Thursday, April 19, 2012

The only decent solution to the copyright mess is to expand fair use to include all non-commercial activity

I never wanted to be a blogger.  The truth is, I get very tired of the sound of my own voice.  Perpetrators of blogging have a well deserved reputation for self-absorption, insanity, inanity, asininity, and even frippery.  This is not something that I want to do.

However, in the last year or so it has become clear to me that the current stakeholders in media are never, ever, going to learn to live in peace with the internet.  For over a decade now they've been suing people at random all over the U.S. and, indeed, the world.  Ruining lives for the sake of an mp3 file.  They are currently bribing every congressperson they can find in order to obtain government sanctioned censorship powers over the internet.  All in the name of protecting things like this from the horrible fate of copyright infringement.   And in fact, they claim that it is sensible that a person should be prosecuted for copying that song or video--even over a hundred and fifty years from the time of its creation.  Because God knows Rebecca Black's horrible "Friday" song should be protected with the iron fist of the law for three quarters of the time that our Republic has even existed, even long after Ms. Black is, hopefully, dead.

Obviously, things have gotten a little out of hand.  My position is that the internet is of vital importance to the future of the human race.  Free speech and expression are the point of this.  There is a reason the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution deals with freedom of speech and conscience: for if you cannot speak freely, you cannot solve any other problems honestly.  And we have lots of serious problems that need honest solving.

The internet is the ultimate free speech tool.  It is quite possibly the greatest thing humanity has ever invented.  The free exchange of information is what it does.  It does nothing, in fact, but copy files* from one peer to another.  Anything that gets in the way of that--like censorship--is a threat to its basic functionality, which I feel we need in order to survive as a species.  And free speech is not free if some random person on the internet can remove your speech at will, on whatever pretext at all.  And we have already seen copyright abused in exactly this way.

It has seemed obvious to me for some time that the only moral and ethical solution to copyright on the internet is the dramatic expansion of fair use rights to include all non-commercial use.  We need this because this is the natural way for songs, books, movies, and other media to be used on the internet.  These things are our culture, and the way we speak to one another.  But if we somehow want to allow the creators of content to dictate how it's used, we no longer have the free exchange of information, but only glorified television--passive, consumed as opposed to understood, nearly worthless for solving problems.

I don't think anyone thinks that, if I write a song, then some used car salesman should be able to use it in his advertisements without compensation.  It seems to be a natural law.  However, if that same car salesman emails it to a friend simply to share a cool song with her, prosecution of that copyright infringement becomes an invasion of privacy and decency. Don't you think?  I really think most people will see the justice of this way of thinking, given time.

Although I don't believe these bad actors can win in the end, it's clear now that they can do quite a lot of damage in the meantime--and I don't want to wait through a thousand years of darkness for humanity to finish achieving the great intellectual triumphs that await us, enabled by the global, free, information sharing network.  By keeping copyright protections on what is clearly naturally correct, it minimizes disruptions to the network, while allowing the network--and people--to flourish.  The alternative is potentially many decades of a War on Drugs style campaign which seeks to control the uncontrollable, and destroying the lives of everyone who gets in the way.  Or, we can have truly free speech for all.  The choice really is yours.

So, the blog.  One reason I never wanted to write a blog is because I know that in order to be successful, it must be updated (at a minimum) every day.  So it's a thing to take upon oneself.  I had to ask myself, "can I think of 365 reasons to support the dramatic expansion of fair use, and summon the will to write about it?" and the answer was a resounding "absofreakinglutely".  I hereby commit myself to this.  The purpose of this blog is to provide arguments.  Sometimes just an essay on a particular facet of the problem, sometimes a commentary on the outrage of the hour.  I hope to spawn honest debate in the comments from thinking people of all persuasions.

The debate is necessary, because it is my opinion that a lot of people have been, frankly, duped by the major media over the last decade into believing a number of erroneous assumptions (piracy is bad, mmkay?).  I intend to point out how those media have a profound conflict of interest on this issue, and I intend to expose this whenever possible, as well as provide some counter arguments.  Every day.

I am *not* seeking to be the first to break the news of some new outrage.  I don't refute that I learn about a lot of these things from Slashdot and its ilk.  In fact I may actually think about it for a while before posting about it.  I want to try to get at the heart of the matter, and provide good arguments for why the expansion of fair use would be a better solution to that particular problem than anything else.  I am here to provide a point of view.  Piracy is ok when it's not for profit.  That.  Expand fair use to cover that, and we're left with only a fringe element who truly deserve to be prosecuted.  And doing that does not require draconian control of the internet.

And why the focus on arguments, you ask? Because in the end, I think that's the only thing that works.  The most encouraging thing to me about the recent SOPA debacle was the profoundly courageous cowardice exhibited by the United States Congress in the face of--dare I speak it--Wikipedia going black for a day.  Millions of ordinary Americans suddenly said "WTF" in loud and confused unison, and the minions of the pathetic media industry could only curl into a ball and complain as their bought and paid-for congresscritters shut that the hell down (for now).  But see?  They were weak all along.  They are nothing--all we have to do is stand up, and bring our friends around to our simple point of view.

I hope you will join me and tell me if I'm right--or wrong.


*Geeks: yes, I know, it's not just files, per se, but you know what I mean.  Stop being so literal.  It annoys people.

No comments:

Post a Comment