Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mr. Hart: Copyright Creates Scarcity... and Scarcity Is [Often] Bad

Recently Terrence "Terry" Hart of Copyhype posted a flawed argument in regards to copyright and the nature of scarcity over at his blog. The scarcity model copyright encourages is one of its fatal flaws in the age of computer networks. Thus I feel the need to respond to his argument alleging that this is not so.

In his typical fashion, his argument is well written and well researched, complete with footnotes. I must commend him for having so much time to write such scholarly blogposts.

His argument revolves around disproving a trivial misconception (that copyright isn't about the copy, but the act of copying). In his odds and ends section, he proves that copying isn't infinite. While he provides an interesting and useful idea, this doesn't imply that something is equally scarce to something else because quantitatively they are both countable values. If I there exists 1 widget of type X, and there exists 1,000,000 widgets of type Y. It is safe to say because X < Y, X is more scarce than Y.

He explains that copyright is does not cause scarcity largely based on the premise that copying itself is scarce. I wondered, how does this make sense? For most of his post, he discusses X ("the rights associated with copyright") and Y ("property rights on the work itself"). Terry spends a lot of time focusing on proving X != Y and Scarcity(X) != ∞, to come up with the conclusion Scarcity(X) = 0. To elaborate:

  • If X != Y, it doesn't automatically follow that Y is a property of scarcity, ie. Scarcity(X, Y). He makes no any effort to prove the existence of a casual relationship, just inequality, X != Y. That is, his conclusion Scarcity(X) = 0 seems sort of tangential to his point.
  • If Scarcity(X) != ∞, it doesn't imply Scarcity(X) = 0, because Scarcity can be N where N != ∞.
He puts together a bunch of well written, supported arguments on the nature of copyright as property, and that there is indeed a finite limit to copying. I agree with both ideas. But he proceeds to use these ideas to reach an invalid conclusion.

Copyright produces scarcity because it enforces limits. In fact, that is literally what copyright is, a limitation on the public sans-copyright-holder to engage in various activities, included but not limited to copying. Any such argument about how copyright encourages creative activity, even if they are perfectly valid and reasonable, simply build on this fact.

In fact, copyright is a specific kind of artificial scarcity. (M: some pro-copyright'ers take offense to this idea, because the "artificial scarcity" seems to have some kind of negative connotation. But I would argue that it's copyright that gives artificial scarcity a negative connotation, not the other way around.) Natural scarcity is scarcity that exists given our understanding of nature and the limitations it imposes on us. The fact that there only exists a certain acreage of land on this planet implies that land is scarce (and ideally habitable land even more more scarce). Scarce, but naturally so. That doesn't make natural scarcity good or intuitively acceptable though.

Artificial scarcity is scarcity that only exists in the laws of man. Copyright is artificial scarcity because it exists only in the laws of man. Without copyright law, the limitations enumerated in copyright law wouldn't exist naturally. This isn't even making an argument, it's stating the obvious.

As Terry points out, the upper bound of copying is a natural finite scarcity, that is, Scarcity(X) != ∞. If you have a printing press, eventually you'd run out of trees to make paper from. Even Internet bandwidth is limited. So there is a natural scarcity in making copies... this is true.

But, technology exists to push the boundaries of scarcity. When we develop new farming techniques for instance, food becomes less scarce. More people can eat. This is good, especially for people who otherwise couldn't eat.

But the key thing for copyright is that technology has also made the the act of copying and distribution substantially easier and cheaper. No longer do you need an expensive printing press or media press to make large numbers of copies. Any old computer will do. Technology has pushed the natural scarcity inherent in copying to the stratosphere. While copyright has always been an artificial scarcity, it was never noticeable until the natural scarcity surrounding it was lifted as it was during the rise of computer networks.

