— FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions:

Was copyright invented by writers and artists, to protect themselves?

No. Actually, it was invented by publishers, to preserve an information ownership monopoly based on a government censorship policy.

The first copyright law was a 1556 censorship statute in England. It granted the Company of Stationers, a London guild, exclusive rights to own and run printing presses. Company members registered books under their own name, not the author’s name, and these registrations could be transferred or sold only to other Company members. In exchange for their government-granted monopoly on the book trade, the Stationers aided the government’s censors, by controlling what was printed, and by searching out illegal presses and books — they even had the right to burn unauthorized books and destroy presses. They were, in effect, a private, for-profit information police force.

After the Revolution of 1688, the government loosened its control over the press. No longer desiring strong censorship, Parliament decided to allow the Stationers’ monopoly to expire. This was a direct economic threat to the Stationers’ monopoly-based livelihood, and they responded by proposing a compromise: they argued that authors have a “natural right” of ownership in their works, and that furthermore this right could be transferred to others by contract. The placement of original ownership with the author was a smart political ploy, by which the Stationers avoided charges that they were attempting to resurrect the old (and unpopular) monopoly mechanisms. But the stipulation that these new copyrights were a form of property, and therefore transferrable, showed the real motive behind their proposal. The Stationers correctly foresaw that authors would need to transfer copyright to a publisher as an inducement to print, and that therefore the publishers’ position would about the same as it had been before. Indeed, their hand would be strengthened, because now the exclusive “ownership” of a work would now be based on well-established property law, instead of the temporary whim of the government.

The Stationers persuaded Parliament, and the result was the Statute of Anne: a copyright law created by the publishing industry, designed around the interests of the publishing industry, and modeled on a defunct censorship system. The Stationers’ argument was essentially economic: they claimed that they could not afford to print books (and thus encourage authors to write books) without protection against competition. There were some technological and economic reasons why the Stationers’ argument was plausible; remember too that they were monopoly-softened trade group worried about suddenly being asked to survive without special protections.

But there was no uprising of writers, clamoring counterintuitively for the right to prevent people from copying their works. The writers themselves didn’t participate much in the debate around the creation of copyright. The argument was crafted and presented by publishers.

Thus copyright is not really about subsidizing creation; it is about subsidizing replication, and it was designed around the dominant replication technology of its time: the printing press.

For more detailed information about the history of copyright, see our bibliography page.

Do musicians, writers, and artists depend on copyright to earn a living?

The vast majority of musicians, writers, and artists will never earn a significant amount from copyright royalties, directly or indirectly. For the small percentage who do, it rarely amounts to beer money — a nice consolation prize, but hardly enough to make a real difference in their lives, let alone to provide an economic incentive to create.

The copyright lobby rarely talks about the majority of artists. It prefers to talk about the superstars: the tiny minority of famous artists whose works are backed by the marketing power of the publishing and record industries. There’s nothing objectionable about these superstars, some of whom are quite talented, but to treat them as representative of artists in general would be to confuse marketing with reality. Most artists’ lives look nothing like theirs, and never will, under the current monopoly-based spoils system.

But without copyright, how will artists get credit for their work? What about plagiarism?

This is one of the favorite ploys of the copyright industry: to pretend that people sharing your work is somehow related to people claiming that they wrote your work. For example, here’s Hilary Rosen, the former head of the RIAA, describing the speeches she gave at schools and colleges, in which she urged students to adopt the industry’s views about information ownership:

Analogies are what really work best. I ask them, “What have you done last week?” They may say they wrote a paper on this or that. So I tell them, “Oh, you wrote a paper, and you got an A? Would it bother you if somebody could just take that paper and get an A too? Would that bug you?” So this sense of personal investment does ring true with people.

Of course, people who swap music files do not replace the artist’s name with their own. If Hilary Rosen had asked instead: “Would it bother you if somebody could just show a copy of your paper around, so other people could benefit from what you wrote, and see that you got an A?” the students would have answered “No, we aren’t bothered by that at all,” which isn’t what Rosen wanted to hear.

Copyright does not prevent plagiarism, it prevents copying — that’s why it’s called “copyright”. They’re two unrelated things, and it’s a pity the copyright lobby tries to make people think that permitting copying would somehow encourage plagiarism. (If anything, the free flow of copies in electronic form encourages accurate attribution, because when there are many copies available, a quick Internet search easily reveals the original author.)

See also the fraud and counterfeiting question.

Is copying a copyrighted work the same as stealing it?

If I steal your bicycle, now you have no bicycle. If I copy your song, now we both have it. Copying is not theft.

When the industry uses loaded words like “stealing”, “theft”, and “piracy”, they are using linguistic tricks, trying to equate copying with deprivation of property. Increasing the number of copies somehow results in a decrease in… what, exactly? Certainly not in the amount of money available to creators, which is precious little to begin with.

Sharing isn’t stealing, it’s the opposite of stealing. And sharing certainly isn’t like boarding ships on the high seas, holding the crew at gunpoint, and stealing their cargo!

Would creativity dry up without copyright?

If there had been no worthwhile or enduring artistic work produced before copyright, this would be a more plausible argument. But the world before modern copyright was hardly a barren cultural desert: Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, J.S. Bach, Li Bo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo… The history of human cultural production shows no evidence that sustaining creativity somehow depends on restricting its fruits. And no one can look at the wellspring of artistic activity that has emerged on the Internet in the last few years and come to the conclusion that allowing people to copy is somehow an obstacle to artistic progress.

Copyright does not support creativity, it supports distribution. As distribution costs drop slowly to zero, copyright becomes more of a hindrance than a help to creators.

Shouldn’t it be the artist’s / owner’s / publisher’s right to choose what license to distribute their work under? That is, to choose when and how other people can share the work?

Once we’re talking about giving some people the “choice” to take away others’ choices, freedom has already lost out either way.

To frame license options in terms of the “artist’s right to choose” hides the fact that what we’re talking about is one party choosing whether or not to reduce the choices available to everyone else — the choice to translate, to adapt, to study, even just to simply enjoy and share without negotiating an increasingly complex (and technologically enforced) permission structure. There is no natural right to “choose” that set of restrictions on other people. Compare: “Outlawing censorship takes away the censor’s right to choose whether and how to censor.”

There may be good arguments in favor of granting such monopolies anyway; the point here is just that “freedom of choice” is not one of those arguments.

But what about counterfeiting?  Is it okay to copy money?  What about copying someone else’s birth certificate or ID?

(Originally written as a response to a reader question.)

Fraud (i.e., counterfeiting) is different from copying.

If you  download a song and share it, there is no fraud — there may be copyright infringement, but no false claims are being made.  On the other hand, if you remove the original author’s name from the song and put your own name there instead, that would be completely different — that would be fraud, of course (it would be plagiarism, which is a specific kind of fraud).

Likewise, if you make copies of my birth certificate, IDs, etc, and you keep them locked in a drawer in your house forever and no one else is ever confused by them, that’s actually okay.  It’s not the copying that’s the issue there.  But if you were to use that ID to open a bank account and cash checks meant for me, that’s different.  It has nothing to do with copyright.  The issue is simply that it’s lying (and, in this case, stealing too). 

No one here has ever advocated loosening laws that protect against fraud, or against medical privacy or things like that.  But don’t confuse those issues with copyright.

