Other Ways to Think About the Copyright Debate
I recently started a discussion on TED.com discussing Rob Reid’s presentation, The$8 billion iPod, and a response that was posted by Ken Sanney. While my original intent was discuss the simplification of complex issues, people began some passionate arguments about piracy and copyrights. You can read the whole thing (with comments) here from TED’s conversation page.
I started getting frustrated because the majority of the people posting were not involved in the music industry nor did they have any knowledge of copyright law. If there’s one thing that I can’t stand, it’s simply the regurgitation of rhetoric, especially when there’s no basis in logic and not supported by evidence.
Here’s my personal take on the issue. If you’d like to see my responses to all of the traditional arguments in favor of unauthorized piracy and the debate whether copyright protection should exist at all, please check out the TED debate linked above.
First, I believe that the right to offer creative works online (or anywhere) for free should be up to the artist, not the consumer. If someone wants to share their music and give out unlimited copies of their music or book, that’s their right to do so. However, if it isn’t, nobody should be superseding those wishes, even if they believe that it is in the best interest of the artist/author/filmmaker in question. In fact, some things that we believe are “good for someone” could actually be detrimental to them. For example, most people believe that everyone should drink eight glasses of water per day. However, there’s no scientific evidence to support this, and in fact, that amount could cause over-hydration in some people, leading to serious health issues. In the same way, there’s no clear data that directly supports the notion that file-sharing furthers the career of all artists. In fact, many artists have voiced the detriment that it has caused their careers.
Second, there are some people who believe that all copyright laws should be abolished because they only benefit large corporations. For one, most works are protected copyright, whether they are for personal or commercial use. It is irregardless if that work has been registered with an organization like the U.S Copyright Office or not. Also, if copyright laws did not exist, there would be a looming danger to independent artists being exploited by large companies with greater resources because they’d be able to use/distribute/take those artists’ works with no recourse or compensation to them. Most people tend to view the copyright/piracy debate as individuals taking profits from mega-corporations who don’t pay artists anyway, they don’t think about the actual creators needing protection from other people stealing their work (which does happen quite frequently).
Some argue that “the money from album sales don’t go to the bands anyway” or that “they’ll make more money elsewhere, like from concerts.” What about songwriters who don’t have merchandise for sale or tour because they only create music, not perform it? Besides, there’s more independent content being created and published than being being distributed by major firms. A person wouldn’t go into an In N’ Out Burger and start giving away all of the food in the street saying “they make most of their money from t-shirts anyway” or that “most of the money doesn’t go to the employees so it’s OK.”
Personally, I’d rather get rid of all the outlandish arguments made by both sides (such as “the music industry will disappear” or “it only hurts corporations”) and get to the heart of the matter. Do we, as a society, value our artists and the arts as a whole? Do we appreciate them enough to support them so that the arts can continue to grow and that artistic expressions of ideas can be protected? Or do we believe that the arts should all be free, no matter the cost, even if that cost includes the actual content creators themselves?
Before we quibble over the details of the law and what kind of systemic changes need to be made, I think it’s important that we ask ourselves these kinds of questions first.