Archive:Copyright primer

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FreeCulture.org is an international student movement. Our purpose is to encourage students to participate in development of the artwork that serves as the backbone of our society's culture, and to remind those that influence the law that, in a democracy, laws do not prohibit activities that are popular, natural, and useful.

How did culture work before?

As a society, we take great interest in the development of art and other ideas. However, there was no easy way to make people invest in the creation and distribution of new works of art, both expensive undertakings. Therefore, we created copyright: we traded some of our natural freedom to copy so that the enterprising might find investing the necessary money and time worthwhile.

Throughout most of modern history, copyright has been little more than a regulation imposed on the industry of distributing art to the masses. When you heard the term "pirate", it did not refer to any individual; instead, it was an attack on some business that had published a book, drawing, or music without paying the author.

This is why the trade was useful to society. We traded something we had little use for; after all, who has time to manually copy a book? In return we received a rich culture of creative expression.

What changed?

Digital technology and the Internet have given us wonderful new opportunities for both creation and publication of culture. These opportunities have changed the terms of the copyright trade.

A couple decades ago, Donald Knuth wrote a freely available computer program that allows anybody to produce professionally typeset papers and books, at far higher quality than the most expensive mechanical typesetters could offer, and at almost no cost. Other fields of artwork were soon to follow; with a simple desktop computer, one can mix music, edit film, and touch up photographs without the barrier to entry of equipment that limited such creative expression to those who could afford it.

Distribution is no longer a matter of volume, available only to publishing companies. The Internet gives anyone using digital tools an opportunity to share their creations with the masses, again at almost no cost.

The terms of copyright have changed because copying, once difficult to do on a small scale, never mind across the world, is suddenly useful in a world where one person with an Internet connection can create something and share it with thousands, or even millions of people worldwide. The creative are once again the center of culture, and they are many more.

What went wrong?

The "content industry" was very necessary for the distribution and creation of culture in the world before. In a world that no longer needs it for these things, this industry is worthless. It will not give up so easily, however; it has risen up to defend its world, with little concern that everyone is really better off in the new order of things. It is not natural that creative ideas should be held onto as if they were property; it is, of course, perfectly natural that those dependent on that flaw in society should fight to "protect" it.

They were able to convince lawmakers, as well as the general public, of three things: copyright existed to protect them from us, it needed to be made more restrictive in the face of the new freedoms given by computers, and copying is wrong.

The freedom to copy is now very valuable to us, and we want it back, but we are losing it.

Why do we want to copy?

Culture has always been built on other culture. Even if there was some completely original culture, and even if it ought be controlled by its creators, none of those creators are alive today. As we will see, however, no one deserves that control.

One reason stems from the powerful place that art holds in our culture. When we hear a good song, we want friends and family to hear it. When we read a good book, we'd like to pass it to a friend. All these things are now possible on a global scale, and they are no more evil through the Internet than among those close to us, though the creative industry's rhetoric would have you believe otherwise.

We, given such amazing freedom of creativity, would like to do as those before us have: build it on the works and ideas of the past. To do this, we need access to those works to a degree impossible in the world before. It is now entirely possible, but strangely out of reach: it is illegal, being ridiculously equated with "theft".

How will culture work?

I have mentioned only one, but there have in reality been two changes that, in tandem, change the copyright trade forever, and will make creativity in the new world work, enriching our lives in the process.

So many of us now have the freedom to create and share that the once-worthless freedom to copy is now very valuable. Therefore, we ought not trade so much of it away.

The other change is cost, a cause of that freedom. Now that it is so easy and inexpensive to create, we no longer need so much investment in development and distribution for which we originally traded so much freedom. The development tools themselves are incredibly inexpensive, and the Internet makes distribution almost a non-issue. The largest remaining cost is the artist's time, and the artist is, as has been true throughout the history of creative culture, very often willing to give it freely, if not for a little appreciation.

One should ask the question that lawmakers are not asking: why are we paying so much freedom for something we can do by ourselves now?

What are you doing about it?

Simply put, FreeCulture.org intends to not only persuade, but demonstrate that all the above is true. Many are already convinced, but we need to show those in charge that their current position on culture has major negative consequences, far in excess of the positive.

It is almost a numbers game: show them how many of us there are, and show them what the new world of culture can do.

Some easily rebutted objections to FreeCulture.org's goals

to be continued....