Sometimes you’ll hear people say “Well, if copyright is so bad, how about I just start copying dollar bills!  That would be okay too, right?”  Which is silly, of course — there’s a reason that no country has their copyright office policing counterfeit currency, and it’s that counterfeiting is fraud, not copyright infringement.  A physical token of money is a claim on the issuing authority’s assets; to duplicate the claim token is just like duplicating someone’s birth certificate or ID: it is only useful to enable fraud, because all these tokens are indicators of value held somewhere else, rather than containing the value themselves.  Thus when you make and circulate duplicates, you do not increase the total amount of value, and you actually decrease the amount of value per token (thus effectively stealing from everyone else who already has tokens, which is why counterfeiting is a crime).  Contrast this with culture, where duplicating it actually increases the total value in circulation, because more people are exposed to it.

Copying is not theft.  It’s also not fraud.  Fraud, on the other hand, may be enabled by copying certain kinds of things, but it’s not the copying itself that’s the fraud, it’s the subsequent lying, which the copies are merely used to bolster.

See also the plagiarism and credit question.

What’s the connection between copyright restrictions and civil liberties?

First, in the Internet age, copyright restrictions can only be enforced by surveilling your computer and network usage, and sometimes restricting them. That’s why the content monopolists want Internet service providers to monitor and report on what you download and what you share; it’s the reasoning behind the so-called “three strikes” laws that would cut off your Internet access if they decide that your connection being used for illegal sharing. Second, there is a more fundamental connection between freedom of speech and the freedom to share and build on the speech of others. Martin Luther King’s speeches, for example, are rich in Biblical references and imagery (the Bible being in the public domain, he was free to build on it). But the King family won’t let you use Martin Luther King’s speeches freely: they use copyright law to prevent others from sharing and building on his words.

The contradiction between copyright restrictions and freedom of expression boils down to the fallacy that the only speech that matters is completely original speech. Most speech is not original, and does not need to be. Sharing, and commenting on, the speech of others is fundamental to humans communication. Taking speech that’s already been spoken out of circulation is incompatible with true freedom. (Remember, none of this involves mis-attribution. Sharing Martin Luther King’s words is not the same as pretending you wrote them yourself; indeed sharing speech widely is the most effective way to ensure that it stays properly attributed.)

For more on copyright and civil liberties, see Nina Paley’s straight-to-the-point minute meme on the topic.

So are you advocating the abolition of copyright?

We’re trying to make it possible for people to consider what abolition would actually mean, by changing the way copyright is thought about and debated. Real understanding will lead to better policy; if abolition is that better policy, then so be it.

We do advocate, at the very least, a drastic reduction in the scope and duration of copyright terms; we’ve found it hard to avoid that conclusion after looking closely at the effects of copyright in the Internet Age. But whether outright abolition is preferable to simply taming copyright is a more complex question, and one we don’t pretend to be able to answer with certainty.

It’s also not a question that can be answered in the current rhetorical climate around copyright, which is too often still concerned with mostly unrelated issues like attribution, plagiarism, and the economic basis of creativity. Many people think those issues are what copyright is about, and are unaware that copyright was actually designed around the limitations of the printing press, not around the needs of creators, and that even today, copyright is far more valuable to publishers than it is to artists. In a world where distribution costs are quickly dropping to zero, and ambient findability is making successful plagiarism a thing of the past, it is important that we skeptically examine any policy that interferes with the free flow of information.

79 Comments on " — FAQ"

  1. While I agree wholeheartedly with the mission of, I’m interested in seeing the response to the following…

    Granted, there was a lot of intellectual creation going on long before copyright existed, but it was also nearly impossible to make copies of anything back then. While it’s not a clear-cut case of apples & oranges, there is quite a bit of difference. Before inventions like the printing press came along, it required nearly as much effort to copy something as it did for the original act of creation. The printing press changed that, and the Internet dropped the costs of copying to practically zero.

    Of course, I’m only playing devil’s advocate; I don’t actually agree with the view above. Copyright is indeed artificial. Some have said that “real” property is also artificial in that it’s only upheld by the laws/government, just like copyright. However, there’s a key difference: real property is rivalrous, so laws are needed to control such limited resources. It’s the classic “steal your bicycle/copy your song” distinction. If, in the future, real property could be replicated just as easily as a song can be copied, then property laws would also become obsolete.

  2. Actually, I think your point should be taken seriously (even if you only meant it as a “devil’s advocate” argument). In fact, I’ve started addressing it at some length when I give talks on copyright now (see this video, for example).

    The Internet is in a sense the opposite of the printing press, rather than an augmentation or extension of it. On the Internet, making a perfect copy from an existing copy is the natural thing to do — it’s the path of least resistance. You’d have to put in extra effort to make an imperfect copy.

    But the printing press is completely different. If all you have is an existing copy (not the original printing plates), you have to work very, very hard to make another copy from it, and mistakes will inevitably creep in. The printer’s monopoly — on which modern copyright is based — made some sense, given these technological constraints. In order to have reliable, repeatable distribution of the same work, you need to work from the same set of plates, and this falls naturally in line with the possessor of those plates having a monopoly on the right to print the work. Otherwise, rival printers would have an economic incentive to distribute degraded copies.

    So copyright, while clearly artificial, did have a credible case in the past, both artistically and economically. Of course, it was a case based on the technology of printing and the needs of distributors, rather than on the needs of authors (or rather, it was a compromise, though still one fundamentally structured around the printers’ situation).

    As you point out, however, these dynamics have been upended by the Internet. We shouldn’t be using conventions descended from a censorship regime and designed around an obsolete technology to dictate our information control laws today!

  3. I would also like to see a couple of points tightened up here; I am also convinced that modern copyright does far more harm than good, and if any headway is to be made against it, the arguments against it have to be very solid.

    The Hillary Rosen example says that her question should have been “Would it bother you if somebody could just show a copy of your paper around, so other people could benefit from what you wrote, and see that you got an A?” and uses a term paper as an example, but corporate copyright proponemts would say that this is an invalid example since the student isn’t *selling* the term paper and deriving economic benefit from it. While not all copyright involves commerce, of course, copyright-protected commercial works are the target of most copyright defenders, and you’re going to have to address that – unless you want to see copyright changed only for works not for sale. I’d suggest changing this example.


    “When the industry uses loaded words like “stealing”, “theft”, and “piracy”, they are using linguistic tricks, trying to equate copying with deprivation of property. Increasing the number of copies somehow results in a decrease in… what, exactly? Certainly not in the amount of money available to creators, which is precious little to begin with.”

    While I agree with the thrust of your point, the last sentence is a problem. It *does* result in less money available to creators. If I copy a CD instead of buying it, or download a scan of a comic book instead of buying a paper copy, that’s one less copy sold and whatever percentage of sales goes to the creator(s) *is* diminished. You may (correctly) argue that the amount lost per non-sale is very small, because of de rigeur creator-hostile publishing deals, but you can’t argue that it’s zero. It’s also not the target of the aims of copyright reform, because if publishers suddenly started giving creators direct percentages and much better deals, would you be OK with copyright as it stands today? I wouldn’t, myself.

