There has been much controversy about Copyright and file-sharing on the internet during the last decade. Admittedly, the All Rights Reserved statement is incompatible with the nature of communications in the Digital Age and thus a new more flexible content and media licensing scheme is required. A permission system based on licenses would be the natural solution to the All-Rights-Reserved problem (it could even be extended to Patents, but this is outside the scope of this post). Such a permission system already exists at a small scale, as imposed by the Free Software, Creative Commons and other licenses. According to such a system, users or consumers are given permissions by the licensing terms while creators still maintain all rights as derived from the Copyright Law. Although it’s not perfect, it does provide an acceptable and realistic solution for content, media and software publishing in the Digital Era.
Surprisingly though, regardless of the fact that the Industry has not been able to even try and test making content and media available under such permissive licenses at a large scale yet, there are several activist groups worldwide, which go several steps further suggesting that the current copyright and patent systems should be discarded altogether and that we should move to a system without ownership and owner rights, in which everyone would be eligible to use, copy, distribute, build upon any work (content, media, source code) as they see fit without any restrictions. My guess and also a conclusion, to which I’ve come after every discussion about the matter I’ve participated in, is that most of the supporters of such ideas haven’t tried to do some out-of-the-box thinking about the problem and, also, about how the proposed solution would affect our world and the progress of technology.
I generally try to keep an open mind to any suggested change no matter how radical it might be, but in this particular case I think it is quite moronic to believe that a transition from point A (copyright) to point C (no copyright) without at least trying to go through B (permission system) is possible, without severe negative effects on every sector of our lives. Such a transition does not make sense. The mistake most people make is that they effortlessly believe that by eliminating the restrictions that derive from the Copyright Law, all problems of the digital ecosystem will be eliminated as well. This might be true at some degree, but what about the new problems that are going to rise as a result of the lack of any restriction? Just try to imagine the F.L.O.S.S. ecosystem in a world in which noone is legally bound to release the source code of software or in which anyone is able to claim anything about the software or media or content they have modified and released. Just try to imagine the new problems regarding trust and attribution of works. A world without ownership of intellectual works and without a permission system governing the use of those works by third parties does not make any sense.
Activism is meant to be serving a greater good. But, in this particular case, I guess the proposed solutions would lead us to bigger problems than those we are facing today. People need to look at the problem from various aspects and give it some more thought. It is true that the Copyright Law sucks. It needs to be improved and be better adjusted to the current advancements of the technology. But, in my opinion, eliminating copyright is not the solution, but instead it’s possibly a cause of bigger problems, as it would lead to an ecosystem in which it would be impossible to establish and protect any freedoms and in many cases it could also eliminate the motivation to create.
Update: This post has been updated to better clarify my views on this issue.
Some thoughts about Copyright related activism by George Notaras is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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