In my latest Guardian column, "When love is harder to show than hate," I look at the fact that copyright protects critics who want to talk trash about creative works, but gives no real protection to people who want to say nice things about them.
The damage here is twofold: first, this privileges creativity that knocks things down over things that build things up. The privilege is real: in the 21st century, we all rely on many intermediaries for the publication of our works, whether it's YouTube, a university web server, or a traditional publisher or film company. When faced with legal threats arising from our work, these entities know that they've got a much stronger case if the work in question is critical than if it is celebratory. In the digital era, our creations have a much better chance of surviving the internet's normal background radiation of legal threats if you leave the adulation out and focus on the criticism. This is a selective force in the internet's media ecology: if you want to start a company that lets users remix TV shows, you'll find it easier to raise capital if the focus is on taking the piss rather than glorifying the programmes.
When love is harder to show than hate
Second, this perverse system acts as a censor of genuine upwellings of creativity that are worthy in their own right, merely because they are inspired by another work. It's in the nature of beloved works that they become ingrained in our thinking, become part of our creative shorthand, and become part of our visual vocabulary. It's no surprise, then, that audiences are moved to animate the characters that have taken up residence in their heads after reading our books and seeing our movies. The celebrated American science-fiction writer Steven Brust produced a fantastic, full-length novel, My Own Kind of Freedom, inspired by the television show Firefly. Brust didn't - and probably can't - receive any money for this work, but he wrote it anyway, because, he says, "I couldn't help myself".
Businesses like Adobe Stock use large, visible watermarks to deter copyright infringement; a new paper presented by Google Researchers to the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition shows that these watermarks can be reliably detected and undetectably erased by software.
US court records are not copyrighted, but the US court system operates a paywall called “PACER” that is supposed to recoup the costs of serving text files on the internet; charging $0.10/page for access to the public domain, and illegally profiting to the tune of $80,000,000/year.
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