December 23rd, 2011


"If you were put in charge of stopping online piracy, what would you do?"

Someone asked that question on reddit. This was my hasty off the cuff reply:

    I'd stop calling it piracy, and make it clear that copyright violation is different from "theft" and does not respond to the same treatment.

    I'd get people to focus on the fact that copyright's purpose is "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" - it's a means to an end, not an inherent right we are morally bound to honor. When we've structured our laws such that copyright is not designed to meet the ends it was intended for, that causes the system to fail. If we want copyright to be a success, we need to re-frame how we look at it, with the real ends in mind.

    One especially glaring problem with today's copyright system in the US is that it is designed to protect the profits of those who have already succeeded, against the opportunity of those who are creating new work now and will do so in the future. In other words, today's copyright law serves more to retard the progress of the arts, than to promote it.

    This also promotes a general lack of respect for copyright among the people, and no enforcement mechanism can compensate for that. We need to restore respect for copyright by doing things like severely cutting back how long it applies back to a "limited time" (Mickey Mouse needs to finally fall into the public domain!) and aggressively defending and expanding fair use. Then we could focus on cutting down copyright infringement that really is bad, the sort of stuff most people would support fighting. Social support for copyright infringement today is immense, and there's good reason for that, but it makes enforcement impractical.

    Once there's greater respect for copyright, and a greater public sphere of fair use and public domain, I'd try to get industry and government and nonprofits and other groups together to tackle the problem of how to make it easy for people to pay for stuff and how to make stuff they pay for easy to use and own and manage in the ways they want to, including making backups, copying to other devices, and giving away to their friends. We need another re-framing, a shift from reliance on restriction to reliance on opportunity. One of the biggest reasons people copy stuff illegally today is that the free illegal copies are both easier to get and better than the legal copies, which are restricted both in their distribution and functionality. We need to flip that around.

P.S. What I wouldn't do is propose Internet blocklists and censorship of links, but that's what Congress is considering currently. If you're in the US, have you called your US Representative and both US Senators recently to ask them to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA)?

Poll #1805350 sopapipacalls

Called them to oppose SOPA/PIPA?

I made at least one such call
I called my Representative and both Senators
Although I haven't called yet, I intend to
Making phone calls is intimidating!
Actually, I think SOPA and PIPA are okay
Don't know enough about SOPA/PIPA / hadn't heard about them yet
Not in the US