    Ultimately I think the argument for copyright reform can’t, and mustn’t, revolve around the core idea that copying doesn’t deprive creators of income. It does. Although it’s not a physical-theft model, that’s not the incentive for creators anyway. They WANT lots of people to have copies of their work, they just want them to pay for them. I think the ultimate argument has to be that the ability to have their work copied is a net positive for them, as it will spread their work to people who otherwise would never have seen it, and it will result in more paying customers than if their work had been restricted. I do believe that if consumers are given the opportunity to be honest at prices they can afford, they will. $20 DRM-infected CDs (with $19.95 going to the publisher) are a complete scam, but $3-$5 DRM-free CDs with (50% going to the artist) would sell like hotcakes.

    As far as the physical-scarcity model goes, there’s also the argument to be made that the lack of a gain is NOT the same thing as a loss, and that’s one of the RI/MPAA’s core arguments. They get their piracy figures by pretending that every joe sixpack who downloads a CD would have gone to the record store and bought that CD if the download had been prevented. This is plainly ludicrous and needs to be hit hard. The vast majority (although no, not the totality) of illegal copies are made or acquired, I believe, by people who absolutely would NOT have gone to the store with cash in hand otherwise. They’re browsing. I myself have bought many, many CDs by artists I would never have heard of in a million years had I not been exposed to them by filesharing. There’s also the argument that humanity benefits far more through the dissemination of art and research and scholarship than through the existence of rich publishers restricting the aforementioned, and that a system based on mutual respect between creators and consumers is far, far better than one based on mistsrust and coercion. I think those have to be points we lead with in our arguments.

    Just want to anticipate what hecklers and shills might be pointing out in this FAQ. Keep up the good work.

  4. While I agree with the thrust of your argument, I think you’ve created a false dichotomy that leaves out an important dimension of artistic production: the cost.

    You mention a spectrum of creative artists, ranging from the unknown talent who spends his (spare) time creating works that, whatever their merits, will never earn their creator more than “beer money” at best, to the ludicrously hyped superstar who, whatever her merits, is so wealthy that her children’s children will never have to do an honest day’s work in their lives. And yes, there are the publishers, who rely on the latter to make their revenue, and who abuse their position to keep the former firmly subservient. So far, agreed.

    But there’s another class of “creative artists” in our world, and that’s those who have to invest truly colossal sums of money, not just in their marketing, but in the creation itself. Many Hollywood films fall into this category. Whatever the merits of those films, they are undeniably expensive to make, requiring the services of thousands of people who all want to be paid. Making a *copy* of their finished product, however, is virtually free.

    Now: I personally agree with the philosophy that “most people want to be honest”, and are willing to pay a reasonable price to the creators. But as things stand, that’s not good enough for movie producers. They raise money from investors, investors demand a return on that money, and the producer who can promise a bigger return than their rival – by relying on a tried and trusted distribution mechanism, promising a return on *every single disc sold* – will impress more investors than the one who can’t.

    If you really believe in a society based on trust, where copyright is redundant, it’s going to take more than argument. It’s going to take money, and lots of it. Would you be willing to put your own cash into a foundation to support the production of expensive creative works, to be distributed on the low-price model you suggest? More importantly, do you think you could raise a couple of *billion* dollars on that basis? Until the answer to this question is “yes”, you’re really just spitting in the wind.

  5. Copyright is not about getting rich, nor is it even about putting food on the table. Society has made it that way, and you’re only serving to reinforce it.

    The stated purpose of copyright–well, US copyright anyway–is to give artists an incentive to create. Since people create things anyway (it’s human nature), there’s really no need for a reward system, let alone one that rewards people decades after they’ve died, so that their grandchildren’s grandchildren, who’ve never done a thing to deserve the money, benefit from it.

    Besides, I don’t see how copyright leads to very many unique creations. Instead, it gives authors the opportunity to create something intersting once, and then profit off of that same creation tens or even hundreds of times over (movies, sequels, licensing, etc.). That’s not what copyright is supposed to be about, but here’s the paradox: copyright’s very nature inexorably leads to just such a situation. Despite its stated purpose, it only encourages authors to milk their creations for all they’re worth. This is never a good thing.

  6. Thanks for the comments, vetinarii. I think you’re right: this is a point that has to be addressed

    We’re adding more material to the site about the idea of drastically shortening copyright terms, as opposed to outright abolition. While I think that abolition would have many more good effects than bad, there’s something to be said for taking smaller steps too. Eben Moglen has pointed out (regarding software patents) that the difference between the current term lengths and reasonable term lengths is not just a quantitative difference, but a qualitative one. In most scientific and technical fields today, seventeen years is an eternity. If patent terms were shortened to, say, three years, then even without improving the patent examination system a whit, the problem would be hugely alleviated.

    I think the same is true in copyright. The difference between a century (which is a rough approximation of “life of author plus 70 years”, the current term) and, say, 5 years, would be huge, in terms of the sharing and the derivative works that would become possible earlier. We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good: there are many people whose conservative instincts lead them, understandably, to shy away from complete abolition, yet who would readily consider drastic shortening of term lengths.

    That’s where your point comes in. Let’s take Hollywood blockbuster movies. Even the biggest of these, the hundred-million dollar special effects flicks, are expected to make the majority of their profits within the first six months after release. Note that’s not just make back their investment, but actually make most of their profits in that short time window. Why, then, is it necessary for the studio to maintain an exclusive distribution and derivative work right for the next 95 years? If the standard copyright term were even 1 year, it would be enough for most movies; by making it 3 or 5, we would bring in even the stragglers.

    There are some mildly complex economic arguments that remain to be dealt with here. It would, of course, be ridiculous for a content company to claim that they can reliably predict a revenue stream for a given work beyond 5 years, so at first glance it seems obvious that those long-term, low-level revenues couldn’t be a factor in whether that work got created in the first place.

    However, the studios will make the argument that, although they cannot predict with certainty whether any particular work will bring in significant revenue over the long haul, they can predict average revenues statistically — in other words, they might say they know that out of a hundred movies, on average five will still be bringing in significant income twenty years down the road.

    Now, I think this is bunk for a lot of reasons :-), and I don’t think in practice that movie studios make decisions in this way, but it’s an argument that will need to be answered in detail.

    Anyway, thanks again for your comment. We’re slowly adjusting the site to focus more on improving the quality of the debate, and less on any one particular recommendation. Our main goal is to open people’s minds to the possibility that other systems might be both more artist-friendly and more audience-friendly.

  7. Thanks, TomatoMan. I basically agree with you: the rhetorical strategy here needs a bit of improvement. I’ve already described elsewhere what sorts of improvements are in the works; I hope you’ll have a chance to review them and probe for weak spots, over the coming weeks.

  8. It would be very helpful if this page (like many FAQ pages) had internal anchors (HTML <a id=”blahblah” />, or you can even change the <strong> tags to <strong id=”blahblah”>). Then others could link from my web page to a specific question in the FAQ, rather than to the FAQ itself. In particular, I’d like to link to the question on plagiarism; a link to the entire FAQ (with text referring to the difference between copyright and plagiarism) would just be confusing.

    PS: It was very difficult to post this comment, because the system kept thinking that I couldn’t do the math problem. It turned out that I needed both Javascript and cookies turned on to do this, yet there was no indication of this in the error message! Fortunately, I really wanted to make the comment, else I’d have given up long ago.

