Monday, July 6, 2009

The Abuse of the Copyright Law

and why Copyright should be killed.

“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it.”

—Thomas Jefferson

Lately, over the past decade, I have been seeing the Abuse of the Law. The particular law being abused is of course -- Copyright. In our day and age, Copyright has been abused by several companies to suit them, and it has been broken by individuals to suit them. the Law Abiding individual -- honest men and women, are caught between these two sets of Abusers -- the Pirate and the Protector of his rights.

Copyright abuse has come in both forms. Downloading torrents of books belonging to other companies, cryptic software agreements that only protect the protector, and recently; aggressive protection of a game that is designed to promote creativity (Dungeons and Dragons) when a previous version of it was released under a "copyleft" agreement. Both forms of copyright abuse; not to mention Disney's lobbying for extension of Copyright of Mickey Mouse; has caused a powerful investigation into the claims that Copyright Law does no good under the current climate by myself. The debate by libertarians have brought the nature of Property into question, and libertarians are split right down the middle on the issue of Copyright. Some say it should be abolished, others defend it because the Constitution defends it.

In the movie 1776, the Patriot and Loyalist John Dickinson stated that some of our ancestors have come to these shores (America) to secure Rights to Property. And he and his fellow, cool conservative men in the Second Continental Congress also wanted these same Rights to Property protected. If they mean physical property -- in the case of Real Estate, Objects of Value, and Chattel; I agree with them. But now that certain parties have become intellectual thieves and intellectual tyrants I have but no choice but to disagree.

As a patriot, I desire liberty and justice for all in this country. This includes those who are hurt the most by both the Intellectual Property Tyrants and the Intellectual Pirates -- the common citizen of the United States.

I am split down the middle as well, but I'm leaning towards the left of the Right Field.

* A man who produces and publishes a work deserves to be paid for his work he put into his work. It's from his soul, it is his intellectual property since he created it. It is the right of this type that is preyed upon by the Intellectual Pirate.

* A person who buys his work should be able to claim that reproduction as his property and therefore has the right to resell it or give it away (or in the case of Dungeons and Dragons, CREATE A DERIVATIVE WORK based on the nature of Dungeons and Dragons). It is the right of this type that is preyed upon by the Intellectual Tyrant.

The common person does not benefit if he cannot claim ownership of his property from one, or if the property of another is defrauded by the other. The pirate opens the gateway for the tyrant to claim a "monopoly" on the work; and the tyrant punishes the common people for the actions of the pirate who isn't deterred by his work in piracy. The result is a vicious circle: the Pirate takes, the Tyrant does something to protect his rights but does not stop the tyrant. And the common people's claim to his physical property (a copy of the item) dwindles. In fact, the common people's properties are defrauded by the actions of a few.

The Case Against Intellectual Property

While the Constitution defends the right to copy one's intellectual property, it should be able to protect the common people's right to consume and enjoy the labors of that copy. However, the Constitution made no provisions to protect the common people's right to consume Intellectual Property works. I.e., the Constitution did not allow for an expiration date of Copyright either. It was vague in that instance.

Alexander Hamilton proposed something wonderful: Copyright can be kept by an individual or an organization for the maximum of 18 years -- after which it passes into the public domain. This was Copyright Law back in Alexander Hamilton's time. In our time, it's after your death, to a century.

How utterly STUPID!

I give you the ethical argument (the Historical one is easy. Copyright came from Monarchial governments: not a Republican one -- so therefore Copyright is a monopolist license or right granted by a Crown in the Restoration Age).

"Ethically, property rights of any kind have to be justified as extensions of the right of individuals to control their own lives. Thus any alleged property rights that conflict with this moral basis — like the "right" to own slaves — are invalidated.

"To enforce copyright laws and the like is to prevent people from making peaceful use of the information they possess. If you have acquired the information legitimately (say, by buying a book), then on what grounds can you be prevented from using it, reproducing it, trading it? Is this not a violation of the freedom of speech and press?" 1

Twenty to fifteen years ago, I would be a staunch supporter of copyright. Although I had several ideas for derivative works, I could not work on them because I supported copyright. However, in light of what is happening now with companies like Disney, Wizards of the Coast, and Microsoft (to name a few) these questions are full on my mind.

On what grounds can I be prevented from using my copy of Complete Arcane, reproducing it, or trading it? Is it not a violation of my Freedom of Speech for Wizards of the Coast to prevent me from creating a derivative work from Complete Arcane? Likewise, is it not a violation of my freedom of the Press to have an agreement not to trade a copy of Windows 7 with my computer to another person?

While asking these questions, this argument came to mind:
"It may be objected that the person who originated the information deserves ownership rights over it. But information is not a concrete thing an individual can control; it is a universal, existing in other people's minds and other people's property, and over these the originator has no legitimate sovereignty. You cannot own information without owning other people. " q.v.

This is a true argument. Information is not a concrete thing an individual can really control. Once you transmit information to another person, that information exists in that person's mind and in their property. Unless you have true legitimate sovereignty over that person, you cannot own that information.

