A Look Back At Some Prescient Predictions On Copyright
from the they-knew-what-was-coming dept
Via Michael Scott, we are alerted to a blog post by Thomas O’Toole, where he looks at two separate papers from the pre-DMCA era, both presenting incredibly accurate predictions of what was about to happen in the world of copyright and content. The first, by John Perry Barlow hopefully many of you have read already. Written in 1992, The Economy of Ideas: Selling Wine Without Bottles on the Global Net recognizes exactly where things are heading, and the difficulty of selling content in a digital world. It also is quite accurate in recognizing the value of attention, and how that’s a key scarce good.
The second paper is by Pamela Samuelson, and it discusses (again, quite accurately) the coming power grab by “copyright maximalists” via the DMCA, entitled The Copyright Grab. It clearly saw the intention of the DMCA to remove user rights, and grant highly questionable additional rights and powers to copyright holders in an online world. Samuelson lays out many concerns about where this is headed — including how these proposals appear to trample certain fair use rights — and in retrospect, her fears seem to have been backed up by history. Samuelson, by the way, has just written a new paper that is also worth reading pointing out how ridiculous current copyright statutory rates are — an issue of key importance in the ongoing Tenebaum lawsuit, which (thankfully) the judge in the case is going to consider.
O’Toole’s post about both of these papers is quite interesting, and he then points out a third paper, on which Samuelson based her paper. It outlines the copyright maximalists’ plans for blocking the use of new technologies to share content — including a segment on the importance of “education.” O’Toole suggests that this education component never really happened, and that’s why copyright infringement via file sharing is so common today. He argues that it’s this lack of education that makes people think that file sharing does little to no harm.
While this might sound good on first pass, I’m not convinced that’s really the case. The industry has been running an education campaign for years that has done nothing to slow down or stop file sharing. It’s not that people aren’t “educated.” In fact, suggesting that is somewhat insulting. It’s that people are educated enough to recognize that accessing/listening/watching/sharing content is a perfectly natural activity that, by itself, isn’t doing any harm. Sure, when combined with a bad business model, it can do plenty of harm — but more and more people intuitively recognize that the file sharing, by itself, is not the problem. The business model is the problem. So, no, it’s not about “education.” No education in the world is going to convince people that something they see as a square is really a circle.