Copyright, copyleft – does it do any justice?

Copyright, in its purest form exists to protect the person and their product from theft – and to allow them to be able to make a living from what they are talented at.  It should protect people in the same way that theft laws protects people’s physical assets.  At a philosophical level, copyright is very important as why should someone else profit off the work of someone else.

Through the advent of, in particular digital sharing platforms, enforcing copyright is virtually impossible.  It took big companies with deep pockets to overcome Napster.  Other sites, like Pinterest and Tumblr do the same as Napster – sharing and profiting off the work of others but without the deep pockets and the impetus of major companies, it would be impossible to see the same results.  The Throsby reading made mention of monopolies and you almost have to be one to ensure copyright.

Small operators would potentially struggle to pursue copyright claims due to the four factors that are there to protect them – i.e. search costs (expensive), transaction costs (lawyers are expensive), collection costs (and you’re still not guaranteed to get the collection, enforcement costs (courts are expensive).

As such the other aspects of copyright law that exist including identifiability and cost to purchase are gathered within normal business rules.  Simple supply and demand have to apply here – who will purchase something that is radically overpriced?

As society, and particularly digital technology has developed, the ease of flaunting copyright laws has increased.  It could be argued the services like Pinterest, YouTube and Facebook providing easy access for people to break copyright – and as a result for those companies to be able to profit from the potential breachers of their user base.

If we bring this back to an analogue world, would your local pawn store be liable for selling the stolen TV that was traded in by a customer?

Any answer to that is almost a moot point, unless a massive class action comes about.  Music with their issues with Napster have been able to form new business models that not only abides by copyright but also is profitable (i.e. iTunes, Spotify etc).  Where that business model comes in for photography, videography is another unclear.

When approaching other areas of work that is protected by copyright and IP law, the issues are complex.  If one looks at academic or industrial research, you are met with a cost heavy base product that can take decades to produce.  Under a free knowledge economy, how does this research remain viable.  If it is not protected by an effective and enforceable copyright law, it may also reduce the capacity for research.  This is also met with a need to share information to enable the world to progress at a faster rate – and to show that the research is valuable to the world at large.  When the Reddit founder was planning to release the academic papers under a ‘knowledge should be free’ banner it had the possibility to destroyed business models of research and academic journals (though the punishment that he was looking at was in no way comparable to the crime).

As you dig deeper into to coding and other specific skills, breaching copyright or engaging in poor business practices can have vastly negative consequences, similar to other creative industries.

When one then moves to the Creative Commons or Copyleft alternative, they are found with a much more flexible system, though one where the commercial business models are more difficult to perceive.  I don’t doubt that many people that rely on copyright are, by result of lack of resources are defaulted into copyleft.  Without the capacity to effectively pursue copyright claims, they are effectively looking a a copyleft situation – even if they don’t get the base product of an acknowledgement.

Copyleft has, undoubtedly enabled digital sharing to thrive and the sharing of knowledge has led to a boon of new ideas and innovation.  It in itself is a hugely important movement as we move forward and the number of people out there looking to innovate cheaply, and without payment increases.

I’ll soon put together a separate spiel on how I use both copyright and copyleft – both have an important place in what I do and how I make my living.

Whatever the case is, copyright laws have in important place in the protection of ideas and innovation.  I firmly believe that access to knowledge, culture, art etc should be widely available – but should be earnt.  Free reign to this doesn’t benefit the people who made it and devalues it as a commodity – to the point where, if it was an analogue world – it would be considered junk.

Copyright, and by virtue copyleft laws need to develop.  Undoubtedly industries that rely on copyright and have had this eroded away in a digital environment need to be allowed to flourish and be profitable in a the current environment – something that copyright doesn’t necessarily allow.

Where the answer is and how to get there is a complex issue and one that won’t be reached overnight – copyright has a place, it is vital to ensuring that art, culture, music, research and more can survive in this shared world.

* You may also enjoy reading this – http://www.afr.com/p/national/arts_saleroom/why_information_shouldn_be_free_ODMOpJVlRLZ5BAZjkCAsoJ

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