points us to an analysis of a recent paper on "the rhetoric of copyright policy."
The original paper is actually called Meh. The Irrelevance of Copyright in the Public Mind
. The original is a worthwhile read (as is the analysis), but the basic point is that people continue to ignore copyright law because they simply don't "believe" the story of "harm" that the copyright holders are spinning. This actually echoes Rep. Robert Wexler's recent remarks
to the World Copyright Summit, where it's all about "the story."
The paper argues that some of the fault is with the media who has portrayed these battles over copyright "as a land grab that benefited only copyright holders." Hmm. Perhaps that's because it's, I don't know... true? Also, it's worth pointing out that it isn't completely true that the media portrays the copyright battles in this manner. The media has often been quite supportive of copyright expansionist policies -- after all, many of the media's current business models rely somewhat on copyright as well.
Still, even if it is true, the paper argues that the RIAA/MPAA/BSA just needs to come up with a good story (which doesn't need to be true!) to convince people of the harm of unauthorized downloading. As a part of that, they suggest that copyright maximalists have to become trustworthy. Try to read the following without cracking up (I couldn't):
To be successful, copyright holders and legislators must consider the construction of ethos and credibility. This is done not only through the reputation that one gains, but also through the discourse itself. Legislators and copyright holders must portray themselves as trustworthy. More specifically, the recording industry must appear to be treating artists and fans fairly, and legislators must appear to be acting in the public interest.... Legislators and copyright holders must maintain a stance that encourages the public to obey copyright laws. When legislators consider altering copyright terms, the public domain is necessarily affected, and great consideration must be given to how the public will react to the proposed action. When the public sees little incentive to honor the ostensibly limited protection granted under copyright law, copyright law will increasingly become unenforceable. However, if the public is provided with compelling reasons why term limits are in the public interest, they may be more likely to support these terms. Likewise, copyright holders must make more compelling arguments concerning why the public should obey copyright law. If the people have a compelling narrative to follow, they will do so--whether it is true or not. The challenge, then, is not to craft better law; the challenge is to craft better rhetoric.
The problem, of course, is that this doesn't pass the laugh test. It's pretty difficult to find anyone who believes that the copyright holders and legislators are doing anything in the public interest. And, I guess if it were possible to come up with rhetoric that made the opposite case, then perhaps people would change their actions. I just question how they could come up with such a story when all of the evidence points to the contrary.
Beyond that, let's face it, the RIAA actually has
controlled the "story" for ages. It has convinced people it represents artists' interests, even though it does not. It's convinced people that potential copyright infringement is "stealing" or "piracy" when it's quite a different beast altogether. They've convinced people that copyright is the only way to make money off of content. The problem is that when anyone scratches the surface, they realize quite quickly, that none of this makes any sense at all.