A war about copyright rages all around – and we’re all focusing on the wrong thing. No doubt, current technologies threaten existing businesses. No doubt they may threaten artists. But technologies change. The industry and technologists have plenty of ways to use technology to protect themselves against the current threats of the Internet. This is a fire that if let alone would burn itself out.” Lessig, Lawrence “Free Culture”, pg 211.
The Copyfuture class has been analyzing solutions, theories and legislation all semester long, and has been unable to find a suitable engine to put the fire out. The internet, like gasoline on dry bush in the middle of a Santa Ana dry, hot, windy spell, is creating a problem never seen before in the past. However, we all know in San Diego how unstoppable and unpredictable these firestorms can be. Wherefore, devising a perfect plan to stop the storm before it causes irreparable harm is next to impossible, just as impossible as it will be for Congress to make legislation that will satisfy all interested parties of the “Copyfight”.
I agree with Lessig, that if you leave a fire alone, eventually it will burn itself out. However, one must consider, or balance, the amount of damage caused by letting it burn itself out, to the overall benefit gained by leaving it alone. As it stands now, unless the Supreme Court grants Certiorari in the Grokster case and reverses the decision, there may be a high probability the issue may be left alone.
Leaving all Alone
If we left the Copyright system alone as it stands today, the market, or at least an ideal efficient market, will be given the chance to find a way to compromise. These natural changes (evolution) may create rewards and problems in a pattern of ebbs and flows to the interested parties of the Copyfight. Eventually the market would find a balance, like a Teeter-totter, with the Consumer Electronic Industry (CEI) on one end, the Content Industry on the other, and the Consumer in the middle.
Perhaps society has created this fire to burn off the excess foliage that exists in the Content Industry today (Hollywood). Although Hollywood is spending billions of dollars to produce new content, it is debatable whether or not the content is increasing in quality. Where the price of purchasing increases, the quality necessarily doesn’t. In fact, it is usually the lower budgeted films that bring uniqueness and creativity to the world of content. Even the highly paid stars realize this because they will commit much time and money to these projects just for the chance to work on a quality film.
Imagine we were to leave it all alone. The CEI will continue to create and manufacture new audio and video equipment that is designed to succeed with peer-to-peer sharing of (free) digital content. The Content Industry will continue to lose money, and furthermore lose incentives to create new music. The Consumer will be able to enjoy good content for free on their cool new gadgets. For a while, the CEI and the Consumers will enjoy the benefits, and the Content Industry will bare the costs of the system.
However, the content will eventually start to decline due to the lack of protection and incentives. This in turn will create problems for the Consumer because of the lack of quantity and quality of content. Less content means the less the demand by the Consumer for new gadgets to hear the content on. This may cause the market to shift to a system where the CEI works with the Content Industry to create new protection through technology. This type of system allows the Content Industry to enjoy more of the profits, but forces the CEI and Consumer to bare more of the costs.
Leave legislation, lobbyists and the Court out of it, and eventually supply and demand will even it all out. It is human nature for people to want to take a “good” for free instead of paying the appropriate cost for it. However, if the good disappears because no one is paying for it, society’s “norms” will change, and when the good begins to return the general population will realize the value of the good, and no longer abuse it by stealing it. Perhaps a system will evolve where the content industries merge with the Consumer Electronic Industry and Internet Providers, as a sort of vertical integration. Allowing both interested sides to work together to find this balance.
Perhaps the fire was started due to a spark from the compression free culture is experiencing. Lessig points out in his book “Free Culture” how fair use rights have almost disappeared. Either one risks being sued or spends the time, and money, to get the rights to content that should obviously be available under the fair use rights. This in turn restricts the way culture and content is made. The source of gasoline Lessig worries about being added to the fire is legislation that further restricts the way free culture is made currently in society. He thinks it will be an irreparable harm committed to further extend Copyrights.
Let’s alter the mix of rights so that people are free to build upon our culture. Free to add or mix as they see fit. We could make this change without necessarily requiring that the “free” use be free as in “free beer.” Instead, the system could simply make it easy for follow-on creators to compensate artists without requiring an army of lawyers to come along[.]
Lessig, Lawrence. “Free Culture”, pg 106.
Lessig provides a solution to this disaster, Creative Commons. Creative Commons is the backfire that Lessig developed which could stop the fire from spreading too far, and perhaps force it to burn out faster while still eliminating the excess foliage. The system allows a creator to chose the type of licenses that best fits his needs by offering certain rights to any taker, but still allowing for restriction of use. This system creates the balance necessary between incentives to create and fair use, which the current system doesn’t offer.
The best part about this proposal is that no new changes in legislation need to occur. This is not a mandatory way to license content, but instead it is an additional way where new advantages can be enjoyed. Additionally, this system will work as an experiment to determine if the 120 years of Copyright protection is really the fortification the Content Industry needs.
However, the Patent system is already a strong verification that this length of time is unnecessary to create incentives to invent. The idea of the patent system is to grant the inventor a short period of time where they own exclusive rights to the invention, under the provision that they disclose the invention for others to learn from it. Subsequently, if another inventor has designed a product that uses this technology, but incorporates and additional novel and non-obvious component to it, they too can obtain exclusive rights to the new technology. The system is created specifically so others can expand on what already exists. Meanwhile, there continues to be plenty of incentives for technology companies to continue to design new products and patent new ideas.
So for the Future of Copyrights, I would like to see a stronger push by Consumers and the Consumer Electronic Industry for the Creative Commons system. Like all good ideas, money is needed to start off a project like this. With the backing of major Electronic device companies and consumers (and of course a few major artists), this could be vastly more successful than the old system in promoting incentives for people to create new content. Additionally, society will be left with a much less restricted “Free Culture”, where everyone will benefit by experiencing new, unique, and high quality content.