RPS Takes On Critics Of The Idea That Games Should Eventually Enter The Public Domain
from the at-war-with-the-entitled dept
I'm going to dispense with the normal introductions for this post, because there's so much meat here and we should all get to eating. To keep it short, RockPaperShotgun's John Walker recently wrote an editorial about how GOG.com saves older games for consumers, with a sidebar about how video games should probably eventually enter the public domain after a reasonable period of time, say 20 years. 20 years, for those of you not into gaming, encompasses several eras when it comes to the gaming industry. Predictably, in my opinion, this set off a contingent within the gaming industry that railed against Walker's desire to starve game-producers and murder small puppies, eventually leading to a request that he be fired. That'd be amusing, since it would essentially mean Walker firing himself, but I suppose that's a remote possibility.
Given the maelstrom, Walker has since written a delightful follow up in which he takes the arguments presented against his reasonable approach to task. We'll deal with them in order, with some of the highlights. First up is the annoyingly ubiquitous charge that any reduction in the ownership of creators will result in less incentives to create.
I think this argument is so astronomically false that my hat flies clean off my head when I read it. It’s so ghastly, so gruesomely inaccurate, such a wretched perspective of humans – these wonderful creatures so extraordinarily bursting with creative potential – and it makes me want to weep. The idea that creativity is only feasible if there’s a financial reward is abundantly demonstrably false...And not only does an argument for a more imminent end to copyright periods than the current monstrosities like “life plus 70 years” not inhibit someone from making a living from their creative works, but it also doesn’t even mean they couldn’t continue making a living from the creative works they produced after the copyrights have expired – that’s the magic of Public Domain! They just then share the ability to profit from those works with others.This hits upon two points we discuss regularly. The first is that financial incentives are of course not the only reason creative folks create. This should be an obvious logical conclusion from the start. After all, would we say that people become creative once they are aware of the financial reasons to do so? Obviously not. Creative people create. The financial incentives are there not to spur creativity, but to create a structure that encourages the disclosure of the creation for public consumption. That point gets lost far too often. Secondly, this myopic view that the public domain ends the ability to profit off of the creation is so demonstrably false it isn't even worth addressing.
Next, Walker takes on the idea that ideas should be owned through copyright as a matter of creative privelage. After digging into some of the history of copyright law, he lets loose with this cogent salvo.
But now copyright seeks to protect individuals, not ideas. In fact, its purpose is to restrict the free flowing of ideas, to prevent cultural exchange, for the profit of the few. Copyright itself is the threat to future creativity, attempting to artificially restrict that most human of actions: sharing ideas. It has returned to its origins, and exists as a form of censorship. Not a censorship many are willing to recognise as such, so successful and endemic is the international brainwashing by the copyright industries, but the censorship of ideas all the same. So why shouldn’t someone get to own ideas like they own a table? Because ideas don’t exist in an ownable form, are born of the shared cultural mass of humanity, and you can’t rest a coffee mug on an idea.And nor, I would add, should society want idea ownership to perpetuate. Physical objects are one thing, but the moment we began allowing culture and ideas to be locked up, we entered very dangerous territory. Because, I would argue, the next step in this progression is going to be language. Don't laugh, it's not as silly as it sounds. If you think about it, we already do this to some degree tangentially. After all, software is essentially written in a programming language, and the result of that language is locked up. Trademark and copyright already lock down language in a very limited degree, but even that limited degree can be problematic, as the wonderful world of IP lawsuits has shown us. Ideas, culture, and language shouldn't be restricted in any society that wants to continue to progress. That's our entire point.
Next we have the notion that creators should be able to lock down their creations for at least as long as they're alive:
Putting aside that an embracing of the public domain does not prevent someone from profiting from their idea, my response to this question is: why should they? What I’ve found interesting about asking this question of people is that I’ve yet to receive an answer. I’m either told it’s on me to explain why they shouldn’t, as if I hadn’t just spent thousands of words doing that, or I’m told that they just should. I’ve noticed a complete unwillingness for people to stop and engage with the question. Why should someone get to profit from something they did fifty years ago?It's the same argument I've always made, which is that those attempting to take action have the onus to prove the need for that action. Human beings share inherently. Locking sharing down via copyright may arguably have some merit for some period of time, but it's on those advocating for it to prove that, not us. And that's a tall mountain to climb. Demonstrate that the culture in question deserves payment for the amount of time of a creator's life, demonstrate its value, demonstrate what society gets as a result, and demonstrate that any harm is outweighed by the benefit. That's on the copyright folks, not on us to prove the opposite. They're imposing upon us, not the other way around, no matter what copyright advocates would have you believe.
Finally, there's the argument that people who think the public domain has value don't want those working on video games to be paid.
Games, unlike some other creative pursuits, are often made by huge teams of people. While there may be a project lead, this isn’t like a book’s author. This is a company. People getting paid to do their job, to make a game. The rights to the game, the ownership, lies with the publisher that funds it, not the creatives who create it. When a 20, 30 year old game is still being charged for, not a single person who was involved in its creation is getting a dime. When it is more like book with an author, an indie developer and their self-published project, then yes, there is a greater chance they’ll see the money. But then we return to the my larger, more significant argument: that after those decades of getting paid for it, it’s time to return it to culture.This, too, is in Techdirt's wheelhouse. When we combat this argument with the way many in the industry, and other creative industries, actually go out of their way to not pay those involved with the creative work, there never seems to be much of an argument against us. Whether its labels ducking royalties, horrific contracts, or movie studios using hollywood accounting practices to keep as much money as possible out of the creative folks' hands, the end recipient of much of this long-term copyright money is a company headed by people who weren't creating in the first place. Yet it's we who are making war on creativity?
Go give the entire thing a read, but this is spot on in nearly every respect. Kudos to Walker for not shying away from the argument. Or firing himself, either.