Then there are economic arguments. I.e. in a world without copyrights, my renders -- which I create -- wouldn't be able to make money for me. That I need these rights to gain the financial incentive to create. I don't think this is credible, since by my nature, I am creative being. I can still render and create 3D works of art, and write and produce, if Copyright Law was repealed (per abuse in this Digital Age).

The case for Economics and ordinary property rights is based on Scarcity thinking. i.e. the idea that there isn't much of one natural resource (i.e. real estate). However, information is always based on Abundance thinking -- there will always be a need to create and distribute information among the people. So when I acquire information (i.e. Complete Arcane for example) that does not decrease Wizards of the Coast's share of the information. 2

So, why is Wizards of the Coast hoarding the information for themselves? WHY should they hoard the information for themselves? And why is Disney putting movies into the Vault, only to release them after a period of time? Why does this justify their right to do so?

Information Based Arguments

The information based argument is coming to the forefront in this Information Age. Before the Information Age, before the personal computer and ArcNet; the Copyright Law, although unjustified, has not done any damage to human progress. But in our Age of the personal computer, integrated optical chips, wireless networks, T1 lines, and Cable Internet (and dialup internet) we have a problem. The Copyright Law has become a shackle to human progress.

Modern communications, through Cable internet and dial-up hookups, have simply made Copyright laws unenforceable. Or at least, unenforceable by any means short of Government takeover of the Internet (which has happened in China). Copyright Laws now are working to restrict the flow of information, not to promote it. And the only way to enforce these Laws in an Internet society, where the Player's Handbook 2 can be sent all over the world after it was "leaked" is horrible to contemplate. The government will have to take over and own the Internet to enforce these laws. 3


In my mind, Copyright Law is being used to restrict the flow of information and creativity to an extent. It is being abused by companies such as Microsoft, Disney, and Wizards of the Coast to restrict the flow and availability of information. While the Pirate who breaks these same laws are not deterred by the threat of lawsuit; these companies are imposing terrible controls -- in their own way -- on the Common People because of pirates.

It is the common people's liberty that is being taken away here. Not the companies' or the pirates' liberties. Therefore, the Copyright Law of the United States of America does not hold any usefulness in the land where Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are ideals held sacred. Patriots in this fair country should rise up and fight for their rights over their physical property and their rights to use their property as they see fit.

Works Citied:

The Libertarian Case Against Intellectual Property Rights, Rodrick T. Long.

Adventures in Writing: The Death of Copyright, Marilyn Byerly.

The Death of Copyright,
Samizdata Illuminatus.

So Sayeth Soup, the Death of Copyright


greywulf said...

Good post.

Intellectual Property is a myth. You can't own an idea any more than you can own breath which comes out of your mouth. It's a concept invented by the greedy to stifle competition, nothing more, and it deserves to die a quick and painful death.

Where do ideas and inspiration come from? A religious man would say "from God". A philosopher say "from the sum of our experiences", and a cynic reply "there are no new ideas". Whichever way, ideas are derivative by definition.

What you can (and should) be able to protect under law are the results of those ideas. If you think of a plot to a book, for example, and actually write that book, then the law should exist to protect against people making physical copies of the book, selling fake versions, etc. If you think of a plot, jot it down and do nothing about it, if someone write a story with a similar plotline, tough - you've wasted your idea. That's misuse of Patent Law in a nutshell, and it's long overdue for an overhaul.

When it comes to digital piracy, there's a range of reasons why it happens, but it's primarily down to economics. Consumers rebel against over-pricing and try to set their own price point. DVDs are vastly overpriced compared to their cost to produce, but folks will happily pay a friend $5 for a burnt copy, or invest a slice of their time to grab a torrent. That's a fair return for 90 minutes' entertainment, whereas $20-$30 isn't if you're only going to watch the movie once.

PDF piracy happens for a similar reason; Wizards' PDFs were ridiculously priced compared to the print versions. Who would pay $80 for PDF versions of the Core Books when you've already spent that and already got a copy on your bookshelf? If offered them for 1/3rd that, or for just a few buck with proof of purchase of the print versions, piracy wouldn't have been anywhere near an issue.

Many authors and musicians (if not the publishers) are coming to see piracy more as a form of advertising than as a threat. It's been shown time and again that offering a free PDF or sample tracks (or even the entire album) actually HELPS sales of the physical product.

If only the greedy people who control distribution would learn......

Elton said...

I agree with you. But Consumer Rights are being trodden in the process. Take D&D and it's derivatives for example. By its NATURE, D&D is a construct that fosters derivative work.

People say we have been spoiled by the OGL. Maybe. But you have to remember, in order for the D&D experiment to work it either needs to be totally closed, or it needs to be totally open. The middle ground doesn't favor the end consumer.

I'm joining those who want to put an end to Copyright basically because Copyright has effectively outlived its usefulness. Before the Internet, you can expect it to serve and protect your right. But during the time of the Internet, it has shown that it's dated.

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