Can We Please Stop The False Dichotomy Of 'Creators' vs 'Consumers' When It Comes To Copyright?

from the false-dilemma dept

James Gannon, a Canadian IP lawyer who works closely with the recording industry, recently put up a post on Facebook in which he tries to separate the world out into consumers who want freedom and creators who want control. The problem is that this is a totally false dichotomy. These aren't two separate groups. Most people are both creators and consumers at the same time. The lines separating the two are also somewhat porous and meaningless. Yet, by setting up this fake "us vs. them" dichotomy, Gannon can effectively brush aside those who are against things like DRM as simply not appreciating art and to appeal to everyone's innate desire to be creative and artistic to make them feel like being against DRM is somehow dirty. Let's dig in a bit:
People who oppose protection for digital locks tend to see art and culture in the same light as they see mass-produced consumer goods.
Note how Gannon lumps together all of the folks who don't like digital locks and tries to "classify" them. And he does so in a way that makes them sound like Philistines. They look down on art. It's just a "mass-produced consumer good." Except, of course, that's not even close to true. Many of those opposed to laws giving overriding control to digital locks are content creators ourselves, who deeply value creativity and the content creation process. We just realize that digital locks often get in the way of that process. Gannon then goes on to basically repeat his first sentence over and over again in different forms, all with the intent of suggesting that people who don't like digital locks don't get art. They're boring engineers who like to (gasp!) tinker with things.
Artists tend to disagree with this view. Most musicians think their of their albums as more than a collection of grooves on a plastic disc. It's art, and it's an important part of our culture.
Ah, and here is the pure and beautiful artist, living above such petty worldly concerns about technology and how things work.

The problem, of course, is that these two "groups" are works of fiction. The simple fact is that almost everyone today is both a creator and a consumer, often at the same time. In fact, almost everyone I know who is seriously against DRM or mandating digital locks is a well-established content creator. But, at the same time, they're also vast "consumers" of content as well. That's because the best way to be a content creator is to also joyfully consume what others are doing -- to experience that overall culture and (perhaps, sometimes) to gain inspiration, motivation and revelation from those works. Pretending these are two separate groups of people does a disservice to the actual issues at play.

I can't think of anyone I know who is against DRM who looks at art as just some piece of plastic or "a toaster" as Gannon claims. Instead, I tend to see the opposite. I see people of all kinds who find inspiration from that creative work and want to share that inspiration with others, and build a cultural connections around those works. If the people against DRM didn't value the artwork itself, this wouldn't be an issue, because they wouldn't care so much.
The idea for copyright came out of that second line of thinking.
Well, no, actually, it didn't. The idea for copyright came from an attempt to actually grant more power to middlemen to limit certain forms of creativity. Gannon, it appears, is not familiar with the history of copyright. Of course, more modern copyright law was designed to "promote progress" for society as a whole. That still has nothing to do with recognizing the beauty of art over plastic goods and toasters. Copyright was never intended to be a one-sided tool for artists, but it was designed to benefit society as a whole. In fact, early copyright laws focused on improved learning and education, and often left out such wasteful things as pure artwork.
Quite honestly, people in that first group will probably never understand or support the notion of digital locks because they essentially don't see the point of any copyright at all. To them, an artist asking them not to copy their CD is no different than Ford telling them not to put their car in reverse.
No. It is not because we see it as no different from Ford trying to stop us from going in reverse, but because we recognize how it's actually limiting art and creativity, by limiting the cultural relevance and the ability to be inspired and to build off of that inspiration.
The idea of restrictions, any restrictions, on their use of something they bought is an unrivalled affront to their rights as consumers.
No, it's an unrivaled affront to the ability to create and build and share and experience culture which we appreciate and love.
Digital locks were developed as a response to this phenomenon. As more technologies were developed that allowed people to copy works on a massive scale, publishers, large and small, started coming out with digital locks to protect their artists' works and prevent unauthorized uses of their art.
Except, of course, this ignores the truth. Digital locks have never worked and will never work. They did absolutely nothing to "protect the artists' works" or to prevent unauthorized uses of their work. That's because once the lock was picked -- and it always gets picked -- it was available to everyone. What digital locks actually do harm, are the many legitimate users of that content who experience it and wish to do more with it, including building shared cultural experiences around it.
Remember, if there's one thing they hate, it's an artist who tries to control how her art might be used.
Uh, no. No one hates an artist because they try to control their work. They hate it when they are unable to actually do something useful or valuable with a piece of artwork, such as building their own artwork.
The laws you've been hearing about actually don't really concern themselves directly with digital locks themselves. Rather, it's those other technologies, the hacks and the cracks, that the government's bill is trying to outlaw. Just like copyright law makes it illegal to copy or modify a creative work, the bill would make it illegal to hack the digital locks that an artist may use to protect these rights.
If that were really the case, then the law would allow for exemptions for cases of fair use/fair dealing or when the circumvention occurs for totally non-infringing reason (such as archiving, transformative uses, security purposes, etc.).
It all comes back to the art-as-a-toaster point of view: laws that prevent people from doing whatever they want with creative works they purchased are fundamentally wrong, no exception.
Well, yes, laws that prevent people from doing things like that are fundamentally wrong. But it's not because of any "art-as-a-toaster" viewpoint. It's the opposite. It's because content creators know that they are both creators and consumers, and when part of that overall process is blocked, it harms the creativity side quite a bit.
So, what kind of consumer or creative works do you consider yourselves to be? Should artists be able to retain some control on how their works are copied or modified, even once they're sold?
And this is the crux of the article. He sets up this "beautiful pure artist vs. philistine tinkerer consumer" myth to make people identify with art, because, really, who doesn't love art? But, that very point is the reason why Gannon is so very, very wrong. Presenting those who are opposed to digital locks as being unappreciative of art has it backwards. If they didn't appreciate and value the art this wouldn't be an issue. They wouldn't care, because they wouldn't value it enough to care. They'd be off doing something else.

It's a shame that the recording industry and its lawyers want to turn this into an us vs. them situation. It's not. Plenty of people want to create a situation where there are wider opportunities for everyone acting as both creators and consumers, to really allow creativity to flourish. But you don't do that by locking up creativity and pretending that many of those creators don't appreciate art.

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  1. icon
    nasch (profile), 5 Aug 2010 @ 3:58pm

    Re:

    What would a toaster be without any art? It would still be a toaster. It might be ugly but it would toast bread. On the other hand, what would art be without any art? Nothing. What would art be without any specific utility? Still art. Objects can combine utility and art as you say, but the two are very different.

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