Tuesday, 8 November 2011

© CreativeRight

There is a huge problem looming and it is going to come to a head soon - maybe not this year, maybe not next, but soon.

[Pauline, it is a long one, you can give up now if you like]

The model of copyright (a right to control copies) is broken. It was devised in a world where copying was harder and more costly and even before exact copies could be made of things. Controlling copies was an important way to maintain a business model for a range of creative industries. It worked at the time, but over the years has seen issues with copying sheet music, cassette audio tapes, VHS video tapes and finally digital media.

The concept has come to an end - perfect copies are now made behind the scenes without you realizing it - they are so simple and cheap and insignificant that controlling the making of copies is like trying to regulate against picking your nose.

Strangely, in a way, the existing industry (especially music) is trying to fight to maintain this broken model by extending laws in to other industries. Making life difficult for ISPs. Causing all sorts of side effects which are even leading to censorship and encroaching on free speech. It is simply not going to work if we keep going along these lines.

Add to that the fact that people copying music (against copyright) are the ones that pay most for music too on the whole - and trying criminalize them even more just seems a crazy move by the music industry.

So, what else is there?

I think we need to abandon the idea of controlling the actual copying itself, especially when we are talking about any digital media. Copying is so simple and cheap that it should not be restricted. Now that does not mean you can do what you like with a copy, but the copying itself is not the "right" you are trying to control.

Creative people are a value to a society and some encouragement of them in legislation is sensible. If we had no controls then anyone that makes anything can expect companies to be selling copies of it and giving them nothing for it, not even credit for creating it. That is clearly not right.

So what do we need?

I suggest that there should be some rights for anyone that creates something - a creative work - to expect to be correctly credited/attributed as the creator. The kudos of credit for you work drives a lot of creative people even if they get no money - as can be seen by the huge open source software community. What is nice is that this is easy for people making copies to do - they simply don't remove the "credits" from the copy. Indeed, complying is easier than not complying - which makes for laws that you really don't have to enforce in the first place...

I think ensuring credit for work also helps create a culture of understanding that someone spent time and effort making something and that morally they deserve recognition and even some payment for what they did.

I also think that any commercial exploitation of someone's creative work should not be allowed without the creator getting a fair share of the profits. As legislation this is much easier to enforce as commercial exploitation tends to be much more visible and have a money trail to follow.

I am sure new models providing creativerights can be conceived that do not revolve around copying as such and still allow an industry to thrive.

Hopefully someone will have the sense to make a new set of laws on this before we start hitting brick walls and serious conflicts. If you drive things underground you get prohibition and the mafia - lets try and do this right somehow shall we?


  1. You might want to consider looking at some of the work Pirate Parties (including Pirate Party UK) are doing around the world to try and revise copyright.

  2. What you described sounds a lot like CC-BY-NC, which already exists and seems to work well enough under existing legislation. Why would this need new legislation to work? It sounds like the "missing piece" is the cultural will to change, not the legal framework to make such changes possible.

  3. I can envisage a much simpler change that would help; simply limit damages to a sensibly large multiple of the revenue obtained by the infringer. For example, make it "ten times revenue obtained by infringer, unless the infringement is in the course of business, in which case it's ten times revenue plus ten times the costs of obtaining a licence legally".

    This inherently kills off business models around piracy; even advertising isn't safe, as it's revenue that matters, not profits. It also gives commercial users a big reason to be cautious - imagine if you use my photo without permission in your advertising (been done by a company that assumed that Flickr == free of charge stock photos). If I can show that part of your revenue was obtained from that advert, I can potentially collect big-time from you, and I make a profit on the photos itself.

    Against that, someone who simply downloads (say) the latest blockbuster movie illegally, with no intention of selling anything, has no revenue - and as it wasn't in the course of business, the cost of a legal licence is neither here nor there.

    It also puts people doing things like illegally showing a movie to their staff in a dangerous position; they may be hit by a massive increase in costs, even though they had no revenue from it.