Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Internet and Copyright

Most of you are probably wondering why I have joined with the Libertarian Cause to get rid of Copyright or to reduce it's power.  Why I think the OGL was a good idea, and why I find Wizards of the Coast's handling of 4e so perplexing that I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.  So I just laugh, since crying can invite sadness and depression.

To understand where I am coming from I have to address two issues: Free Content vs. Copyright, and the Cult of Originality, Crappy Products, and Good Products.

The simple answer is: We live in an era of near instantaneous communication which works by way of the Internet.  The Internet is a copy machine.  It's THE perfect copy machine.  You either have to take our Free Speech and Free Press Rights away -- which was granted by the Divine, or you have to learn to live with the fact that this machine exists and use it purely for your benefit without infringing on the Rights to Free Speech and Free Press on others.

The simple answer to the second issue is this: You can't curb Crappy derivative and transformative products.  It's impossible.  Some fan who excercises his creativity in exactly the wrong field will always produce CRAPPY derivatives.

I will deal with part of the Second and the First in this blog post.  And I'll largely deal with the second in a future Blog Post.

To first understand why Libertarians want to abolish copyrights is to understand the History of Copyright in the first place and the Internet's purpose in the second.  Lets start with the internet.
The Internet is the result of Man's advances in the art of Printing for the last 500 to 600 years.  It is the source we go to get our news, to communicate with people over vast distances, and rely on for commerce.  The internet is a communication device because it can copy and transmit vast amounts of data to many different people.  It's a printing device because it can copy and transmit vast amounts of data perfectly to many different people.

The Internet is the culmination of the moveable type printing press technology. Invented by  Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg in and around 1439 A.D.; he first printed the Bible.  It was a best seller.

The Printing Press moved to England, and soon William Tyndale printed the bible in English.  The Catholic Church got in an uproar over his printing of the Bible in English, and burned him to the stake.  That was the first time a Copyright was applied.  Despite this, Tyndale's Bible was copied and progulmated across England.  The Bible was read in the Southern English Dialect and standardized English pronounciation.

Later, the Government of England got nervous about the Printing Press.  Not as nervous as the Catholic Church, but nervous enough.  If someone can print a bible, a human anatomy pop-up book, and a scientific treatise of the Solar System; they can print Seditious and Libelous Tracts against the State.

Parliament and the Crown sought to control such seditious and libelous tracts against the state by creating a guild of private sector censors called the London Company of Stationers.  The London Company of Stationers weren't the first thought police, China has that dubious honor of creating the first recorded instance of a thought police.

Because of the Law, the Stationers were granted a monopoly over all printing in England.  Yes, the Stationers were granted a monopoly over printing in England. Every work, old and new, could be theirs to print as long as they kept a strict eye on what was printed.  As a result, their Charter not only gave them the exclusive right to print but also the right to search out and destroy unauthorized presses and books, and even had the right to burn illegal books.  As a result, the Company of Stationers had effectively become the English Government's private, for profit thought police force.

It gets better.  This system was openly designed to serve the book seller and the English Government, not the author or the reader.  New books were entered in by a company member's name, not the author's. By convention, the member who registered the entry held the "copyright", the exclusive right to publish that book, over other members of the Company, and the Company's Court of Assistants resolved infringement disputes.

This was not simply the latest manifestation of some pre-existing form of copyright. It's not as though authors had formerly had copyrights, which were now to be taken away and given to the Stationers. The Stationers' right was a new right, though one based on a long tradition of granting monopolies to guilds as a means of control. Before this moment, copyright — that is, a privately held, generic right to prevent others from copying — did not exist. People routinely printed works they admired when they had the chance, an activity which is responsible for the survival of many of those works to the present day. One could, of course, be enjoined from distributing a specific document because of its potentially libelous effect, or because it was a private communication, or because the government considered it dangerous and seditious. But these reasons are about public safety or damage to reputation, not about property ownership. There had also been, in some cases, special privileges (then called "patents") allowing exclusive printing of certain types of books. But until the Company of Stationers, there had not been a blanket injunction against printing in general, nor a conception of copyright as a legal property that could be owned by a private party.

This won't Change until the Statute of Anne, and the U.S. Constitution.  The copyright clause: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." -- was greatly debated by Madison and Jefferson and this was the result.

Notice it says Authors and Inventors not companies.  However, a Copyright Law was enacted with Hamilton suggesting that the Copyright Term lasts to 14 years.  However, Copyright always serves the middle man.  The Printing Company -- the Walt Disney Company, Wizards of the Coast, Harper and Collins, Houston Mifflin, etc -- is benefited the most when it comes to Printing.

This is was the status quo, with Copyright terms being increased in the 20th Century by authors and artists who were brainwashed that Copyright served them.  Then came the invention of the Computer.  The first computers were impossibly huge electronic calculators.   Although Babbage was working on a cipher machine back in the late 19th Century, the first real computer was a monstrosity of vaccuum tubes and wired circuits.

micro-computers were invented, thanks to the Transistor and the integrated circuit.  Then an experiment was conducted by the U.S. Military and a few U.S. Universities taking advantage of XEROX PARC's invention of the ethernet.  This experiment, called ArcNet, was the next stage of evolution in printing and communications technology.  Something that won't take off until Compuserve, America On-line, and eventually ---- the World Wide Web.

The Internet was invented, and the Internet is composed of interlocking, interlinking microcomputers across the Planet.  And the Internet, for the first time, is a cheep, near instantaneous way of sharing information. It was a revolution!  And for the first time, Copyright Law, has been made obsolete by this technology.

Years ago, the Company of Stationers made the argument that if Printing was left in the hands of everyone, printing would be impossible.  Now, Printing is left in the hands of everyone thanks to the Internet.  Now the Company of Stationers argument can be testable.  So, would authors still create without a centralized distribution system to publish their works?  The answer is an emphatic YES!  They already are.  It's as simple as that. :)

Copyright has been borked by the Internet.  Copyright has been destroyed by the Internet.  Copyright allows for a centralized distribution system to publish works.  The Internet has made competition with the middle men possible and profitable.  It also made copying of works possible and profitable.  Therefore, with this reality, it's become a different world.  The Author must work hard to get his thoughts down on paper and to advertise his work.

Now that the internet has been invented, do you think God thinks highly of a centralized distribution system of print?  Of course not.  One time, he commanded Joseph Smith to sell the copyright of his precious Book of Mormon (God owns the copyright on the Book of Mormon).  If God was willing to give it up, don't you think that an author or musician should rethink their position on Copyright?

Shouldn't we all?


Anonymous said...

Does God have to pay a mortgage? Does he have to buy food? Insurance? Doctors for his sick family? Taxes? I could go on, but you will not grasp the point anyway.

The point is not God, but working humans trying to make a living off of their own -not anybody else's - hard work.

You want to take the hard work of another individual and leech off of it. Don't pretend that this is about removing the middle man - if you notice from the example you copy-and-pasted from questioncopyright (since you were unable to form your own arguement)in the previous blogpost, Nina indeed introduces another middle man, a go-between separating the artist from the audience. That is what already exists today. the difference is that the artist is guaranteed to profit from it, and if an unscrupulous middle man tries to steal the work/art for himself, he can be prosecuted by the law. The author's work is protected.

Under your (well, someone else's) proposed system, anyone can steal anybody else's work.


Elton said...


There's more an author can do than just sit down and wait for the royalty checks to come in.

Merchandising, advertising, printing or endorsing printing. endorsing translations, speaking on your book, etc. People will more than be willing to pay for your book if it's an endorsed copy. Remember, people are loyal to the author or artist first.

Copyright does not help the Author or Artist, but Sharing does. I don't care what the RIAA says, Copyright exists solely for the benefit of the publisher.

Anonymous said...

Nobody said an author should sit and wait for royalty checks. When you make such outrageous claims, you are intentionally muddying the waters. That is dishonest, Elton, and only highlights the weakness of your position.

Copyright does help the author. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of authors and artists that have, and have had, a good life because their hard work was protected from the exploitation of others. Yes, there is a middle man, and they do sometimes take an unhealthy cut. That is real life, and must be done to manufacture books and put them on shelves.

But to remove the law protecting an authors work does not help the author at all. It opens it up to theft and leeches. In all your apples-and-oranges examples ("Content is Water!") and deliberate mis-statements, such as the one referenced above, you still have failed to show any differently.

All you are doing is ranting against a law that people who impress you do not like. It is the same thing as the idiot birthers - you are willfully, dogmatically blind to the truth.

Elton, you seem like a decent guy, just aggressively misguided on some issues. And I am probably antagonizing you - that is not my intent, only to help open your eyes and think for yourself. Read a brief biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs, or Fritz Leiber, or even that longwind Robert Jordan so you can understand how copyright has benefitted not just an author, but their families as well.

Have a great day,

Elton said...

"Copyright does help the author. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of authors and artists that have, and have had, a good life because their hard work was protected from the exploitation of others. Yes, there is a middle man, and they do sometimes take an unhealthy cut. That is real life, and must be done to manufacture books and put them on shelves."

Hey, Timothy, you may be right.

Anonymous said...

Elton, that is more mature than "I know you are but what am I" but it is the same thing - avoiding points that are raised. And I guess it is fitting that rather than coming up with your own phrase, you copy someone else's.

If you truly believe this stuff, do 2 things:

1. Look at the illustration Nina drew of the benificent middle man taking money from the fan and giving it to the artist. Explain in concise, truthful terms how that is different from a modern publisher.

2. Look at the graph she drew of content protected by copyright, that has an initial burst of sales and then fades into obscurity, versus content without copyright that starts out slow but becomes incredibly popular. Name two projects released without copyright that has actually performed like she implies, that is wildly popular and we have all heard of. Then show me where The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, two examples of work that are protected by copyright, are on that chart. Faded into obscurity?


Elton said...

Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night's Dream, and Watt's Steam Engine.

Harry Potter hasn't fallen in to obscurity yet, but how many translations in languages of Harry Potter do you know about?

As for the Lord of the Rings, there is a beautiful Transformation of the work written by a Russian that takes the Orcs' perspective of the War of the Ring. It has never been translated into English because of fear of the Litigious Tolkien Estate except by a brave fan, who is also Russian.

If you want to discuss this further, perhaps on equal footing, read this book:

Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine.

They are economists at the University of Missouri.

Anonymous said...

Elton, you surely understood what I was asking. Name two works released under creative commons or whatever that perform as that chart indicates. Shakespeare and Watt have nothing to do with the theory you are promoting, which is asking people to surrender the rights to their hard work. Again, to be clear, two modern works released as Nina stipulates that have become worldwide sensations as her chart clearly indicates. If you cannot think of any, admit it.

As for your translation rebuttal, that is irrelavant. Translations are not part of that chart. In fact LOTR and Potter are still very popular - your chart is obviously wrong. Copyright has strengthened the works and the authors, who have not faded into chart-mandated obscurity.

But for the record, Potter has been tranlated into 66 languages ( and Tolkien into at least 38(

As for the Russian translation you refer to, can you link to any info on it? Did the "brave" translator even try to talk to the Tolkien estate? How do you know it is a "beautiful" work?

Thanks for the book you cite, I may check it out. But as you keep moving goal posts, perhaps unconciously, we will probably never be able to discuss this on equal terms.


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