  9. I’m still in favor of the opinion that reasonable, justified copyright enforcement has increased in importance as reproduction has become effortless and nearly instantaneous. As was already mentioned, the efforts involved in reproducing creative work prior to relatively recent times served as a natural restriction, whereas today there is very little time to receive financial compensation before the content is so widely available at no charge that there would be no sense in purchasing it, aside from fear of breaking the law.

    I can certainly agree the current standard of, most commonly, 50-70 years after death depending on the country does seem a bit absurd, since there’s obviously no threat to the creator’s livelihood. However, I don’t think five years after creation would be reasonable for most media; while Hollywood blockbusters may make returns quickly due to extensive promotion and a limited opportunity to view them in the iconic venue, graphic artists, musicians, and authors are usually fortunate to have any success by that point. Even the original Star Trek television series didn’t experience its full popularity during such a brief period of time.

    While expressing opinions and fighting for things you believe in are noble goals which I admire even if I don’t share those views, there is one statement in the main article that I confidently believe could use some credible support to make the argument more valid:
    “The vast majority of musicians, writers, and artists will never see a dime of copyright royalties…”
    I’ve encountered several people each in two of those fields, and they all seem to benefit quite well from royalties with respect to their market, despite not being famous. Perhaps they all happen to fall into some unusually fortunate minority, but I’d prefer to see some well-researched evidence regarding that claim.

    And because I can’t resist, I’ll jump on my soapbox, though I apologize in advance for being so long-winded. Bear in mind it’s just a point of view and not intended to be a statement of accurate facts, nor do I think it’s any more valid than anyone else’s…

    I don’t agree that historical periods can be so easily compared to current conditions. The Renaissance, for example, was funded by papal and courtly patronage, not exactly commonplace for works of art in our times. In a modern, capitalist, industrialized society, income from creative works is usually entirely dependent on consumer purchases of mass reproductions, a commercial market which significantly decreases when the same exact work is almost immediately available for free, or even sometimes for the profit of someone else, due to modern technology. Furthermore, I personally believe this is theft, however what is referred to as being stolen is indeed not an object, but instead, time and effort. It is dangerous ground not to respect a monetary value for that unless there is first a fundamental change in society. For example, an automobile factory worker does not contribute any of their physical possessions into the product, and yet, I’m sure most people would consider the company refusing to pay wages to employees for their labor to be committing a form of theft. As far as I’m aware, falsely taking credit for work, though quite upsetting, is relatively rare, so not as common a concern to copyright owners as not being compensated for their work. Is spending twelve hours a day fashioning a product out of words or paint less deserving of financial benefit than the same amount of time creating with wood or plastic, and is this due to the fact that the former are less physically strenuous tasks, or simply because their results are easily slapped onto the bed of a scanner? Should the mere convenience with which one can violate someone’s rights mean those rights are inherently obsolete, and if so, what of privacy and identity, both of which can be easily compromised through electronic means?

  10. I’ve been perusing the site a bit more, and there are some matters which intrigue me. I very often see references to the changes the Internet and other modern technologies have wrought, however, no offense, but in my humble opinion these suggestions seem to miss their own point in what I’ve read so far. Perhaps this is the very reason I see people prospering more from their artistic endeavors than is mentioned; technology and its decreasing expense have created the capability to publish one’s own work, or more commonly among those I am familiar with, to pool their resources into very small companies with their own best interests in mind rather than the gluttonous corporate profit margins which I notice are mentioned so frequently, and offer their works at very low costs through this method. There’s a great likelihood that in time the traditional business model will wither on the vine in favor of a leaner and more innovative one, but in order for this to occur people need to respect the need of the artists to earn a return on their investment, and from what I’ve witnessed personally the overwhelming majority do not, and operate under the misconceptions that a work being available online automatically makes it public domain, and that Fair Use covers just about any use, and so on. Therefore, I vehemently disagree that any radical shift over to a voluntary system of “donation” will be sufficient given what appears in my eyes to be the prevailing attitude of the digital age. My thought is that no drastic change in the current treaties and laws has any chance of coming to fruition without widespread support from those people whose interests they claim to be protecting, and as such the best chance of dramatically reducing the term of copyright will likely rest in making the protection during that shortened period stronger, stricter, far less ambiguous (specifically in the US), and more consistent. Once again, nothing more than my own thoughts, for what little they’re worth.

  11. You bring up and excellent point about the cost. I think that technology has changed the cost structure of media fundamentally and copyright is a tool used by many to combat that change. “Cost” has always been used to explain high prices and unfair contract terms. Technology has slashed the cost of production, promotion, and distribution for a great many works to the point that it is entirely possible to self-produce, self-promote, and self-distribute. Isn’t it time that the unit price of these works changed to reflect that?

    If you took the big greedy corporations out of the equation, how much would it cost a writer to write? How much would it cost a musician to make music if he didn’t have to pay back his label for their “services”? Sure, you still have to produce the work, and sure you have to promote the work, but how much would all of that cost if you didn’t have to rely on monopoly softened publishers, producers, and promoters? Thanks to computers and the internet it is cheap and easy to create, collaborate, and communicate. You may not have what it takes to promote or distribute, but it is cheap and easy to work with those who do thanks to the internet. That’s how the open source software community has been able to accomplish all that it has. Are the movie studios, record labels, and publishers using these technologies effectively to reduce their costs? If they are, why don’t their prices reflect that? If they’re not, then they owe it to their investors and the consumer to start doing so.

    Speaking of prices and costs, if you were guaranteed to only make lower middle class wages for your creative work, would you still create it? How many great talents get passed over by producers and publishers because their work may not have the kind of critical mass necessary to produce easy profits for a label, studio, or publisher?

  12. You can link internally to the document now. I’ve given each section a named anchor: hold the mouse still over the text and after a moment the anchor name for that section should pop up. For example, if you hover over any part of the section entitled “Does copyright protect artists from plagiarism?”, you should see the word “plagiarism” pop up. Then you know that the internal link to that section is:

    The error message for the math question now says that you must have Javascript and cookies enabled (apparently, it has for a while, I don’t remember when we made that change).

    Thanks for the suggestions!

  13. Disney felt free to use the characters of European fables and folk tales (Snowhite, Cinderella etc.), because there was no copyright on them, it didn’t exist back then, and even if it had existed, it would have expired by the 1930’s. Because copyright is to expire sooner or later, like patents are. Stories must enter the public domain and become an universal treasure, accessible and modifiable by all humankind. Now they don’t want us to do with Mickey Mouse what they did to Cinderella.

    from Bad Taste Bears

  14. Couple of observations…

    Patents… Good luck bringing a product to market in three years or less. Apple has one of the fastest concept-to-market cycles and guess what, it’s three years. In your proposal their patents would expire when their products hit the market. Everyone else who doesn’t have $30 billion in cash would be screwed.

    Motion pictures… While we can debate about 95 years, the fundamental question I never get an answer to is … why, other than intellectual greed (i.e. wanting access to something you didn’t create) should the duration of copyright be shortened? Yes, it’s true that a fraction of one percent of the total films produced in Hollywood, nevermind the rest of the U.S., or the world, make their production costs back in one month… but if people choose of their own will to keep seeing the movie, why should the creators of that film not enjoy the fruits of that for months, years to come? Is there any other reason than intellectual greed driving this argument? i.e. standing on the shoulders of what work others have put into it.

    To wit, the value (not price) of a creative work goes beyond cost. If the market deems James Cameron’s film worth the $400 million it reportedly cost to produce, if it deems it worth $1.5 billion… why should we put a gun to the heads of everyone involved, including the audience, and insist they accept another definition of value than the one they’ve willingly put their money toward? If they don’t value it, they won’t go, and the project will flop, and studios will go back to the drawing board. If they do value it, James Cameron makes some money. So? is it just jealousy? If we can’t be rich like James Cameron then why should he be? That’s not a good enough argument.

    Does it benefit society for “Avatar” to fall into the public domain? Well, no. Storywise it’s a mediocre film. It doesn’t benefit our culture one bit. But the thing is, the generic concept behind it is already a mythology that existed for ages and exists in our culture in many forms. So, on the obverse, we haven’t been detrimented by the copyright on “Avatar” at all.

    Consider that before CD sales started tanking, even, more than 85% of recording artists did not sell enough albums to break even on their advances. The contention that because fewer than 1/10th of 1% of singers or moviemakers make huge money there should be a very short duration of copyright is therefore proposing a convenience to the plagiarist at the expense of thousands if not millions of creative individuals who have a hard enough time as it is protecting their right to profit from their works.

    The digital age has only reduced distribution costs, but it has not reduced production, marketing, promotion costs significantly BECAUSE of the change in signal-to-noise ratio. The internet, has, in fact, made it harder to last more than a day as a recording artist. More information means more bad information, and more difficulty sifting through the glut of mediocrity to find good, useful information. Same with entertainment. There are n times more artists out there… how much harder do you think it is for any single artist to grab the spotlight and make back their money? It’s a wash. The more channels of distribution there are, the more money it’s going to take to stand out amongst them even if all you want to do is just break even.

  15. “Should the mere convenience with which one can violate someone’s rights mean those rights are inherently obsolete, and if so, what of privacy and identity, both of which can be easily compromised through electronic means?”

    Very, very well said. The mere convenience is what it comes down to.. and this side of the argument for “free culture” has always bothered me. It always seems to be a proposal of convenience in favor of the intellectually bankrupt, at the expense of the intellectual. Were it not so self-serving to those who routinely propose this line of argument, it might be worth examining further… but I find it reprehensible that not one single individual has ever been able to present to me a cogent reasoning beyond mere intellectual greed/selfishness as their desire to access/distribute specific works that are not of their own creation.

    Every tangible product also begins with an idea. The Honda Civic I drive began with an idea. Is it okay for Ford to copy every last specific detail of that design and give no remuneration to Honda and its designers?

    It seems like on the whole, the argument to abolish copyright originates not from some moral sense of equity, but from personal convenience. But lets imagine it was about “fairness”… fairness is such a nebulous concept because throughout the 4.6 billion years of Earth’s history, organisms have existed at the expense of other organisms and/or natural resources. Fairness is entirely subjective. What is deemed fair by one is at the expense of another. So to me it is not about what is merely “fair”. It is about what is sensible, and what is right. It may be “fair” to compensate every artist equally but that would be ridiculous to suggest that the works of Trey Parker and Matt Stone are on equal footing with the works of Shakespeare… and god help anyone who believes that.

  16. You chose an unintentionally revealing example: Shakespeare died before copyright was invented.

    Reconsider your argument?

  17. There is a fundamental misundertstanding with using the concept of “COST” as an exuse for the necessity of copyright.  Theoretically, we live in a free-market (capitalistic) system. If a creative endevour does not economically pan-out when doing “due dilligence” based on “cost” then it shouldn’t be produced. Period.

    If someone wants to go ahead an produce a Mega$$$ Hollywood movie and the movie doesn’t earn enough to repay the investors, too bad.  They made a bad economic decision. 

  18. <<Do musicians, writers, and artists depend on copyright to earn a living?

    The vast majority of musicians, writers, and artists will never see a dime of copyright royalties in their lives. For the small percentage who do, it will mostly amount to beer money — a nice consolation prize, but hardly enough to make a real difference in their lives, let alone to provide an economic incentive to create.>>

    Unfortunately artists rely on big publishers to purchase and distribute their work.  One major drawback to this model is that only a small handful of “in vogue” artists can make a living, it’s all up to the whim of the publishers.  There is indeed little room for innovation (that is, if you want to make a living from your art).  But the issue is not in copyright law, it’s in this top-down business model.  To abolish copyright and maintain this monopolistic business model would achieve little for artists that want to make money from art.


    <<But without copyright, how will artists get credit for their work?

    This is one of the favorite ploys of the copyright industry: to pretend that people sharing your work is somehow related to people claiming that they wrote your work. ….

    Copyright does not prevent plagiarism, it prevents copying — that’s why it’s called “copyright”. They’re two unrelated things, and it’s a pity the copyright lobby tries to make people think that permitting copying would somehow encourage plagiarism. (If anything, the free flow of copies in electronic form encourages accurate attribution, because when there are many copies available, a quick Internet search easily reveals the original author.)>>

    Well I can only speak from personal experience, but I don’t seek CREDIT for my art–I need MONEY for my art!  It seems like many anticopyrighters think that giving credit is enough.  As if promoting the work somehow translates into money.  Free promotion in the form of “sharing” is a nice concept, but it doesn’t pay the bills.  I may make very, very little money from the big publishing companies, its true; but I would be making exactly NADA if I relied on filesharing of non-copyrighted property.  Simple exposure just doesn’t translate into income.  The current big business model of the publishing industry has so many drawbacks, and I think it needs to be addressed alongside the issues of abolishing or reforming copyright.

    1. I am an independent artist. I produce, promote and distribute my art without the help of any corporation. I have spent my whole life developing the skills needed to create quality art. I have also spent literally enough to buy a house making my own art, and live in poverty. The majority of my audience usually loves my art, and some of them buy a “container” that my art is in to take home with them. These meager sales, and sometimes food are the only compensations I get for my art. For this compensation, I don’t brake even.

      I enjoy the novelty of your arguments, although I see some flaws in them.

      Flaw #1: “Copying is not stealing”. If a person copies my art to get it instead of buying a “container” that I made to sell, I don’t get any income from that. That is like stealing. Maybe you should say “copying is not stealing if you send the artist at least $10”. 

      Flaw #2: “Our audiences wants the their money to reach us (the artists)”. 
      I would love to believe that, and that is true of many fans, however, just as many don’t have any problem with getting the benefit of artist’s creations for free, or for the lowest possible price, and these people are often the ones with the most money. I know this because I have seen people behave that way over many years. It’s not just corporations who are greedy, it is human nature to be greedy. To think that people will support artists on an honor system is to ignore human nature.

      Conclusion: You are encouraging people to copy. There still lacks a way for artists to be compensated, and you are making it worse. Hopefully this will all work its way out. In the mean time, making art is a luxury for most people and must be supported by a generous patron to do it. Many people can and will just stop making art because they can’t afford to eat or pay rent doing it. It would be better in my opinion if every person gives something back to the artist  every time they make a copy. 

      I would like to hear what your reply to me would be.

  19. I’m not qualified to speak on the movie industry, but I disagree with you in regards to your points on the music industry.

    Small point: the digital age has reduced distribution costs AND production costs (pro-tools/logic/reason). An artist can produce and distribute music at near zero cost outside of opportunity costs.

    Larger point: You rightly point out that the signal to noise ratio leads to increased marketing and promotion costs, but you don’t see how this might actually disprove your point to some extent.

