Peter Jaworski is a contributor to the libertarian Canadian blog The Volunteer. In a post reprinted below, he wrestles with the idea of intellectual property, proposals to reform copyright law, and the use of copyleft licenses. We ran across his essay because he draws extensively on the comic strips (and one of the Minute Memes) of Nina Paley, artist-in-residence here at QuestionCopyright.org. Peter’s discussion expresses very well the deliberations of many people who are open to the critiques and proposals advanced on this site but who are, nevertheless, hesitant.
We’re reprinting it here partly to get your reactions. Peter is honest about his emotional response to the idea that someone who puts a lot of effort into their art is entitled to something — reward, or control, or recognition — and this makes him doubt his support for sharing. Interestingly, he reverses the usual position: he says “on most days, I […] think intellectual property is bunk. But I’m open to being persuaded, if you’ve got a good story to tell.” He starts from a pro-sharing stance, but wonders if he’s right. People like Peter are the “independent voters” of the copyright reform movement, if you will, and understanding their instincts is central to our mission. What would you ask Peter?
Mimi and Eunice: Hyphenated Liberty
by Peter Jaworski on November 3, 2010
Mimi and Eunice is a cartoon strip drawn by Nina Paley. Nina does not believe in intellectual property. She lets just anyone reprint her comic strips, provided no one pretends that the work is theirs. That’s the only restriction she views as legitimate — no fraud or attempt to mislead people about the originator of the work.
Nina endorses “copyleft.” Go ahead and click the link for an explanation. For an extended explanation of just what copyleft means, and why Nina is often grumpy, check out her blog post on the branding confusion with Creative Commons licences here.
Here’s a little video she put together highlighting her views on the difference between ordinary theft, and intellectual property “theft”:
And here are a couple of Nina’s older cartoons that capture some of her attitudes about copyright:
What makes Nina really interesting is that she isn’t opposed to copyright because she’s opposed to the market or to capitalism. Far from it (or so it seems to me). She likes the idea of people making money. Take these as an example:
I’m often unsure about how to view intellectual property. On most days, I agree with Nina. But I’d be curious to hear if anyone has a particularly strong opinion about copyright.
The video highlights an interesting fact about intellectual property “theft” — the first person doesn’t really “lose” anything. When I make a copy of a CD, for example, I haven’t taken away your ability to enjoy that CD. We both get to listen to that CD. And that’s different from me taking your physical property, taking your CD. Now I have the CD, and you don’t. I get to enjoy something that you can no longer enjoy.
I’m aware of the argument that copyright protection promotes new ideas, and promotes investment in things like music and movies and so on. On its face, that’s pretty persuasive, if it’s true. I don’t want there to be less music and fewer Disney cartoons. I want more music, more cartoons, more books, and more movies. If I’m going to spend a lot of my time writing a book, I’d like to be compensated financially. If there were no copyright protection, the first idiot with a bit torrent client can just take my work and no one would ever have to pay me for all the work that I’ve put into making the song, the movie, the book, the idea.
One counter to that argument is the “first-mover advantage” claim made by economists. The first entrant into a market has a surprisingly strong benefit, for many possible reasons. If you come up with an idea, you can be the first mover. That may be sufficient to motivate the making of just the same amount of thinking-based stuff. Maybe. Then the argument from outcomes would be overcome by appeal to what would happen without copyright.
When it comes to music and movies, I tend to think that what needs changing is the method of making money, not the enforcement of copyright protections. If we’re honest with each other, we can admit that we already operate on a system where people volunteer to pay for music. You don’t have to pay for music any more. Music is too readily available on the internet, and no amount of resources thrown at enforcement will end the torrent of, well, torrents.
In my mind, artists should view their music as reason for people to go to their concerts and buy their merchandise. They get paid for concerts, not for the music. The music is what entices the consumer to go to concerts.
I have friends in the music industry. Lindy Vopnfjord, in particular. I know how much work he puts into his music. I know that he should be, if the world were just and aware of what is good, rich as bananas. I still remember the first time I listened to his CD, Suspension of Disbelief, on a drive to Waterloo with my sister. I was like, “who’s this?” and she was like, “that’s my friend Lindy,” and I was like, “oh my God, this is going to be a disaster. But I’ll just be polite, swallow hard, and listen nicely.”
I listened nicely. And then I insisted we play the CD over again. And then again, for a third time. And then I was shocked that my sister knew this guy, and then I insisted that she introduce me.
Now Lindy and I are good pals and chums, and he fills me in on what’s happening in the Toronto music scene, as well as how musicians try to make money. It’s not easy. And I can understand how I’d feel if I spent all this time writing lyrics, putting together a melody, etc., and some douche sitting behind a computer clicked some keys and, voila, all my work is right there available for anyone and everyone to take and listen to without having to give me a shiny dime. All those pleasant moments punctuated by Beautifully Undone (one of Lindy’s songs), and no benefit accrues to the artist. Seems unfair.
Still, like I said, on most days, I agree with Nina, and think intellectual property is bunk. But I’m open to being persuaded, if you’ve got a good story to tell. I’m all ears.
Addendum: The argument from effort above, if we can call it that, gets real short shrift from Nina. She has a running gag that makes use of poop as the central artefact to mock intellectual property. Here’s that series:
(P.S., you don’t have to pay me for writing all of this, even if you liked it. It took me a while to get all the links for you, and to embed all those videos, and to think about the story I’ll tell you, and how to construct the argument or two that I’ve included in this post. You can’t claim that you wrote it, not that I’m suggesting that you would. But here it is, free for you to look at, read, excerpt and otherwise make use of. It’s interesting to note the proliferation of blogs — essentially free content — that exists out there in cyber-inter-web-world with something approaching zero per cent of bloggers making money off of blogging. But just look at all the content that is produced! Is it really true that, without copyright protection, we’d have less intellectual property? Blogs make me think there wouldn’t be less…)