Copyright is alive and well on the Internet

My latest Guardian column, "Copyright isn't dead just because we're not willing to let it regulate us," makes the case that copyright hasn't been killed by the Internet -- it hasn't even been threatened. Rather, the entertainment industry have made a nonsense of copyright by stubbornly (and ahistorically) insisting that this it concerns itself with controlling copying, instead of regulating competition and fairness in the entertainment industry's supply chain. The Internet has made copying a routine part of every private person's daily routine, and by insisting that all copying is in scope of the industrial regulation, the entertainment companies have appointed themselves the ultimate regulator of our whole Internet-enabled lives, and then declared copyright to be in terminal danger because no one was interested in giving over that control.

The internet era is not – and should not be – silent on the question: "How do we ensure that creators and investors get a chance at money?" That's all copyright ever really wanted an answer to.

The inability of copyright to regulate cultural activity isn't anything new. It's probably true that this inability reduces the profitability of some entities in the entertainment industry's supply chain, just as it increases others'. But that's just a question of profit maximisation, not survival.

The problem is that the entertainment companies treated the increased ease of copying in the age of the internet as a signal that copyright should be expanded to cover more people and more activities, far outside of the entertainment industry. What they should have done is picked a new proxy for "this is an industrial activity within copyright's scope" and soldiered on regulating themselves, without trying to regulate the whole world at the same time.

It's time to stop declaring copyright dead because we aren't willing to let it be the ultimate regulator of everything we do with a computer.

Copyright isn't dead just because we're not willing to let it regulate us


  1. I find myself wondering more and more these days if copyright is being used as a excuse to get Orwellian surveillance online.

  2. In fact, before the current idiocy, there were licensing agreements very much like the ones we have now. Just read the notice on the third or so page of any paper printed book, with a whole page to itself.

    But no one believed that that was Divine Law. Rights holders only moved against people that profited money in an industrial (key word) manner from infringement of copyright notices.  That was wisdom, and acknowledgment of reality, as well as respect for the public.

    Present rights holders associations have at some point gotten to believe that they can regulate activities well outside the scope of industrial copyright, and the gall of calling the people engaging in private activity thieves. All the while trying to extort money from any and all professional or amateur creator quoting their work.

    I am only sorry that there is no way to stamp them out of existence by copying and sharing, which in themselves are not the destructive activities these liars, frauds and extortionists and racketeers make out to be. I dare call them that and more, after a decade of their not being at all threatened by alleged “stealing” their insistence is quite more than disingenuous. 

    And only hope they can be replaced, in fact out-competed by a better breed of rights holders who understand that the public copying and professionals quoting, sampling and producing derivative work is free publicity and enticement to actually buy. Any publicity is good publicity.

    Yes sir, Cory, you have said it and found the key concept. The INDUSTRIAL (or not) nature of the activity should be the criterion for deciding about copyright licensing and infringement, in any sane reality.

    1. Of course, past generations of rights holders did not believe that photocopying and printing machines would have to be banned for sale to private parties, or surveyed 24/24 because they could be used for copyright infringement, or that books should be illegible and only readable with special equipment supplied by the rights holders.

      Only the current generation of idiotic rights holders believe something like that. Their mentality is comparable with that of the Catholic Church before and during the Reform, when they insisted on banning all sacred and prayer texts in vernacular languages and in controlling all printing establishments because they believed they owned the Bible. And all Bible-derived faith and written work, as well as paraphrasis, quotation and interpretation, and so on. Sound familiar?

  3. Cory, that is not just the finest editorial I’ve read on the subject, it’s one of the finest editorials that I have ever read, period.  It’s not “A Modest Proposal.”  But it’s close.

    Well done!

  4. A good, informative read, right on the money.

    Also: Is it just me or does the showering woman in the photo have gills? Not that there’s anything wrong with fishpeople showering or singing their CC-licensed undersea shanties while doing so.

  5. Not going to respond on the Guardian site because it will be full of trolls in a minute.  You seem to draw them, Cory, as much as do articles about Israel or Atheism…

     I think you deal very nicely indeed with the “copy” part.  But what about the “right”?  One way in which copyright is indeed broken is the way that I can sell it on (or be persuaded to).  My right not to be tortured or imprisoned without trial is not subject to transferral away, but my ‘right’ to profit from my creative works is — and how does that serve copyright, if the creator no longer profits from his work?

    One more point.  You could equally argue that the changes in technology that you talk about render the very “industrial processes” (and the businesses that run them) obsolete.  So arguing that copyright belongs with those industrial processes may well soon be revealed as a red herring.

    Still an excellent article, though…

    1.  Supposedly there is a clause in US law that can transfer the right back to the creator if it lays unused for a period. But as one author learned when he wanted to use this clause to put his work into the public domain, the publisher could basically claim that the work was on sale in some remote location and therefor the clause was not applicable.

  6. Here is the thing:

    Copyright is, in fact, the right to make a copy of a thing. Be it a page of text, a book, the bits describing a song or a movie or a picture — copyright is the right to make a copy of a thing.
    It originated in a time when machines arose that turned the act of copying from a labour-intensive, slow process into a labour-intensive fast process. So we know, from that, that the concern was about the speed. It was also about the idea that people owned the fruits of their labour, be that labour hand or mind.
    Neither of those factors have disappeared. There are arguably more machines in existence capable of copying at this time than there were people at the time the notion of copyright came to existence.
    Copyright is the right to secure one’s work against copying. Or to prevent that securing. It is the right to make that decision.

    We have rights, those of us who hold copies. One of those rights is due process. One is freedom from government interference in our lives.
    Those who hold copyright have the time-tested duty of enforcing their copyright, and the time-tested right to be free from third parties enforcing or making decisions about those rights.

    It is obvious to many people now that it is technologically possible to control copying. So, let it be done. Stop buying government to clean up your mistakes; it’s your right to copy what you hold copyright to, and it’s your duty to enforce that copyright.

    It is no longer sufficient to claim copyright. In the US, for example, copyright exists for an item at the moment of inception. You hold copyright on that song? Wow! I couldn’t have guessed that it’s copyrighted except that EVERYTHING IS COPYRIGHTED UNLESS OTHERWISE CLAIMED. You say you hold the copyright. Sweet. So by publishing it in a copy able format, YOU MUST BE CONSENTING TO ALLOW IT TO BE COPIED!! By ANYONE who has the means!! Because by failing to impose a method to Control the Copying of your Item that you, yourself, in good faith KNOW is freely copyable, you have AT PUBLISH TIME WAIVED YOUR RIGHT TO RESTRICT THE COPYING OF YOUR ITEM.

    WHEN YOU PUT IT IN THE PUBLIC VIEW ON THE INTERNET, NOT ENCRYPTED WITH A KNOWN SECURE KEY, YOU ARE INHERENTLY GIVING PERMISSION TO EVERY USER OF THE INTERNET TO HOLD A COPY. Period. That is reality. You don’t want a copy in the hands of every Internet user, encrypt it and secure the keys. If someone steals your keys, PROSECUTE THEM. Don’t sue or prosecute the people who live IN REALITY, where unencrypted Internet-hosted media is assumed to have your assent, as copyright holder, to be copied.

    1.  Your first premise is faulty- it is emphatically not technologically feasible to prevent copying. You can make it somewhat more difficult, which will reduce the number of people who bother, but the ones who actually intended to profit from illegal copying will be dedicated enough to do so. The others, you merely inconvenience- making them less likely to want your product.

  7. Copyright is dead, and the content mafiaa killed it. They choose to insist on making it an unworkable abnomination that we *have* to ignore in order to go about our daily lives. And instead of seeing reason and scaling back, they expand their orwellian vision of copyright into even more imaginary realms. In short, the Mafiaa (the IFPI, MPAA, RIAA, the lot) is utterly, completely, hoplessly insane. The definition of insanity here being, that they tried the last 15 years (well, more than that, but let’s focus on recent history), to control every aspect of how we perform our daily lives and how we participate in culture. It’s not been working all that great, but like the good insane psychopaths they are, they try again and again and again and expect a different result.

    1. They are not insane at all, they are willing extortionists and frauds, who steal infinitely more with a suitcase than anyone with a gun.

      Our ignoring their rapacious vision of copyright is never going to do them in as mendaciously claimed,  not before, not now, not in the future. However we must fight any new laws they try to pass so they don’t get more money and make more victims that way. 

      To break the MAFIAA, we have to reward respectable content providers over the copyright racketeers, we have to create decent systems of intellectual property and authorship. Yes, support the rights holders and creators as well as the types of licenses that don’t extort money for every activity, private or professional, that understand that such activities can mean great publicity and great profit.

  8. Unlike the rest of the people here I don’t share the view you expressed in what is a bare bones piece with little substance. No, I’m not an entertainment Executive, or a representative of any other part of Big Media.

    I’m just a lowly freelance creator and the voices of individuals such as I are usually drowned out by the corporate idealogues. Who are the corporate idealogues?

    On one side there is the tech industry which proclaims free culture hogwash because it suits their own economic interests. They misinform the public, whip them into a mis-informed frenzy claiming they ‘stand for free speech’, my God, what nonsense! It’s just a technology for goodness sake, it’s transient and will be replaced with something else. Big Tech are no better than Big Media when it comes down to spin and unethical practices.

    Big media are ready at a moments notice to screw the life blood out of artists with bad contracts, fiddled royalties, inflated costs and sundry other disreputable practices. Big tech don’t do any of that of course – they just want it all for free. Sorry, life is not free, just because something is available doesn’t mean you are entitled to it.

    So the lowly creator sees their work taken for nothing, exploited for profit, not even credited – these days works are often credited to ‘The Internet’! None of this is fair, but then of course life is not fair, we shouldn’t expect it to be, but to pretend that this unethical behaviour is somehow good or desirable is just so much nonsense.

    Copyright is about respecting an author’s moral and economic rights, paying for the work where they require payment, only reproducing when permission is given, and always crediting. It is a simple matter of respect for another human being. We are all artists, we all enjoy the public benefit of copyright (which is also a human right as ruled in a major UK court case last year) and should respect each others’ rights.

    There now, I’ve got that off my chest.

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