We really don’t own our stuff anymore (at least not fully); the manufacturers do. Because modifying modern objects requires access to information: code, service manuals, error codes, and diagnostic tools. Modern cars are part horsepower, part high-powered computer. Microwave ovens are a combination of plastic and microcode. Silicon permeates and powers almost everything we own.
This is a property rights issue, and current copyright law gets it backwards, turning regular people — like students, researchers, and small business owners — into criminals.
The Pirate Publisher—An International Burlesque that has the Longest Run on Record - an 1886 cartoon from Puck Magazine, which gave us history’s first use of emoticons, commenting on the Berne Convention and satirizing the ability of publishers to take works from one country and publish them in another without paying the original authors.
Whatever your philosophical position, if you are skeptical of government power, you should likewise be skeptical of the copyright system that has developed over the last century. That is, not necessarily skeptical of copyright in theory, but of the actual system that Congress has created and that it continues to expand.
You should be skeptical of Congress’s ability to develop a rational policy given the knowledge problem copyright presents and the public choice pressures at work. You should be skeptical of the seemingly unlimited economic benets we’re told stronger copyright protection can produce, and you should instead be concerned about its eects on innovation. You should be skeptical of the recent trend toward criminal prosecution of even minor infringements of copyright law. You should be skeptical of the growing use of civil asset forfeiture in copyright enforcement.
It is possible to have a deep respect for copyright—on moral or philosophical grounds, on the basis of economic efficiency, or for both reasons—and still recognize that a particular implementation of the idea of copyright can be awed. Our current copyright regime should give conservatives and libertarians pause, if not make them shudder.
Q: In the 21st century, do you think something exists if it doesn’t exist somewhere on the internet?
Eric Lumbleau: If something can be said to meaningfully exist if said existence occurs amid such endless proliferation that it’s forgotten sooner than it’s absorbed. A better question is whether the cultural relativity induced by having all musical histories on tap 24/7 renders the act of attempting to connect historical threads a fool’s errand. Being inside this cyclotron of atomized information from my own vantage point produces a palpable sense of vertigo. A feeling that it could be anything in any order by anyone at any time for any reason. Everything pointing in all directions quaquaversally but arriving at no destination. And its effect is a cancellation of affect. A feeling like Baudrillard’s screen stage of blank fascination has reached its terminal phase and all previous depths are collapsing into an endless vista of dazzling surface play. In my case, it’s caused me to recoil and retreat to engaging with music in the way that I did when I was in my early teens, which is to say with no concern at all for what else I might be missing at the same time or what else “I need to know about,” since there’s no sense any longer of a beginning, end or causation in the spaces between, so I just tune into a select few things that I then revisit with depth and intensity and block out the rest of the hubbub.
Prizes create a kind of artificial economic system that maintains most of the key advantages of the free market. They create incentives and competition, and they diversify the number of minds working on the problem. But the prizes eliminate wasteful spending, since they are rewarded only when genuine solutions have been achieved. And when combined with limits on patent monopolies, prizes can ensure that those innovations will flow more readily through the society at large.
As long as we continue to place commercial profit above cultural profit, especially when it comes to archival materials and cultural preservation, we are doomed to a future bitterly divorced from its past.
Some thoughts on what’s wrong with current thinking on intellectual property
Comic author Rob Reid unveils Copyright Math (TM), breaking down actual numbers from entertainment industry lawyers and lobbyists with equal parts humor and precision to reveal the brokenness of the copyright law rhetoric.