    One reason that marketing and promotion costs are high because major labels have become fat on artificial distribution monopolies and are able to price small competitors out of the market. I’m a believer that monopolies can not exist without unfair advantages, and that unfair advantage is copyright.

    Another reason is that copyright has stunted the growth of the market to provide innovations to bring down the costs of marketing and promotions. You say that there is too much information and that it is difficult to sift through it. But that’s exactly what free markets do best — sift through huge amounts of information. In a free market, techonologies arise that allow conusmers to better sift through large quantities of information so that the cream will be able to rise to the top (radio was such a technology back in the day).

    The problem however, is that restrictive copyrights are a brick wall preventing those innovations. Napster was a beautiful thing, and it was brought down by restrictive copyright enforcement. Look how far Facebook and Wikipedia have come in 4 short years. Imagine if Napster had been able to evolve and flourish since 1999, instead of having to go underground — what a beautiful thing that could have been.

  20. Hmmm, the point was that different artists have varying levels of capability – not anything to do with copyrights in this context.  Even after you abolish copyrights writers will still have different levels of ability. I doubt you’ll be able to fix that problem.

    You’ve still not answered the fundamental question, why do you have any right to another’s work?  Is there an argument which will logically reason why you have a *right* to something which I have created – or is this merely greed (I want my music for free) coupled with a technology that allows you to easily take the rights of others (I can easily break the law, therefore the law is invalid).  

    The other argument seems to be “this is for the greater public good” – well, stripping Bill Gates of his fortune and distributing it to the poor would be for the greater good – but this does not make it right. 

    These seem profoundly weak arguments to me.

    1. Reverse the question:

      Why should anyone else be able to tell you what you can and can’t share with others?  Especially when the sharing results in no reduction in the availability of the “original”?

      No one is asking for the right to take your copy of your song.  What we’re proposing is that no one — not me, not the songwriter, not the publisher, not the government — have the right to prevent you from sharing copies of a song you already have.

  21. “Shakespeare died before copyright was invented.”

    Shakespeare, like most playwrites today, made money by having his plays performed.  Your attempt to avoid his central point has failed.

  22. If you stand back at look at piracy, logically, you will see nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t logically hurt anyone, and let me explain why.

    First of all, I’m sure most people have glanced upon those statistics that claim to know how many people are pirates and such. Those are made up on the spot. Why? Simply because it is nearly impossible to get an accurate number on how many people are pirates or how many times a given software or product was pirated, due to the sheer amount of pirates and torrent websites. The internet is far too large to keep track of such things, making such a task nearly impossible.

    I’m also fairly certain that most people have come across or at least heard of DRM, which stands for digital rights management. I’m sure most people are aware that the reason DRM is crafted is to stop or hinder piracy. What some do not realize, however, is that it fails to even do that, and just ends up harming or angering actual customers, due to the fact that the pirates crack or remove the DRM from the product almost immediately after getting their hands on it, while “law abiding” customers are stuck with it in most cases, unless they illegally crack it as well. Ultimately, DRM does nothing more than just increase development costs and harm the actual customers. The same goes for these so-called ‘anti-piracy’ laws, which will only end up hurting ‘normal’ people, due to the fact that there is no other way to keep track of pirates without spying on packets in some way.

    Third of all, let me explain why piracy is not like theft in the least. When one steals something from someone, they’re physically removing their ‘property’, therefore ensuring that they will no longer have access to it. When one pirates something, they’re simply making a copy, and as such, not depriving anyone of anything in the process. Piracy can not truly be equated to theft, because it’s not the same thing at all, even if a few definitions pulled from somewhere claim that it is.

    Now, some will claim that when one pirates something, they are depriving the author(s) of the product of ‘potential profit’. This is illogical for a few reasons. One, you can’t logically count every occurrence in which someone pirates something as a loss of ‘potential profit’, because you have no idea whether or not they would have bought the product if they had been unable to pirate it. Not to mention that when speaking of ‘potential profit’, logically, everyone who didn’t buy the product is basically in the same boat as someone who pirated it in the eyes of the author(s), because if they had bought it, the author(s) would have received more profits. Two, if ‘depriving’ someone of ‘potential profit’ was illegal in some way, competition between businesses in general would also be illegal, due to the sole fact that rival businesses would be ‘stealing potential profit’ away from their competitors. Three, if ‘depriving’ someone of ‘potential profit’ will illegal, so would be informing other people of bad businesses and poorly made products, due to the fact that this would be considered to be ‘stealing potential profit’ away from said business.

    Piracy, logically, has no harmful side effects, but it does have some positive ones. For instance, instead of spending money on something that is in an infinite quantity, they pirate it, and save themselves some money, thereby allowing them to use it on more important things, such as food, shelter, and water. You also can’t neglect the fact that some people enjoy having physical copies of things, and if a pirate obtains something that they think is a good product, they might inform said people of said product, thereby creating free advertising via word of mouth. You also can’t neglect the fact that sometimes, if a product is good, the pirate will donate directly to the author, or the fact that piracy allows people to evaluate a product before they buy it so they don’t waste money on something they won’t like.

    If you’ve read my words with an open and logical mind, you’ll see that the flaws of our current capitalistic ways are becoming more and more apparent as each day goes by. Pirates are merely symptoms of such an illogical society, and in reality, do not hurt anything. It’s time for society to progress beyond such harmful capitalistic practices and move forward.

  23. This is really a note to the webmaster, not a reply to Anonymous.

    When Anonymous quoted the FAQ above, Anonymous’s HTML also quoted the div tags from the original FAQ HTML, which breaks the internal anchors on this page. Specifically, there are now two targets on the page for, and my browser (at least) picks the wrong one.

    You should at least edit Anonymous’s reply to remove the title, name, and id properties from the div tags, so that internal anchors will have at most one target. It would probably be a good idea to add an id property to the the div tag for the plagairism paragraph in the FAQ itself (which seems to be missing through an oversight, as the other paragraphs have this), since not all browsers will use the title property as a substitute. Finally, it might be a good idea to filter out title, name, and id properties from future submitted comments, although this would require more work.

    Toby Bartels

    1. We did the first.  Thanks for the clear explanation.

      The second is harder, as you rightly point out :-).

  24. I’m an artist. At the moment I think that pirates kill professional art, make me think different. 


    I’m with you if you can show me how to support my family by giving all of my intellectual property for free? How will I pay € 2500 (usd $3000)  in a month loan payments and shopping fees 

    The old chain of moneyflow is that the companies:

    – Expect consumer to buy a copy.

    – Therefore companies can pay artist salary.

    – Everybody wins : Consumer gets the product, companies get the profit and artist gets bread and a roof.


    If a pirate breaks the chain by not paying from the copy, companies won’t hire artists and the artist has to go to work to find bread and a roof for his/hers family and the art becomes a hobby for the artist. The quality of the art lowers, because the artist is not a full time artist.

    Everybody loses: Consumer gets products that could be better, companies find something else to make profit with, and the artist  might stop making art, because it’s just a waste of time.


    One artist can not make all the connections to sell his work worldwide and the companies can’t maintain a global distribution network for free. How do you do live with your art or idea, when the companies won’t buy your stuff anymore, cause they get it for free? PayPal Donate? No, You’ll better come up better than that.


    OK, Let the internet be the distribution network directly from me to you, Just show me the money. Where will the money come to the artist if the consumer gets it free and companies don’t care anymore?



    – sami

    1. Sadly the video just proves my point: So, let’s add up.

      $ -200 000 for the film

      $  -50 000 for the music copyright

      $  -20 000 for the copywright lawers.

      $ -100 000 for living: home and food


      $ -370 000 money spent in the film and living in 3 years

      $ +135 000 money “earned” so far

      This leaves a gap of $ 235 000 She might never have!

      This type of film making is a hobby that puts the pressure on artist to sell their work. This risk is currently at the companies. 200 000 is rather low budget for a feature film. And in three years her family budget has gone 235 000 into the minus sector. Not a good thing. My bank wouldn’t look up for that! That I wouldn’t pay my loan payments for 3 years? How does she live? How does she pay the bills! That was my question and it remains after the film.

      Hobby is something you spend money on, Work is something you get money from. Free CC film making is a hobby, and a rather expensive one.

      Please stop pirating! Artists need the evil companies and the evil companies need their copyrights. Pirating is stealing from the artist. Pirating is killing professional art. I’m not convinced yet, you’ll have to try better than that.


      – sami

  25. In addition I’m sorry that the consumer prices are so high but they will get higher because of piracy. Because only thing shure is that the companies will make profit one way or the other. If the artist doesn’t sell copies, the artist gets kicked out. So every torrent pirated will make consumer prices higher and artists unemployed. Just remember that, when you say that “nothing harmfull comes out of piratism”


    – sami



    1. “In addition I’m sorry that the consumer prices are so high but they will get higher because of piracy”

      That’s been shown to be completely untrue.  In fact the opposite has been shown to be the case; as copying of files has become easier, the price of CDs, etc. has fallen.  It should be obvious if you think about it.  Those sharing represent competition to the publisher and the only logical responses that publishers can offer are to differentiate their product and cut their prices.

      In reality, even those who buy music on CD, rather than acquiring it through sharing, benefit financially from file sharing, as they pay lower prices as a result.


  26. I am an artist and writer and totally disagree. If someone takes one of my plays, copies it and produces it, I lose income from that action. Basically it means my time was worth nothing to them. My efforts to make a lving mean nothing to them and to me, it is stealing. They are making use of something I created and as a professional for money.  If I want to do charity, I will do it. But taht choice regarding my works is mine, not somehone else’s to make that decision that it does not harm to me to use my work without my permission and compensation.

    You rationales are wrong and sheer bullshit. As an artist I totally disagree with your position and concepts.

      1. I’m astounded at the ignorance demonstrated on this website. Let me make it simple for you. Let’s say that all works are suddenly available to be received at no cost, and this action is not illegal. Then people interested in a song, movie, software, or any work would have essentially zero motivation to pay the creator. Regardless of whether you consider the author or distributor of the work, piracy reduces the revenue from the consumption of the work.

    1. Being an artist is a hobby, not a full-time job. You don’t make money doing whatever the hell you want (be it writing your thoughts out, transcribing them to notes, painting them, or whatever else). Besides, hypothetically speaking, if two people accidently wrote the same thing, who would have the rights on it? Yeah, it is that simple.

  27. “You’ve still not answered the fundamental question, why do you have any right to another’s work?  Is there an argument which will logically reason why you have a *right* to something which I have created?”

    All creative work is derivative. Why do you have any right to your own work? It’s not your own, you got it from somewhere else.


    “The other argument seems to be “this is for the greater public good” – well, stripping Bill Gates of his fortune and distributing it to the poor would be for the greater good – but this does not make it right.”

    Actually, that does make it right, to an extent. And that’s why we try to develop a system to work that out. Do you know how much Bill Gates pays in taxes? and then that, through the tax system, gets distributed out to poorer people. (Sure, the system isn’t perfect, but we can work on improving it if people care about it.)

  28. The greatest contributions to human knowledge and content are those that produce art and knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself. Information as a commodity is an artificial concept. I’ll be damned if I am ever going to (literally) buy into the cheap mainstream media content. I will however support as best I can those who contribute altruistic knowledge and culture of significant value for the betterment of mankind through donations, feedback and exposure. You are dreaming in color if you entered the artistic or academic fields for the sake of financial success. I didn’t. We do not need a restricted information market to produce great contributions to our human knowledge and culture. Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, J.S. Bach, Li Bo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and that guy playing his accordion in the corner of that subway for spare change are all case in-point.

  29. I think the authors of the site are on the right track, but they really should emphasize the moral obligations a little more.

    Does the sole owner of a village’s only water well have a moral obligation to the people?  Can he/she deny access for any silly reason?  Of course not.  So if the artist produces something amazing they most certainly have a moral obligation allow the poor child in India listen/read/watch their art–they have no right to demand that everyone pay for consuming something that was infinitely reproducible.

    The first response to this is that it is a straw man, “Sure the kid in India that has no money can take my works, but not the kid in Brooklyn who can afford it.”  Well not quite, it depends in this case too.  Now lets be clear, inasmuch as the artist has no moral right to make irrational demands of these infinitely reproducible goods, the consumer most certainly has a  moral obligation to assist the artist.

    But if the consumer ‘steals’ the work from the artist, does he/she deprive money from the artist. Well not necessarily.  If some artist comes by and says, “sure you can ‘steal’ my art, but you have to send me a $10 dollar donation, then I’m cool with it”.  The consumer might just say, “Send you $10 bucks for something you can send to people freely over the internet, that costs you nothing over the cost of production? I don’t think so.”  

    Now no matter how much you want to say, “I decide the price [which isn’t really true if you ever studied economics]” or “then he/she is depriving me of $10 by ‘stealing’ my works” this is often not true.  So let me get this straight:

    World #1)  Copying is impossible, the consumer doesn’t want to pay $10 for your work because he/she thinks it costs too much. — they deprive you of $10

    World #2) Copying is possible, the consumer doesn’t want to pay $10 for your work because he/she thinks it costs too much so they ‘steal’ it.  — they deprive you of $10.


    Now there most certainly is some grey zone where the consumer would surly buy the work if not for the easy stealing, so the consumer is morally obliged to help out the artist in this case.  But don’t assume that because people are consuming your works that they are necessarily depriving you of all that money.  I have no desire to help out those greedy artists that would deny people the enjoyment in the cases where the consumer wouldn’t have paid anyways.  

    But yes, the onus is on the consumer to help out the artists.  There should be ‘donate’ buttons all over the internet. There should be extremely popular websites where everyone goes to to vote on their favorite artists, send donations, go to concerts, get grant money from the government.  Just imagine, how many artists could be supported on HALF of what Justin Timberlake makes?  Wouldn’t it be nice if half of his income went to helping the struggling artists just by way of the fragmenting nature of a gift/grant/pration of the arts based economy.  I know people want to believe that this world is impossible and think that there is no way for millions of people to ‘steal’ works of art and for people to survive.  But remember this is happening right now.  Copying is a non-zero-sum game:  people can become very rich AND EVERY PERSON IN THE WORLD CAN HAVE A COPY OF _______.   So to the consumers:  please, please, please help out your musicians, software developers, authors, movie makers, and do what you can and more, but don’t ever feel that you are doing something wrong that you somehow infringed on someone’s liberty because just because you COPIED a work of art that you never would have paid for anyways.


