Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cory Doctorow on copyright

Cory Doctorow in The Guardian: What do we want copyright to do?

"when we talk about copyright, we're not just talking about who pays how much to get access to which art, we're talking about a regulation that has the power to midwife, or strangle, enormous amounts of expressive speech."
"it's been more than a century since legal systems around the world took away songwriters' ability to control who performed their songs. This began with the first records, which were viewed as a form of theft by the composers of the day. You see, composers back then were in the sheet-music business: they used a copying device (the printing press) to generate a product that musicians could buy.

"When recording technology came along, musicians began to play the tunes on the sheet music they'd bought into microphones and release commercial recordings of their performances. The composers fumed that this was piracy of their music, but the performers said: "You sold us this sheet music – now you're telling us we're not allowed to play it? What did you think we were going to do with it?"

"The law's answer to this was a Solomonic divide-the-baby solution: performers were free to record any composition that had been published, but they had to pay a set rate for every recording they sold. This rate was paid to a collective rights society, and today, these societies thrive, collecting fees for all sorts of "performances" where musicians and composers get little or no say. For example, radio stations, shopping malls, and even hairdressers buy licences that allow them to play whatever music they can find. The music is sampled by more or less accurate means and dispersed to artists by more or less fair means."
"Rather than having the right to specify who may use your works, you merely get the right to get paid when the use takes place.

"Now, on hearing this, you might be thinking: "Good God, that's practically Stalinist! Why can't a poor creator have the right to choose who can use her works?" Well, the reason is that creators (and, notably, their industrial investors) are notoriously resistant to new media. The composers damned the record companies as pirates; the record labels damned the radio for its piracy; broadcasters vilified the cable companies for taking their signals; cable companies fought the VCR for its recording "theft." Big entertainment tried to kill FM radio, TV remote controls (which made it easy to switch away from adverts), jukeboxes, and so on, all the way back to the protestant reformation's fight over who got to read the Bible.

"Given that new media typically allow new creators to create new forms of material that is pleasing to new audiences, it's hard to justify giving the current lotto winners a veto over the next generation of disruptive technologies. Especially when the winners of today were the pirates of yesteryear. Turnabout is fair play."

No comments: