De omnibus dubitandum

Archive for the ‘copyright’ Category

Modern copyright law makes no sense

Imagine your grandfather worked in construction. Imagine he helped build roads and buildings that still exist today. Imagine you would now be getting money, a few pence at a time, every time someone used one of those roads or lived in one of those buildings.

That would be great, wouldn’t it? Free money for something you had nothing to do with! How awesome would that be?

Of course it’s a totally ridiculous concept. You didn’t put any effort in to creating those roads and buildings, and thus you shouldn’t get any reward from their usage either. It’s a plainly stupid idea.

Except that this is exactly how copyright works.

A creative person, a writer or musician or whatever, creates something and gets an initial payment for it. So far that’s no different than most jobs out there, mine included – we do work and get paid for it.

But then that creative person then gets paid every time their work gets used by someone else. Every time a book is reprinted or quoted, every time a song is played on the radio, every time a movie is shown on TV, the creators gets paid.

Hang on a second… why is that? I don’t get paid every time a website I helped create makes a bit of money. A nurse doesn’t get paid every time a patient she helped recover from illness gets a paycheck. A teacher doesn’t get paid every time a former student earns big money.

So why do creatives get paid over and over again for work they’ve done just once?

The thought behind copyright and royalties is that it should encourage artists of higher quality to create more works, as they would earn more money with high quality stuff that gets re-used. And it disallows other artists from copying other people’s work and making money off of that for themselves.

But modern times have caught up with copyright law in almost every single aspect, making a total mockery of the entire concept.

First of all, I don’t think it’s fair that an artist gets paid over and over again for work done just once. If the goal is to encourage good artists to create more art, then paying them once for a piece of work – and have that payment be in accordance to the quality of the work – suffices just fine. That’s how nearly all of us earn our money, and it’s how all of us ensure future employment: by making sure our work is of good quality so that our employers want more of it.

The fact that artists get paid for their entire life for the effort they put in to a piece of work just once is, in my opinion, mind-bogglingly stupid and unfair.

The other aspect of copyright is to protect an artist’s work, making sure others can’t copy it and make money off of it themselves. This was probably a fairly valid point 100 years ago, but nowadays it’s a mostly hollow argument.

First of all, it’s pretty impossible nowadays to find a piece of creative work that is not derivative. Original work is pretty impossible to find. Every piece of creative output, from music to art to design to writing, is inspired by what has come before. Everything is copied, mashed up, diluted and mixed.

Second, I admit there is a good case to be made for copyright to be in effect for a certain period of time. A writer for example should be able to sell his books for a number of years without having to worry about someone else copying his books and selling them as well. A period of, say, 10 years sounds pretty reasonable. That gives the original creator plenty of time to capitalise on their creative output. And after 10 years the work becomes available for others to build upon, mix and remix, and generally integrate in to the collective cultural output of a society.

But copyright law in most countries have set this period of copyright to be insanely long. In the UK for example copyright on any piece of work is valid for the creator’s entire life, and then for another 70 years.

Yes, you read that right. Copyright is valid for 70 years after the creator has died.

This is of course totally and utterly bonkers. People who had nothing to do at all with the creation of a piece of art get paid for decades after the original artist has died. There is no sensible reason at all for these people to be paid, and yet this is exactly how the law works in this country.

This is of course because the people who make the most money off of copyright – the record companies, the movie studios, the big publishing houses – have a vested interest in making copyright last as long as possible. They want to keep on making money from the work the artists they’ve contracted have done, for decades and decades after those artists have died. And they’ve lobbied our politicians – with amazing success – to have the law go their way.

It’s pure and simple greed. There is not an ounce of genuine cultural enrichment at the core of modern copyright law. It’s only about padding the pockets of big corporate media organisations, and keeping the politicians they support in power.

Modern copyright law makes no sense. None whatsoever.

Now that the Dutch cabinet has fallen and new elections are on the horizon, Dutch digital rights organisation Bits of Freedom has started a Digital Rights 2010 campaign to create awareness among political parties of the issues of internet freedoms.

As any regular reader of this blog knows I’m a fierce advocate of digital freedom, firmly believing in the ideal of an open, free, and unregulated Internet.

Nefarious closed-door treaties like ACTA are threatening to destroy everything that made the Internet so successful.

Now more than ever we need political strength and vision to oppose corporate forces. Media corporations, focused single-mindedly on profit and profit alone, will always choose greed over freedom, lawsuits over expression, and censorship over innovation.

So I would urge you all to support Bits of Freedom. Put the banner on your site, spread the word via Twitter/Hyves/Facebook, and spam your political party of choice with questions about their stance on digital rights.

The next Dutch government may last the full 4 years – an eternity on the Internet. If we get it wrong this time, we might have missed the opportunity entirely. In 4 years’ time the corporate lobbyists may have succeeded in pushing their greed-inspired agenda, and the open & innovative nature of the Internet may be destroyed for good.

But only if we let them.

Today’s biggest non-news story is that the Pirate Bay, that terrorist beacon of all things evil on the internet (if you believe the copyright lobby), has shut down its torrent trackers.

This may at first glance seem like a devastating blow to filesharers across the world. But only if you totally lack a proper understanding of how the BitTorrent protocol works.

Neglecting the fact that ever since the whole Pirate Bay mess started literally thousands of new torrent sites have popped up to fill the gaps, BitTorrent users don’t actually need torrent trackers any more. BitTorrent has evolved to include trackerless technologies such as DHT, PEX, and Magnet Links, so the loss of a tracker (even the world’s largest, as the Pirate Bay’s was) won’t actually harm filesharing.

On the contrary – the more the copyright lobby fights against filesharing, the more sophisticated it will become, until filesharing is based on such advanced technologies that stopping it would mean shutting down the entire internet.

Which may actually be what the copyright lobby wants. They do after all still seem to live in the pre-WWW 1980’s where they reigned supreme over all types of content and media, locking artists into inescapable contracts and charging ridiculous amounts of money to consumers for music and films.

But times have changed. Technology has liberated consumers and artists alike, and the big media conglomerates seem unable or unwilling to adapt. So I say fuck ’em. Adapt or die, and the copyright lobby has obviously chosen the latter option.

I recently reported (i.e. ranted) on the plans of Dutch copyright group Buma/Stemra to start charging money for embedding music videos.

The Dutch internet rights advocacy group Bits of Freedom has crowdsourced an open letter to Buma/Stemra (PDF, Dutch) in which they skilfully demolish Buma’s plans and arguments. The letter is a politely worded yet utterly scathing review of Buma’s soulless, viciously greedy internet-killing scheme.

If you’re Dutch and you don’t yet support Bits of Freedom, do so now. If you’re not Dutch, find your local internet rights group and start supporting them in any way you can.

As a Dutchman living in the UK I support Bits of Freedom, the Open Rights Group, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It’s a little money out of my pocket every month, but lots of little contributions add up to a great deal of support for these organisations that work hard to defend our online rights.

UPDATE: After a tidal wave of protests from all areas of society, including politicians, Buma/Stemra has withdrawn its intent to charge non-commercial websites for embedding videos.

Buma/Stemra, the Dutch copyright organisation charged with collecting royalties for artists (and often neglecting to funnel that money to the actual artists) has published new rules for embedding music videos on websites.

These new rules, set to go in to effect in 2010, effectively mean that everyone, including amateur bloggers, will have to start paying money for the privilege of embedding music videos on their blog.

We’re not talking about a few pennies here either: €130 for 6 embedded videos, €650 for 30 embedded videos. This is big money that the vast majority of sites – you know, amateur bloggers that are fans of music and want to share their passion with their online friends – will be unable to afford.

You might think that an organisation claiming to represent the rights of music artists would be happy to have internet users create free publicity and buzz for artists, which would result in extra sales of music, tickets and merchandise.

But no, you’d be horribly wrong. Buma/Stemra doesn’t care about artists or music. They care only about money. More specifically, about making money for record companies. Fuck artists, fuck fans, and most of all fuck the internet. Pay up or get sued.

I propose we show Buma/Stemra just how retarded they are and post thousands of Dutch music videos on thousands of blogs. Start new blogs and post music videos. When they send you a cease and desist notice, close that blog and start a new one. Keep doing this over and over. Bury them in mountains of administrative work that yields them absolutely nothing.

Oh, and sign the petition against this latest excrement of corporate greed, and spread the word.

UPDATE: After a tidal wave of protests from all areas of society, including politicians, Buma/Stemra has withdrawn its intent to charge non-commercial websites for embedding videos.

Following the dreadful example of France, the UK is now bowing to corporate lobbyists whispering disinformation in the ears of MPs – a new law proposed by Lord Mandelson would disconnect UK internet users after being accused of downloading copyrighted material.

Let’s forget that the whole ‘copyrighted material’ issue is a grey area to begin with, subjected to hopelessly antiquated laws designed for an era without instant digital reproduction. Instead let’s focus on what this would mean for the average citizen.

First, it’s ridiculously easy to download copyrighted material. It’s so easy in fact that you’re likely to do it several times in any given week’s regular internet activity, probably without realising it yourself.

Secondly, it’s nearly impossible to prove that a particular individual downloaded copyrighted material. An IP address can belong to an entire household or even a whole building, and can also be easily spoofed. Yet IP addresses are used exclusively as evidence of individual copyright offences.

Thirdly, cutting off internet access means you won’t be able to do a lot of things that are necessary in these modern times. You won’t be able to do your banking online any more. Can’t book any flights or tickets online. Unable to look up the latest screen times of that new movie you want to see. Won’t be able to download that discount voucher.

Cutting people off from internet access is a ridiculous penalty. It’s like prohibiting convicted drivers from using the road – not just from driving cars, but from using any means of road transport at all!

Unfortunately the pro-copyright corporate lobby is rich and powerful and is polluting our governments with disinformation. One government after the other is succumbing to their lies and manipulation. We must stand up to this to protect our digital rights.

So sign the petition and support organisations like the Open Rights Group. This is important, and it deserves our attention and our action.

The Two Faces of Ireland

Ireland is an interesting country. I’m not talking about its beautiful landscape, its delicious beers, its fine whiskeys, or even its wonderful people.

No, it’s interesting because on one side Ireland wants to belong in the 21st century, with an economy powered by high-tech companies and an educated population to go with it. But on the other side, Ireland seems intent on embracing the ways of ancient times.

First there came a law against blasphemy, a law that would befit a nation in the 1400’s. But certainly not a nation that’s a part of the modern civilised world.

And now the largest ISP in Ireland, Eircom, has announced that at the request of record companies it will start blocking access to The Pirate Bay. Corporate-controlled Internet censorship has arrived in Ireland in full force.

With this move Eircom is essentially taking the side of obsolete business models and deliberate ignorance. Instead of innovation, a word so often used by Ireland’s government officials, it’s choosing to adopt older ways of thinking. Ways that have totally lost their relevancy in the modern world.

Ireland should be learning from past mistakes and looking towards the future. Instead it seems to be blind to the flaws of history and continues to stare at the past with an utterly misplaced sense of nostalgia.

Here’s a warning for Ireland: Keep this up and the rest of the modern world will be leaving you behind with your Dark Age mentality as we move onwards to better things.



Adamus is the online identity of Barry Adams. A Dutchman living in Northern Ireland, Barry / Adamus is an internet fanatic, skeptic, technophile, gamer, and geek.

On this personal blog he provides his unpolished view of the world and its insanities.

Identity 2.0

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