Why Do Copyright Industry Profits Get To Be The Yardstick For Civil Liberties?
from the focusing-on-what-really-matters dept
For a long time, the copyright industry has cried foul over technical progress, and demanded taxpayer compensation for how these new developments circumvent their existing privileges. It didn’t start with the internet; they’ve done so for well over a century, starting with complaining about the gramophone and the self-playing piano. But as they are crying over lost sales, real or imagined, why is the rest of the world accepting that this field — the copyright industry’s profits — is the place where the debate should be playing out?
You’ve all seen the stories. The sky is falling, the end is nigh, music will come to an end, people sharing their knowledge and culture and thus disrespecting the copyright monopoly rips the bread out of starving artists’ children’s kittens’ mouths, yada yada yada.
What I can’t understand for my life is why this industry’s profits are even being debated. Who cares how much money a particular industry makes? That is not relevant at all for the form, size and shape of our most basic civil liberties as they apply online.
Let me try an analogy. When mankind communicated privately 30 years ago, our parents sent physical letters in the mail. They wrote a message by hand or with a typewriter on a piece of paper, put the paper in an envelope and sealed it, wrote the recipient’s home address on the outside of the envelope, manually affixed a stamp to pay for delivery, and put it in a mailbox. The postal service would then physically carry the envelope with the letter inside to its recipient’s home, where it could be read. This delivery took a day or a couple of days, just like when we order new shiny gadgets today and things need to be physically delivered.
So, let’s take a look at what rights our parents had in this scenario. First, they and they alone determined whether to identify themselves as sender – on the outside of the envelope, for the delivery services to know; on inside of the envelope, for only the recipient to know; or frankly, not at all. That was their prerogative. Nobody had the right to open letters in transit just to see that they didn’t contain any illegal material, and nobody was allowed to track who was communicating (sending letters) to whom.
It is perfectly reasonable that we demand these fundamental rights of our parents’ private communications to carry over into the online world, to our children’s equivalent environment of life.
Now, once you say that anybody should be able to send anything to anybody on the net without interference, because that’s in the civil liberties that our ancestors fought, bled and died for, the copyright industry jumps in and complains. “We can’t make any money if you allow this to happen”, they would say.
My response is “So what?”.
The role of any entrepreneur is to make money given the contemporary constraints of society and technology. They do not get to dismantle civil liberties, even if – and perhaps especially if – they are unable to make money in the face of sustained civil liberties.
If the copyright industry can’t sell their products in the face of sustained civil liberties, they get to go out of business or sell something else instead. Mustard, perhaps.
The important trap to observe here is that it’s not our problem if the copyright industry’s sales are slumping – whether they are or not. It is irrelevant to the debate on civil liberties online. By starting to discuss the profits issue, the copyright industry wins the framing of the debate – that they should somehow have a right to such profit; that society must be shaped so they can continue to make a profit. No entrepreneur gets that luxury.
The copyright industry is not a stakeholder in copyright monopoly legislation. They are a beneficiary. There’s a difference.
The only stakeholder in the copyright monopoly legislation is the public. The copyright monopoly is a balance between the public’s interest of having access to culture and knowledge, and the same public’s interest of having new culture and knowledge created. That’s it. Those are the only two interests that go into the legal wording of the monopoly.
The copyright industry, meanwhile, profits from the current means of achieving this balance – just like Blackwater Security (or whatever their name is this week) profits off of United States foreign policy. (You remember Blackwater, the private security firm that was playing GTA IRL on the streets of Baghdad?) Actually, let’s stick with Blackwater for a while. Can you imagine what would happen if Blackwater was considered a legitimate stakeholder in US foreign policy, and whose tantrums were taken seriously when they demanded more opportunities for profits in the foreign policy, violating people’s civil liberties in the process?
Can you really imagine what would happen if the concern for Blackwater’s continued profits would be allowed to take center stage, ahead of people’s sustained civil liberties? I’m betting we would see about the same thing that’s happening to the net right now with the copyright industry’s equally asinine tantrums. This is the crucial difference between a beneficiary and a stakeholder.
Just because the copyright industry has benefited from this monopoly construct in the past, that doesn’t mean that they have any right whatsoever to profit from it tomorrow. That’s not a concern at all in reforming the copyright monopoly. In drafting such legislation, our only concern is maximizing the knowledge and culture available to the public.