20 October 2006

Copyright as a Metaphor for "Rip-off"

There's a piece on C|net which I can only hope was written with the express intent of provoking a reaction, since it's basic idea is so batty:

A European court last month agreed with a group of regional publishers in Belgium that accused Google of ripping off their content. The court ordered Google to remove text summaries of the newspapers' articles, along with Web links to the publishers' sites.

As world and dog have pointed out, what Google News does is provide free - yes, free - publicity for news sites, leading to free - yes, free - extra traffic, which can then be converted to what we in the trade call dosh. The idea that Google is somehow "ripping off" the poor old media conglomerates is risible. But luckily, they seem intent on slitting their own throats, so let 'em, says I.

More serious is the implicit assumption in the C|net piece that there is something sacred about copyrighted material. Maybe there would be, if copyright did what it was originally intended to do: to provide an incentive to the creator to create. But now that copyright typically runs for 50 or even 70 years after the creator's death, it's hard to see how new works are going to be conjured up except with a Ouija board.

Copyright has broken the original social compact, which is that people aren't allowed to copy it for 14 years - yes, 14 - in return for being allowed to do what they like with it afterwards. As copyright is extended time and time again, it is becoming impossible ever to access the content it covers: there is no quid for the quo.

So copyright has become the "rip-off", demanding without giving. If media companies really wanted to stop people using their materials, they should go back to a balanced copyright that gave to both parties. The current system is so inequitable that it is no wonder most people feel morally justified in ignoring it.

No comments: