My Take on “A Copyright Story”

           My last post, Copyright From an Artist’s Perspective was inspired by a fantastic blog entry I had read about a month ago. I came across an article by an artist on the subject of copyright, and while it does fall into some of the same old traps of mixing up moral, legal and economic realities, it also introduces some great new ideas. I knew it was a good entry because it made me sit, and think, and question many of my own preconceptions. Although my opinion hasn’t changed, anything that shakes me like that got to have some kind of power, and his message should be shared.
           I threw together a quick post for my tumblr account, to help me clear my head and sort my thoughts. This article builds upon that one.

           In the copyright debate, I have found the first article from ‘the other side’ that I think actually gets some things right. Jason Robert Brown had an excellent blog entry titled “FIGHTING WITH TEENAGERS: A COPYRIGHT STORY”.
(the follow-up post might be even better, but I’m not going to get into any of those ideas right here.)

           So, I’ll begin by telling the story of what happened. Mr. Brown found a bunch of his content on a file-sharing site. His work was being pirated. Rather than suing his fans (which is very stupid) he created an account on a file sharing site, identified the people who were distributing his content, and he very politely asked them to stop. He went though everyone offering up his content, and on an individual basis, he sent them a message asking them to stop. He was polite and professional about it (which is smart). I think it’s really cool of him to go and do this himself, and I think it was very good of him to explain that he is not ok with his content being shared like that, and many people stopped right away. He made a convincing moral argument, and most people listened. Most people. Not everyone.
Continue reading My Take on “A Copyright Story”

Copyright From an Artist’s Perspective

          I have been following the copyfight since the days of Napster (that’s 11 years now). Despite being an artist myself, I have always instinctively sided with the more anti-strong copyright leanings of the tech crowd. This seems to put my opinion at odds with most of the other artists I encounter. I am slowly learning that my stance on copyright isn’t something that can be politely discussed among artists.

          “Information wants to be free” is the meme that best captures the gist of the free-culture perspective. That quote is only a small part of what Stewart Brand actually said at the first Hackers’ Conference in 1984. The full quote was, “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other”. By “free” Brand was talking more about control than he was about price. But, over time, the exact meaning and extra words were dropped, and “Information wants to be free” is what people remember.

          I have never been the slightest bit convinced by any of the arguments from the side pushing for stronger enforcement and stronger copyright law. The copyright debate reads almost like arguments from the evolution/creationism ‘debate’; one side has logic, reason, and an ever-growing body of evidence, while the other side has charisma, wilful ignorance, and very deep pockets.

          In the copyright debate, I am drawn to the techy side because their arguments actually follow, they eschew passion and emotion and focus on the cold hard reality. They focus on what is. The supporters of strong copyright tend to focus on what ought to be. The heated nature of the debate comes from what I think is a misunderstanding of the other side’s position. People on the pro-copyright side are making moral arguments about what people should do, while those on the anti-strong-copyright side are making economic arguments about what people actually are doing.

          I’ve just never found these moral arguments to be the least bit convincing. File trading is out there, it happens, and it can’t be stopped anytime soon in the foreseeable future. Telling people that they shouldn’t share files because, “it’s wrong”, doesn’t really do anything to solve the problem.

          My stance on the issue is this: If we artists are supposed to be such creative people, why don’t we stop fighting piracy, and come up with new ways of doing things that use file sharing to our advantage?