The Declared Value System: Managing Monopolies for the Public Good

This proposal is a rewrite of one we first ran five years ago here at QCO. Since then, meaningful copyright (and patent) reform proposals have gradually been gaining ground. You know you're making progress when someone gets fired from the U.S. Republican Study Committee for writing a policy brief that speaks sanely about copyright. Because the policy climate is changing, we're re-introducing our proposal (cross-posted at Falkvinge on Infopolicy and the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom) with an updated and clarified explanation. For many readers, it still won't go far enough — it's not abolition, for example. But proposals like this succeed first by reframing debate. In this case, the point is that if a government is going to offer private monopolies at all, it should at least reserve the public a way out of them.

The Declared Value System: Managing Monopolies for the Public Good

What would a truly free-market approach to copyrights and patents look like?

The problem we have right now is this:

Declared value point: monopoly value vs liberation value, over time

The flat green line represents the value to the public of de-monopolizing the work — think of it as "what the public would be willing to pay for unrestricted access". The point where the curved blue slope crosses the green line is the point where there is no longer any public or private purpose to having a monopoly. From that moment on, the value of the monopoly to the rights-owner is equal to or less than the value of de-monopolization. Yet today, the monopoly continues beyond that point. The green line is simply ignored in the current system: we pretend it does not exist.

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Not Wrong.

Help The Law See.Stop.  Breathe.  Sit up straight.  You're fine.

You didn't do anything wrong.

You copied something.  That's all.  You didn't steal, you didn't take false credit, you didn't intercept or dilute money that belongs to someone else.  All you did was copy something.  You took part in a ritual as old as the human race: the act of sharing a piece of culture or information.

Some people may try to make you feel bad about what you did.  They'll tell you that by copying something, you took money out of the pocket of an artist (but you know you didn't — in fact, you probably helped the artist by spreading their work).  They'll call it "piracy", as though making copies of things is somehow like board a ship on the high seas, stealing its cargo, and doing who-knows-what with the crew.  They'll tell you that what you did is analogous to counterfeiting money (it's not).  They might claim to you that the whole purpose of copyright is to supposed to be to provide artists with a stable income, even though that's not why copyright was invented, copyright is not how most artists earn their livings anyway, and overall it probably does more harm to artists than it does good.

When these people tell you you've done something wrong, they're asking you to help support a myth, but you're under no obligation to go along.  In fact, we'd appreciate it if you'd point them to this page.

So don't buy it.

We don't mean "don't buy the song", of course.  You should absolutely buy the song (or movie, or CD or DVD) if you want to — though if you really want to support the artist, it's often more efficient to just send them money, because that way there's no monopoly-based organization in the middle skimming most of your support away (naturally, if you feel the intermediary is doing good work, then support them too; many publishers are providing a valuable service).  It might be that the copying you did, or contemplated doing, is illegal in the country where you did it — a lot of countries have laws against copying.  We encourage you to obey the laws in your jurisdiction.  We just mean don't buy the argument.  Don't give those laws authority over your emotions.  If you've copied something, don't feel guilty.  You didn't do anything wrong.

There are many practical and philosophical reasons for obeying a law you don't agree with, but there is never a reason to feel guilty about breaking a law you don't agree with.  If you broke a law against copying publicly-available data, and someone's trying to make you feel bad about that, then send them here, or at least ask them to make a rigorous case for what they're claiming.

Can they justify the position that humans shouldn't be allowed to share culture freely?  If they're saying that the economic concerns for artists are so great as to trump the serious civil liberties concerns with this position, do they have actual numbers to back that up?  Have they talked to the artists who have been hurt by copyright restrictions?  The translators who couldn't translate because the law wouldn't allow them to?  The teachers who couldn't teach the material they needed?  The publishers and distributors who couldn't bring great books and films to audiences?

Copying is not wrong, and you didn't do anything wrong.  So don't feel bad — just spread the word.

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Let the Money in the Door: Opportunity in the Case of an Independent Artist

Flying dollar signs.Leonard Kirke is an author, blogger, and video artist based in Ohio. A believer in the ideals of Free Culture, he releases all of his work into the public domain via CC0, and is currently at work on a fantasy novel, the first in a series, aimed at children and young adults. His blog The Vertigo of Freedom can be found at leonardkirke.wordpress.com.  He is also a regular contributor to the surreal multimedia art project known as The Jeremy Kellerman Advice Hour Archive, which can be found on YouTube, Blogger, and the Internet Archive.

Many stories surrounding the debate over copyright today are focused on purely corporate affairs: film studios cracking down on illegal file-sharing, fair use being trampled on Youtube, record labels hunting down cover bands, and the efforts of lobbyists to pass far-reaching anti-copyright infringement legislation, such as SOPA earlier this year, that threaten internet freedom.

Recently, however, a story has been making the rounds online via social media that is certain to draw both the sympathy and righteous indignation of struggling independent artists everywhere. The story, and the following built by the man at the center of it, highlights some of the popular, often-unquestioned assumptions about the supposed inherent justice of copyright law.

As recounted in a post on his Tumblr account, the story begins back in 2008 when freelance artist Max Hancock, who often works under the pseudonym Kouotsu, created both a 2-D and 3-D character model design for a robot girl as part of an assignment while he was in art school and posted it to the popular site DeviantArt.

He goes on to explain, "I failed to put my name/info on the image though, so it has been spread around the internet and some people have modeled it without my permission (just for the record you don’t have to sign something for it to be protected by copyright). They usually find out who made it later and gladly credit me. So I don’t mind!"

That is, he adds, "Until someone tries to sell it."

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