17 April 2009

Copyright Industries' Pyrrhic Victories

It's extraordinary how much that formerly-drab old subject of copyright is in the news these days. There's the Amazon Kindle story, the Pirate Bay judgement and the report, yesterday, that Britain's copyright laws are the "worst by far".

Although much of this bad news, notably the idiotic Pirate Bay ruling - these were links, people, you know, just like Google - there's a silver lining of sorts. The gulf between what the laws on copyright say and what people think is fair to do (picking up on the ethical aspect of copyright, again) is so vast and unbridgeable now that I think we're going to see a massive collapse of copyright soon.

As "young people" grow up and become the mainstream voting population, there is simply going to be zero sympathy for the greed and obtuseness of the intellectual monopolists. The current "victories" of the media industries will prove to be Pyrrhic.

Follow me on Twitter @glynmoody


Phil Driscoll said...

I agree that we might see the collapse of copyright in the future, but this could pose a problem for the GPL software ecosystem.

Indeed, I can think of some nasty players who might seize the opportunity and mobilise their lobbyists to try and dilute copyright laws in an attempt to
weaken the GNU/Linux competition.

Crosbie Fitch said...

One could imagine a trial in New York, 90 years ago that would probably find a similar crew guilty of directing tourists to speakeasy clubs, i.e. assisting in the sale of liquor.

Prohibition was abolished 14 years later.

Not long now...

Glyn Moody said...

Yes, that aspect worried me, so I asked RMS about it' here's what he said:

"I would be glad to see the abolition of copyright on software if it
were done in such a way as to ensure that software is free. After all,
the point of copyleft is to achieve that goal for derivatives of certain
programs. If all software were free, copyleft would not be needed
for software.

However, abolishing copyright could also be done in a misguided way
that would have no effect on typical proprietary software (which is
restricted by EULAs and source code secrecy rather than copyright),
and only undermines the practice of copyleft. Naturally I would
be against that.

In other words, I am more concerned with how the law affects users'
freedom than with what happens to copyright as such."

Glyn Moody said...

@Crosbie: excellent comparison.

einfeldt said...

Hi Glyn,

I hope that you are right that the unreasonable restrictions of copyright will fade with time and generational aging.

I am concerned that proprietary codecs are winning where DRM is losing. As a user of GNU-Linux, I am faced with the choice of downloading and installing non-Free codecs for watching videos or sitting out the conversations which movies and videos precipitate.

I am producing a documentary called the Digital Tipping Point that tracks the ups and downs of migrating one San Francisco public middle to Free Software. The kids there expect to be able to interact with whatever videos, games, and pictures they want. Here is a teacher talking about the kids using video to study the issues surrounding Obama's election:


The Internet Archive, which runs on GNU-Linux, uses non-Free Adobe Flash to deliver that video!

Here is the same teacher talking about how the existence of the Xubuntu GNU-Linux lab teaches kids the importance of giving back to the community (without the donated labor that went into the lab, the kids would not have computers to see the Obama videos on their own, at their own pace!)


And yet, due to the demands of standardized testing (which dictates funding for schools in the US), there is no time to teach kids the value of digital freedom. The kids are using GNU-Linux daily, and yet, as Richard Stallman warns, they are not learning what digital freedom is, nor are they learning why it is that digital freedom means they have a Xubuntu lab to begin with.

And yet the kids continue to be drawn to movies and music which can be experienced only with non-Free codecs. Even the speeches of the President of the US can't be watched without the use of these non-Free codecs.

So it seems as if there might be some substance to the victories of the copyright cartel after all, unless we can persuade people, institutions, and companies to produce really great content in completely Free wrappers.

Christian Einfeldt,
Producer, The Digital Tipping Point

Glyn Moody said...

@Christian: you're absolutely right - proprietary codecs are a hidden danger that few are aware of. At least there are some free ones coming through, and so it's up to us to promote.

And educating students about freedom is indeed hard. I think the good news is that they are already learning to share - which is what the intellectual monopolists hate - which is a good starting point.

When do you hope to finish your documentary?