Damaging The Internet Is Not Acceptable Collateral Damage In The Copyright Wars
from the speak-up,-speak-out dept
Cory Doctorow has a fantastic opinion piece over in the Guardian in which he talks about how unfortunate it is that people seem to think that it’s okay to damage the internet in any and all attempts to stop copyright infringement. The whole thing is absolutely worth reading, so here are a few snippets should whet your appetite.
The internet is important, but the copyright wars treat it as a triviality: like cable TV 2.0; like the second coming of the telephone; like the world’s greatest pornography distribution system. Laws such as the Digital Economy Act provide for disconnecting whole families from the internet without due process because someone in the vicinity is accused of watching TV the wrong way. That would be bad enough, if the internet were merely a conduit for delivering entertainment products. But the internet is a lifeline for families, and giving some offshore entertainment companies the right to take it away because they suspect you of doing them wrong is like giving Brita the power to turn off your family’s water if they think you’ve been abusing your filter; like giving KitchenAid the power to take away your home’s mains power if they think you’ve been using your mixer in an unapproved way.
And, of course, like me, Cory makes his money by producing content. But we realize that the internet is much more important to us than stopping any kind of infringement of our content.
Look, I’m in the industry. It’s my bread and butter. If you buy my lovely, CC-licensed books, I make money, and that will make me happy. As a matter of fact, my latest UK edition is Pirate Cinema, a young adult science fiction novel about this very subject that won high accolades when it came out in the US last autumn. But I’m not just a writer: I’m also a citizen, and a father and a son. I want to live in a free society more than I want to go on earning my improbable living in the arts. And if the cost of “saving” my industry is the freedom and openness of the internet, then hell, I guess I’ll have to resign from the 0.0000000000000000001 percent club.
Thankfully, I don’t think it has to be. The point is that when we allow the problem to be framed as “How to we get artists paid?” we end up with solutions to my problems, the problems of the 0.0000000000000000001 percent, and we leave behind the problems of the whole wide world.
The key point he’s making there: the vast, vast, vast majority of folks who try to make a living making content will fail. The problem, today, is that many are blaming those failures — which would have happened in almost any other era as well — as if it’s a problem from the internet. We have this blind spot for all of those failures. When people talk about how much musicians make or how many musicians are employed today, they leave out the parts about all the people who tried under the old system and were unable to make it. When you add those back in, the picture looks very, very different. And all of the amazing things that the internet is enabling is actually making it easier for many to create, to promote, to distribute and to monetize their content than ever before. By a long shot. But much of the “copyright wars” are not really about all that. It’s about protecting the old gatekeepers who kept most comers out of the system altogether.
And, for various reasons, politicians often fall for their story.
Anti-piracy campaigns emphasise the risk to society if people get the idea that it’s OK to take without asking (“You wouldn’t steal a car…”) but the risk I worry about is that governments will get the idea that regulatory collateral damage to the internet is an acceptable price for achieving “important” policy goals. How else to explain the government’s careless inclusion of small-scale bloggers and friends with their own Facebook groups in the scope of the Leveson press regulation? How else to explain Teresa May’s determination, in the draft communications bill, to spy on everything we do on the internet?
These policy disasters spring from a common error: the assumption that incidental damage to the internet is an acceptable price in the service of your own goals. The only way that makes sense is if you radically discount the value of the internet – hence all the establishment sympathy for contrarian writers who want to tell us all that the internet makes us stupid, or played no role in the Arab spring, or cheapens discourse. Any time you hear someone rubbishing the internet, have a good look around for the some way that person would benefit if the internet was selectively broken in their favour.
There’s much, more where that came from. Highly recommended.