This is a subject that used to be exclusively a concern of artists, inventors, authors, musicians, but today it’s a relevant issue for everyone of us. Why? Because digital has changed everything. Because knowledge and information is a non-rival good—no amount of consumption can diminish or limit its supply, and therefore any limit or restriction is a deliberate, artificial obstruction meant to keep others ignorant and disadvantaged. Because information should be freely available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Because knowledge belongs to humanity. Because human success is built on the cooperative passing of knowledge from person to person, generation to generation. Because copying and distributing has been made easier than ever. The only thing we should pay for is the distribution; internet service, satellite/cable, retail outlet, shipping; or physical medium, print, disc, other recording material.
But this is only part of the issue. Copyright was put into place to protect the original creator(s), to insure he/she gets the credit and the economic rewards for his/her work. We’ve all heard the stories of authors, inventors, musicians who have been exploited by promoters, agents, corporations that took all or most of the profits off the top and passed little, or often nothing, on to the person(s) who actually did the work. We all know many examples of the head of an organization who sucks up all the recognition for the efforts of all the unknown, unnamed employees who are the real brains behind the creative work. We all have an innate sense of fairness, so when fairness is violated, when others are cheated, we feel it. All inequities hurt society. They make the world we live in less safe, less pleasant, less productive.
Who has the right to own the copyrights to products and information? For how long? Should the rights be sellable, transferable, inheritable? Should others, who had no role in the creation, be able to own the rights? Who are the creators of something, such as a recording or movie or a workshop/laboratory product, that takes a long list of individuals to produce? How do you measure the contributions of multiple contributors? Who loses when copyrights are violated, sold, extended? When a unique, one-of-a-kind work of art is sold, who owns the copyright, the artist or the buyer? What does it mean to own the original, or something that cannot be exactly copied? In that case, what constitutes a copy? Is a photograph of a painting a copy? What should or shouldn’t be copyrightable?
To complicate matters, we are talking about three distinct categories.
A) Things produced in quantities of one : unique, original works of art.
B) Things produced in multiple identical copies : recordings, books, apps.
C) Things intangible : knowledge, ideas, data.
Each are different in nature. Can each be treated the same in practice?
There are more questions and more considerations to take into account. Some of them are brought up for discussion in a new series about copyrights. Take a look—think about it : [Copy-me]