Copyright has had a dependably repeating relationship with technology for over a century now.
The relationship goes like this:
It happened with the automatic piano player - "Musicians will go bankrupt! Who will learn musical instruments when the machine can play for them?".
It happened with the radio - "Who will pay for records if they can hear them for free?".
It happened (quite famously) with the video cassette recorder - "Who will pay for films when they can record them from the TV?"
And yet - as in each of the cases I mention there - after incumbents predict the death of their industry, they then they embrace the technology and make MUCH money from it.
Note that examples which allowed more creativity - cheaper cinefilm or video cameras, cheaper home recording, cheaper distribution - don't generate such protests. I'll let you figure out why that is yourself - but if you must have a clue, then it is the words "monopoly" and "distribution".
The Public Domain is where works that aren't subject to intellectual property laws go.
Sometimes, a work is in the public domain because it's not eligible for protection under intellectual property laws. Sometimes, it's there because the period for which is was eligible for protection has expired. And sometimes, it's there because its creator donated it.
Not all regions in the world share the same views or have the same rights for the public domain.
Are you kidding me?
Creating something completely new is almost impossible. After tens of thousands of years of human expression, starting with bone carvings and wall paintings and coming all the way up to computer game level design and choreographed flashmobs, the simple fact is that we've built every new idea on old ones. (Even if very incrementally.)
That makes creating new works tricky. You're allowed to reference or even mimic the style of old works, to some degree. But you can't simply take the whole work and put it into something larger, or transfer it to a new medium (song, dance, written word, etc.), or translate it into other languages - they would be derivative works.
Only the holder of the intellectual property rights can authorise derivative works.
So over a longer term, if we want to be able to remix, remake and transform works freely, we need a strong functioning public domain to draw inspiration from.
The public domain is under increasing attack in two ways.
Firstly, countries keep extending the length copyright lasts for. This means that fewer works go into the public domain each year than should.
The extent of this problem varies from country to country, but overall it has become a creeping menace that threatens to lock our cultural heritage up in corporations who demand a toll for accessing it. This means we are poorer both culturally and fiscally.
Worse, some unscrupulous companies have recently been found trying to claim copyright ownership of works from the public domain, and using that false claim to remove derivative works - and perhaps even sue for damages. That will probably become a very popular business model for the unscrupulous if they are successful, as such lawsuits can be too expensive for smaller operations to defend against.
Those are in preferred order, by the way.
Stopping the continual extension of copyright terms is essential.
Requiring credit for the Public Domain helps educate creators about it.
Ensuring stiff penalties for misrepresentation is a toughie - it requires governments to prosecute on the public domain's behalf, which may not happen if the government has been bought by the infringer.
Using the Creative Commons as a new Public Domain is possible, if counterintuitive. The Creative Commons has licenses which allow free use, even for commercial purposes, so if you simply allow everything then people are only required to credit you - it's legal ju-jitsu, using the law against itself!
In the last century, we have made leaps and bounds in technology, and patents have retained a very short lifespan - 20 years or so. So if someone invents a new way of doing something, they have 20 years in which to use it.
As we're often looking at something which requires manufacturing, the first two to five years are basically tooling up and preparing. Then, if the product is a success, you have the rest of the twenty years to make a profit.
And that's optimistic, as many patented ideas aren't very economical to move into mass production at first, so often you just get the last decade or few years.
Ever notice how a new product appears, and after a few years the market is full of competing products in that class? Well, that's often due to patent licensing or patents expiring. Suddenly, everyone can compete with their own implementations of that idea, and generally the consumer benefits from that.
Contrast this with copyright that lasts for 70+ years in the realm of film, music and film - where there will only ever be one supplier of the product. Is that market as vibrant? Would it be better or worse with shorter terms?
Most people don't even know the public domain exists.
They certainly aren't aware it's increasingly being bought - or stolen - by corporations. Nor do they have any idea how this can stifle creativity.
Better protection and enlargement of the public domain would be better for all creators, and therefore better for society.
In the next part, I'll be covering Copyright and Technology.
For a couple of years now, I've been more and more disappointed with the way the world's IP laws have been trending. I believe that they are moving away from their original intentions in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways, and that this is increasingly rendering them unfit for purpose.
So I thought I'd write a series of short articles in which I take a positive stance, and say how we can improve them.
Here's the rough outline of what to expect - links will be provided as each one is written:
But before we can dive into the wonders of Copyright and the Public Domain, I would be doing every reader a disservice if I didn't explain my own use of intellectual copyright laws, and then give a very brief overview of intellectual property law's purpose as I see it.
On Wednesday the 18th, Wikipedia is going dark globally to protest against the latest ham-fisted intellectual property laws.
I've put a banner up for the duration, so every page on this website will have an anti-SOPA statement. I don't see a need for a full blackout - and I don't want to turn away those that may need vCardSplit, which accounts for most of my visits.
But I do see a need to protest.
Increasingly, we are heading towards a world with very heavy-handed laws about intellectual property. And that's fine, in principle. I have no problems with it.
I'm the kind of guy who buys his music, films, software and books. I've never liked ripping people off, and if I can get it legally for a reasonable price, I will.
There really should be a rant here about how many companies then won't sell you something and complain that people went and got it illegally anyway. Which is usually the driver for most copyright infringement. But that really is a rant for another day...
If I'm for decent laws about intellectual property, why am I against legislation such as SOPA, PIPA and the UK's Digital Economy Act 2010?
Because they don't get the balance right.
Generally, all IP law being proposed these days has three major faults:
Some exhibitions cost a lot. In theory, Building The Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 cost me a tenner. In practice, it cost a lot more as I walked away with three heavy hardcover books...
For me, there are two major things I learnt at this exhibition:
This exhibition is a mixture of photographs and other mediums, mostly pencil drawings with a couple of paintings. The drawings are there to show the Constructivist influences on the architecture, and I must be honest none of them particularly moved me. Being shown the foundations of art is like being shown the foundations of a building - not as interesting as the whole thing!
However, the back story to the non-photographic art was interesting - much of it had been saved by George Costakis, who was allowed to own the art as he was a foreigner and not subject to the state suppression of "unsuitable art". I certainly admire Mr. Costakis' actions, as without him a lot of early Soviet art would have disappeared forever.
Of course, the photographs were my real interest - interesting buildings, many approaching 90 years old or more, and which are therefore showing signs of dilapidation. Anyone who's been with me when taking photos knows that's my kind of thing.
To get a taste of the exhibition, check out the wikipedia page on Constructivist architecture, and look at those buildings!
The brief flurry of constructivism in the Soviet Union led to some truly astonishing buildings, but it ended when Stalin came into power - he preferred a more neo-classical style. Another reason to dislike Stalin, as if anyone needed one more...
The exhibition is well laid out, divided into different types of architecture - state and communications, industrial, education/recreation/health, and finally Lenin's Mausoleom. This works well, preventing the scale of the state offices and industrial buildings from jarring with some of the more compact yet brilliant designs for social clubs. The overall layout and pacing of the exhibition was superb, and the decision to culminate with Lenin's Mausoleum - in an area painted solid Red - was a suitable high point to end on.
I also took the audio guide, which was an excellent companion and well worth the extra £3.50, being filled with facts and snippets of interviews with curators of contributing collections and with Richard Pare himself.
A highly recommended exhibition, even if it did show me that my photographs are effectively derivative of a fellow I'd never even heard of until today!
Overall, I'd score this one as 5 out of 5 - highly recommended.