16 May 2010

Collateral Murder, Collateral Damage

If you haven't seen the shocking but important video "Collateral Murder", which shows the callous gunning-down of Iraqi citizens (and the subsequent rocket attack on a civilian van with children inside), don't miss it on Wikileaks, its original source. Unfortunately, you may not find it on YouTube or other obvious video sites, since they have been taken down (although YouTube is back now, apparently).

A clear example of censorship, you might think, but in some respects its even worse:

Collateral Murder, with over 6M views, removed from YouTube after unknown US copyright claim http://bit.ly/aS3bMk

That's right, it was taken down on the basis of alleged copyright infringement, not because somebody thought it too shocking to be displayed. The idea that such an action would be taken because of an alleged infringement on somebody's monopoly, while the underlying cold-blooded massacre of Iraqi civilians is swept under the carpet, is of course, repulsive. But it's just another effect of the outdated law that is copyright - collateral damage, so to speak.

After all, copyright grew up in England for the purpose of controlling the flow of information, by allowing people to become itss "owners" - and hence a convenient throttle point:

The first copyright law was a censorship law. It had nothing to do with protecting the rights of authors, or encouraging them to produce new works. Authors' rights were in no danger in sixteenth-century England, and the recent arrival of the printing press (the world's first copying machine) was if anything energizing to writers. So energizing, in fact, that the English government grew concerned about too many works being produced, not too few. The new technology was making seditious reading material widely available for the first time, and the government urgently needed to control the flood of printed matter, censorship being as legitimate an administrative function then as building roads.

It should come as no surprise that copyright is still being used for the purposes of censorship - although often dressed up as if it were somehow "merely" a commercial issue (how that can be the case when we're talking about battleground footage is hard to see.)

This kind of abuse is one more reason why we need to abolish copyright completely: it is not only irrelevant to true creativity (artists don't need an "incentive" to create - they *have* to because of an inner compulsion), it is increasingly a threat to liberty in the online world.

Anyone who doubts that should look at the kind of clauses included in anti-piracy legislation like the Digital Economy Act, which allows websites to be blocked if they are alleged to hold material that infringes on someone's copyright. That will effectively allow the UK government to take down any leak of its documents, since there is no public interest defence in the Act. Had this been introduced as a law explicitly to block such leaks, there would have been an uproar over the censorship it implied; disguised as something to "protect" the poor creative artists, it passes with only protests from the usual troublemakers (like me). The stronger the copyright enforcement, the greater the scope for censorship: it's as simple as that.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.


Crosbie Fitch said...

Copyright is indeed a 'convenience' between the state and press - as it's always been - We'll suspend the people's cultural liberty in granting you the monopoly you covet, and as you control the press we shall control you, protecting our interest in the suppression of sedition.

The 2010 Digital Economy Act is a tercentenary reprise.

As for incentive, I find money's a lot better than the anachronistic 18th century privilege of a reproduction monopoly wholly unsuited to the digital domain. As Richard Stallman says, "Free as in free speech, not as in free beer".

There's no law prohibiting an interested community of people monetarily incentivising an intellectual worker to produce and publish intellectual work (without monopoly). See Diaspora's recent success in attracting a commission of over $100,000.

1) Question Copyright.
2) Exhort Copyright Abolition.
3) Explain why consequent Cultural Liberty is not a stagnant ghetto of starving artists and audiences deprived of art.

Glyn Moody said...

@Crosbie - thanks for that.