit From Google Books.

I am sorry you feel that way about our desire to protect the ability of authors to make some kind of living. We feel strongly that books -- and I mean book sin [sic] any format -- are a crucial part of our cultural knowledge and learning. Nothing gets people to think like books. Good books expand our thinking, allow us to take deep dives into issues, and help us get inside others lives -- among other things. No one writes to get rich, but few great books are written by hobbyists. 

It's not just her work she is keen to protect, but her craft as well.

Books written by people who have spent years learning to write and perfecting their craft and who take the time to research them, think about them, get them reviewed by peers, and get them well edited -- those are the books that advance us as a civilization, and those are the books that take years to write and the support of others to perfect. 

Well that's true and I can't deny it. However, she goes right off the deep end here:

We need a way to allow authors to support themselves while writing and to pay others for their services to help make the book as good and marketable as it can be and to help sell it. Copyright is how we do it in democratic societies where we don't want books controlled by the government. 

The internet is the Great Leveller

What we end up with in the current gatekeeper regime is publishers deciding what does or doesn't get published to a mass audience. The internet is the great leveller and ebooks and blogs have abolished the role of the publishing house as the gatekeeper. Since this allows popular culture ever-increasing ways of expressing itself and floods the market with items that appeal to the lowest common denominator, it kind of makes Mary and the Serious Authors (that would be an excellent name for a band!) a little less special and she doesn't like that one bit.

We will do our best to make sure that full display of books is not permitted under fair use. If it is, that will be the end of an American literary culture. Sure people will write, but unless they are independently wealthy, they won't be writing much real literature and they won't be writing non-academic seriously researched non-fiction.

Errrmmm... where to start. Okay, when I was growing up we did Watership Down in school. We read the book and deconstructed the characters, etc. It's a great book and I understand they're doing a remake of the movie. Richard Adams was not independently wealthy when he wrote it, nor was he in receipt of some kind of literary grant as an incentive to write. He had to work to keep the lights on. The novel was rejected six times before Rex Collings accepted it.

The one-man London publisher Collings wrote to an associate, "I've just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of them with extra-sensory perception. Do you think I'm mad?" ...Collings had little capital and could not pay an advance but "he got a review copy onto every desk in London that mattered." - Watership Down, Wikipedia

Enduring popularity begets classic status

It wasn't copyright that motivated Adams to write the novel, it was his daughters Rosamund and Juliet. The idea, then, that copyright has anything to do with creativity is laughable. That it rewards creatives is a given, but only the most popular creatives get the rewards. That is what "free market" means. If people don't buy it you don't get royalties, it's as simple as that. But Mary's having none of it.

Technology is cool and does great things, but it is worth little if we lose the knowledge we gain through serious thinking and books -- in any format.

Oh dear. Books don't need a copyright regime to exist in print; many public domain works such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice are still in print. They're classics because we keep buying them and we can afford them because there's no royalty due any more, so they're cheaper. And because so many of us are buying them they're still in print and are therefore well known. Protectionist practices put a tollbooth on progress and people end up routing around them. People whose works have not been widely disseminated will be forgotten soon enough. Proxy parents forget this because protectionism itself is the be all and end all for them.

2. Proprietary control-freakery

Best summed up as "I made it, I own it." This sometimes doesn't even apply to things actually made by the individual. In the Saga of the Monkey Selfie, the attitude is, "I bought the camera and left it lying around to see what would happen, I own it." The subsequent shenanigans have been the source of many a snort of amusement. Let's pick apart the different forms this hilarious delusion actually takes. And trust me, it is a delusion.

Making it doesn't mean you own it

The main beneficiaries and owners of copyright are the rightsholders. Bear in mind that they're not necessarily the people who did the actual creating. This can provide some considerable consternation when a creative gets into an argument with a rightsholder over who owns a song; did you know that Sir Paul McCartney has to pay a royalty to Sony when he plays Hey Jude? He wrote. The song. So whose is it? Sony's. They bought it off of Michael Jackson. Long story.

Owning it doesn't mean you can control it

I've seen a lot of books that were once popular in the bargain bins and pound shops around Manchester. The thing is, it doesn't look good to see a book in that situation, it implies they can't give it away. While Authors Guild members agitate to stop Google from making excerpts of their books available to people who might want to try before they buy, they're paying no attention to the fact that their carefully researched literary genius is not getting the respect it deserves all the time. I mean, "Pride And Prejudice And Zombies?" Really? Jane Austen must be doing 180rpm in her grave. But since it's in the public domain we can do what we want with it. And parodies are permitted under fair use.

3. Total personal investment

The final thing I'd like to look at tonight is the total personal investment people put into their creative efforts to the point where they lose the ability to think rationally. This investment is not just of their efforts and money, it's also of themselves. They invest so utterly in their efforts and their ideas of themselves as creatives it is easy to manipulate them and copyright does that by creating a boogeyman to be scared of: the free-riding pirate eager to make off with their booty without as much as leaving a tip. This generally manifests in the "sweat of the brow" argument: "I worked hard on this: reward me."

Investment in protectionism

People aren't considered professionals unless they're being paid for the work that they do. Unless it's how you actually make your living, it's a hobby. The desire to make the jump from the office job to the professional artist status is made ever stronger by the promise of untold wealth — and the plethora of examples of ordinary folk who made it big. Copyright promises to be an eternal fountain of money for the worthy few, so I've seen people being very protective of what they do. I once had to lecture a social media maven about her paranoid assertions on her website's home page. "Don't steal my intellectual property!" does not entice people to read more. I advised her to remove that, and the code that made it hard to copy and paste from her blog posts, the idea being to get her to invite people to copy and paste from her articles, citing her as the source and linking to the originals. Better to be social and friendly than grabby and fretting that someone might "take your stuff." I don't worry about that, though I do object to plagiarism. That's just cheeky. Anyway, the investment in protectionism is down to the desire to be perceived as a professional and to earn the wages of success.

Investment in the promise of success

Many of the fights I've got into over copyright have been with people who have okay skills in music. They think their genius will stand the test of time but I'm already looking at my watch. And, hilariously, they worry about posting their music online in case somebody copies it and makes money off it. This, I kid you not, haunts them day and night. I've asked them about dissemination but they seem to think that the reason they're not making any money or becoming massively popular is because the freeloading pirates are taking advantage, not because none of us have ever heard of them. They look to copyright to deliver the promise of success, as if mere protectionism could ensure a wide reach and popularity. It can't, that's not its job.


The pychology of copyright is a bigger and more nuanced subject than can fit in one blog post, as is the psychology of pirates and piracy. I don't approve of breaking the law but I don't approve of the law being rigged to make a criminal out of anyone who does normal, day-to-day things such as sending emails or singing in public. It's the psychology of greed and control as a rentier that gets people on board and the promise of being able to live a carefree life if successful that attracts people to copyright maximalism. As for Pirates (the political ones) like myself, I'm a Pirate because I believe that the individual must be free to act and the will of the people must be respected. I also believe that due process is not and impediment to justice. Needless to say I'm opposed to anyone and anything opposed to this viewpoint, and believe me, copyright enforcement is.

No comments:

Post a Comment