Google vs. Authors

I’m still somewhat on the fence on this whole copyright business. Partly due to the fact that I have yet to hear a convincing rebuttal to the following issues:

  1. Copying a book (or album, or poem, or song, etc) is NOT equivalent to stealing a car in an important way — namely that when I take your car, you are unable to drive, when I copy your book, you still have it, you can still read it, sell it, throw it away, sit on it, eat it etc etc. It kinda surprises me how often this gets trotted out as it is a conspicuous false equivalence.
  2. Google has added value (by creating a searchable database) at no small expense while remaining within the ‘fair use’ constraint.
  3. What is the difference between the difficulties faced by content creators adapting to the changes that technology brings and the difficulties faced by, say, UK mining communities in the 80s, or steel workers, or in fact, any industry where technological changes have negatively impacted millions of workers and their families? While it may be clear that the creator of a work has a copyright, it is less clear that the rest of us have an obligation to provide, at no small expense, the legal framework for providing protection to something now evidently impossible to protect.

The argument seems to be something along the lines of ‘Well, if you don’t protect the copyright of content creators then we will get no content (or, at least, no GOOD new content’) because the financial incentive for creators will have been removed.

But is this not the same as a Nottinghamshire coal miner coming back from the pit in, say, 2016 with a bucket of coal and demanding that people pay the market price for it (or, indeed, whatever price he decides it should be ‘worth’)? That’s not how it works in almost every domain of human endeavour, so why should it work that way for content?

It seems to me that the underlying assumption (that people create to make money) is misguided. The most cursory of trawls through Patreon or Kickstarter demonstrate the opposite. The number of professional content creators coming round to the view that ‘piracy’ actually HELPS them is growing (Look for Neil Gaiman on this topic for example).

A band has every right to expect to be payed for PLAYING music. But only if they are ‘good’ (‘good’ here is defined as ‘people willing to pay money for their creations and to attend their performance). It is not clear why a shit band with shit music (defined here as ‘no-one is willing to pay to see them or listen to them’) should have the right to demand that the rest of us, through our tax dollars, should be afforded the same protections as a homeowner being robbed.

The reason is simple of course. What we ACTUALLY want is a situation where the people who want to create do so because they want to create. If they can make a bit, or a lot, of money in the process then all power to them. That way our creative legal architecture is promoting the interests of people creating for the love of creation and not for the filthy lucre. Surely a better situation, and one more supportive of human creativity, than the one we currently have with the cult of celebrity coupled with cynically created content designed purely with the intention of maximising corporate profit?

The irony, of course, is that it looks like it took a greedy corporation to point this out to Mr. Russo.

And this is because content creators ALSO have a duty to the rest of us. Take Lord of the Rings as an example. Undoubtedly a novel creation. Unique. Seminal even. However, look closer. How many of the ideas were TRULY ‘original’? Elves? Nope. Dwarves? Nope. Wizards? Nope. Dragons? Warriors? Massive spiders? Ori, Nori, FIli, Kili, Oin, Gloin? Nope. The overwhelmingly vast majority of the words used are borrowed from the culture in which it was written, as are many of the tropes, ideas, references and on and on.

Tolkein also, we understand, didn’t do this for the money. And it’s one of the most popular pieces of content (in all it’s forms, book, audiobook, films, art, games etc) in the world. Let’s have more of that please. And less Bieber.

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