from the copyright-week dept
So how can we get copyright right? Well, respecting things like transparency, the public domain, open access, the freedom to tinker and fair use are certainly important and necessary starting points.
But it goes much further than that. I think it's worth repeating the basic framework for copyright reform I suggested last year, because not only does it still apply, it appears that Congress has shown no interest in following that framework. Instead, they've still been setting everything up as a "blue team vs. red team" game where every proposal has someone arguing for the exact opposite, and everything is seen as a zero sum game, rather than looking for solutions that actually expand the opportunity for everyone. So here are the basic principles I suggested earlier, which I think bear repeating:
- Pretty much everyone is both a content creator and a content consumer. Over and over again we heard about concerns of certain creators as if they were a separate class of people unrelated to the wider public. That's silly. Especially as we have copyright law today -- in which every piece of creative content is immediately covered by copyright at the moment the expression is set in fixed form -- we are all creators. Nearly every email you write is probably covered by copyright. Every creator is also a consumer of content, and that includes professional creators. Professional content creation often involves building off of the influences of other works. We should support that as well. Otherwise, we begin to treat copyright as a sort of welfare program for professional creators, which is never what it was intended to be.
- Technology is just a tool. It is neither a competitor to, nor an enemy of, content creators. With so many Representatives setting up the debate as "content vs. technology," we start to go down a very dangerous and distorted path that has little to do with reality. As a tool, technology certainly can create challenges for existing and traditional business models, but also tremendous opportunity. Look at the success of platforms like Kickstarter today. Would anyone seriously argue that the "technology" company Kickstarter is "anti" creator? Similarly, we're seeing more and more artists succeed by embracing new technology platforms that enable them to do amazing things: Bandcamp, TopSpin, BandZoogle, ReverbNation, SongKick, Dropbox, SoundCloud, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, HumbleBundle -- and many, many, many more. The list literally goes on and on and on. These are the tools that so many content creators are embracing today to help them to be better able to create, to promote, to distribute, to connect and to monetize their works than ever before. To argue that this is tech vs. content, when the tech companies seem to be handing content creators the most useful tools they've ever had to be successful, seems ridiculous.
- Every legislative choice has costs and benefits. Too often, it seems like those pushing a certain proposal like to only look at one side of that equation. If we're to have an effective debate over copyright reform, it should include an upfront look at the costs and the benefits, the conditions and the consequences of various decisions across the board on the public. The purpose of copyright law, explicitly, is to promote the progress. We should be weighing carefully whether or not each change really would promote progress of science and the useful arts.
- Decisions need to be made based on empirical data. As we've discussed in the past, historically, copyright reform discussions have been almost entirely faith-based. This is why the claims of "everyone just wants stuff for free" are so concerning," since the data suggests that's not even close to true. Given the recent call for objective research that would be practical in the copyright debate by the US National Research Council, I'm hopeful that we'll actually begin to see some useful data for this discussion. Hopefully those in Congress will actually pay attention to the data, rather than continue to insist that blatantly false claims must be true.
- Finally, and most importantly, the focus needs to remain on promoting the progress of science and the useful arts. It's not about "protecting" any industry or any class. It's about what most helps to promote overall progress. Each proposal should be judged on that standard.
Rather than viewing copyright policy as a zero sum game where one party "winning" means someone else losing, let's recognize that the only real stakeholder is the public, and any policy should be designed to be best for the public, and that's one where both artists and technologists are better off as well, because new technologies enable artists to better create, promote, distribute, connect and monetize their works, while providing the public with more content, more choices, more ways to support, more ways to share, more ways to express and to communicate. And the end result, as we've seen throughout history, tends to be better for just about everyone -- with the exception of those who stay wedded to obsolete models that are built around being the gatekeeper for areas of friction that no longer apply.
Focus on what's best for the public and it will also be best for creators and technologists alike. That's how you "get copyright right."