    1. Your explanation doesn’t make sense to me. Explain to me how the artist produces art at no cost? Surely the artist’s time and effort should have some worth and value that others are willing to pay for?

      You said “So to the consumers:  please, please, please help out your musicians, software developers, authors, movie makers, and do what you can and more, but don’t ever feel that you are doing something wrong that you somehow infringed on someone’s liberty because just because you COPIED a work of art that you never would have paid for anyways.”

      How would you like it if your were a software developer that works hard at creating software and someone does not pay for it by means of copying? You’re losing potential sales by people copying and distributing your software. Is your time and effort as a developer not worth anything? Unless of course you willing intend for the software to be distributed freely (copyleft, GNU etc..)



  30. I agree with much you say, but not all 🙂

    I want to abolish copyright, at least the current scheme. But I also see nothing wrong with DRM. It lets companies sell their stuff to many people, which is great. You don’t have a right to get stuff without DRM. Also, I really like subscription services, encryption protection, lockout from such services, and so on. It is just a great model for making money for the people who actually do stuff. There is a million undiscovered ways to make money out of being creative, we just haven’t discovered them all yet, and we won’t until we let the natural incentive to do so, flourish, by removing or altering copyright. But I am sure the creative people can figure out new ways for themselves once they have to.

    I am, however, totally against any laws protecting DRM, or any other technology for that matter, from being breached. That is just evil. You do have a right to do what you want in your own home and in voluntary cooperation with who you like.

    Basically, if copyright was changed so that you could not get punished if you did not earn anything tangible from what you did, I think most of the harm would disappear. Like grandmothers being persecuted because their grandkids are sharing some music online. Today, these things are ensured to happen because of how the law is. Though if you ask me, I would rather abolish copyright completely.

    I think protection from fraud and impersonation, is enough.

    My basic approach to all laws, comes from me not wanting to give anybody the right to use force to get anybody else to do anything or pay for anything. Whether indirectly through a general state threat of force, or directly through the legal system threat of force. If you think you have to make a compromise in this area, be goddamn careful. The law is there to protect against force, not to put it at peoples disposal. More people should read Bastiat.

    I know my views are old and naive, and that most people have moved on from such thinking. But I just can’t shake the feeling that forgetting these ideas is one of the worst things that happened in modern times.

    And I want to add that the word capitalism has so many different meanings for different people, that it really means nothing. You might not want to throw it out there without defining exactly what you mean. Do you mean actual freedom for actual people(all people are actual people, some are just more actual than others, right :p), like it does to some? Or do you mean the state/corporation marriage system we have today, through money-printing, bank account guarantees and bailouts? This latter one is evil, and has transferred more wealth from the population to the rich than any other criminal institution in history.

    I agree that many people could benefit personally from not being so materialisticly focused all the time, and accepting the realities of life. But this has to be allowed to happen without force. Force mostly does the opposite of what was intended, and always has many unseen consequences.

  31. I do agree with some of the terminology that has been used on this website to explain Copyright not being theft. I understand that if I copy then you have what you always had but I now have what you have too. Great, easy enough. The problem that I have with copying is that say for simplicity reasons I decide to become a music artist, I spend hours and years perfecting my skills and voice as well as studying music and songwriting at an institution which cost me money to perfect my skills. I then sign up to a record company and create some music and everything is peachy.

    Customer A buys my awesome music CD and then decides to rip it to MP3 and make my CD available for free download on a popular torrent site. OK, there are *some* benefits that my CD will be distributed to people by making people aware of what my CD sounds like etc.. BUT I will also be deprived of X amount of potential sales by X amount of downloaders. This is what I’m finding hard to understand, that certain types of copying is not theft since you still have your copy but it’s the issue of less money from potential buyers who got my product FREE. You could argue that the salary I would have earned would have been negotiated in a contract but what about sales, surely sales would determine the success of the CD (or record) going Gold, Platinum etc.. would copying not affect that?

    Of course, if we all lived in a society that wasn’t built on the monetary system this wouldn’t be an issue.



  32. Bands make so little money from CD sales, that not only do they not lose any significant amount in sales, but they also earn MORE money. The more their work is shared, the more fans they will have, right? And of course, the more fans they have, the more people show up to concerts, and buy tshirts, or other merchandise. Music sharing hurts the record companies a lot, since they take almost all of the profits from cd sales, but it actually helps the bands, who do not really rely on selling CDs to make money.

    This does not apply very well to other forms of art (such as movies). However bands do not make their money by selling the primary product they produce (music), but rather by selling merchandise, and concert tickets. And thus sharing their work freely lowers their income from selling their music, to greatly increase their overall income.

    1. Lots of movies –especially movies made for kids– do extremely well with the merchandise of movie memorabilia such as toys, poster sales, “director” versions, etc.

      As with any form of art, the artists generally want their art to be widely viewed and shared as much as possible. Income can rightly be earned by artists (including musicians, movie directors, authors, etc) who sell products and services that support their art.

      As Nina says, copying is fun!

  33. None of this makes any sense.  If you want to do away with copyrights, then explain what society would be like if intellectual property, patents, etc., didn’t exist.  I am very open to hearing that debate because it sounds interesting.  What if we lived in a society where copyrights were taboo and anyone wanting to protect their intellectual property would be looked at as a heretic.   Then extrapolate and show how things would be different.

    But I only got down 2 or 3 items in the FAQ and got totally repulsed at how lame the arguments are.  I’m sorry, but someone should be able to do better than this.

    #1.  Was copyright created for the benefit of artists?

    I often hear that it is for the benefit of artists today.  So people would like to see a counter example here.  But the way the question is worded: was it created for the benefit of artist only as a vehicle to point out the first copyright law is (nearly 500 years old) was meant as censorship — just to throw that word in there that everyone hates.   For all I know copyright laws in America, about a 100 years old, *were* invented for the benefit of artists, or maybe they weren’t.  It doesn’t even address that.   But I’ll say this.  The point isn’t if it had a dubious origin, but whether it is a benefit to artists today.   If it isn’t, the first FAQ item does not address that in any way.

    #2.  Do musicians, writers, and artists depend on copyright to earn a living?

    Well, that’s a qood question to get an answer to.  But look at the response, it’s talking about the fact that lawsuits from copyright violations don’t help the artists.   That’s not what the question asked.  It asked do copyrights benefit an artist in earning a living.   What if, the fact that there’s a law is such an effective deterent that law abiding people and organizations do not infringe upon it and because of that more sales of the material for the author.  What if it was the case that if there were no copyrights, a site like amazon books would simply let you download the book for free, and in doing so limit the author’s revenue.   If that were the case, then anything in FAQ #2’s answer addresses that.  It only talks about the fact that in the case of infringement lawsuits don’t help the author.. nothing about the deterence resulting from having the law.   That’s like sayng murder shouldn’t be a crime because putting murderers in jail does not bring the victim back.

    I stopped reading after that.  Clearly this whole thing is written by someone who’s not very bright.

  34. Thank you for this enlightening discussion about copyright.  Being an author myself, I really appreciate this information that will help me in protecting my work as well as in respecting the rights of other authors and publishers.  Sometimes, it can get a bit confusing.  But in the end, I think it will redound to a question of conscience.  Which do we really believe is right?  Which is really ours, and which isn’t?



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