It's like if you had a law preventing people from visiting Mars without the NASA's concurrence. This wouldn't be very controversial today. Who can go to Mars anyway, besides NASA (with a ton of funding)? But it would be controversial in a world where going to Mars was as easy and safe as going to the supermarket. Suddenly such a law would be an intolerable restriction on humanity's freedom of movement. Technology changes perspectives on the law.

Likewise, in the world of the printing press: who cares if they can not make copies of works? Who even owns a printing press? Only specialized companies.

This is no longer the case. We now live in a world where the technology exists to provide the sum of published human knowledge and culture to all the world's people. In such a world as it stands, copyright and specifically the scarcity it brings is an intolerable restriction. It's unfortunate Terry can't see this.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Copyright Is Self Defeating

I often find that copyright proponents are often several years behind when they talk about copying technology. They see the icebergs floating on the pirate waters, but fail to see all the piracy underneath.

All this talk always seems to ignore all the BitTorrent advancements over the last few years, especially the move to distributed hash table-based coordination systems, which are fully P2P. P2P by definition is not centralized, that is, P2P file sharing can’t be shut down by going to some central authority. You'd have to shut down all the peers (in the case of BitTorrent DHT, the millions of people around the world using it). Of course, mass monitoring of people’s communications would be a prerequisite to this copyright enforcement activity.

Some sites like The Pirate Bay assist in finding content, but they aren’t strictly necessary. The new BT sites are designed to be trivially mirrored. Even if you find where in the world TPB’s servers are (and they change perhaps multiple times per day, and are located in many dozens of places redundantly), TPB has designed itself such that anyone can trivially pick up and run a mirror without much money involved, because there is very little to host. In fact, the entire TPB can fit in a single cheap $10 USB stick. In practice, there are thousands of such mirrors currently active on the Internet in any given moment. In the end of the day, they know that powerful interests want them gone, and have already taken many actions all over the world to try to shut them down. So they’ve in turn taken many countermeasures to make that difficult.

All this technology means that it’s not impossible to to fight piracy. It does however, make it harder. Improving copying technology forces the enforcers methods to become increasingly intrusive and draconian. Which is exactly what has (and will) continue to make copyright itself controversial. This was pretty much my original point – copyright itself hasn’t changed much, but as technology makes copying even more easier, convenient and private, it forces copyright holders to do even more disagreeable things to counter. They don’t want to do it, but they have to if copyright will have any sort of enforcement anymore. Because of this it’s the copyright enforcers themselves that are chipping away at the concept of copyright.

The biggest allies of anti-copyright advocates are the copyright enforcers themselves. The actions they do to enforce their copyright are often useful triggers to change the public’s perceptions on copyright. This is what helps the bigger fish in the fight write articles that generate the outrage that causes anti-copyright protests. I like the latest one where some copyright group sued a 9-year old girl and stole her Winne the Pooh laptop. Even the artist who’s copyright there were apparently protecting condemned their actions as draconian and cruel. Copyright is in a way, self defeating.

I’ll just add that while this is one of many independent ways modern copyright is self-defeating, it’s not the certainly not greatest flaw. The ultimate copyright killer is that it represents a defect on potential inherit in what it is protecting. I could write a dissertation on that topic in particular that would fill many pages. But I’ll spare this because Lessigs and Stallmans of the world have written better treatises on that sort of thing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It's Not About Copyright; It's About Copyright Enforcement

The arguments from pro-copyright people often revolve around copyright as a concept:
  • An author should be able to make money from their work!
  • Copyright enables a market for works, and this encourages the creation of new works! (M: This is actually basically the argument for copyright that is recorded in the Constitution.)
  • Copyright is property, and a property rights are essential to a modern society!
These are typical arguments I've seen and I think most if not all pro-copyright people agree with.  The strange thing, as someone that is skeptical of copyright, I agree with them too. They are sound arguments. Someone who makes something that is useful in some way, why shouldn't they be rewarded for their work? And doesn't rewards encourage the creation of useful works? These statements are quite sensible.

So what is the problem with copyright? The problem with copyright is when you scratch beyond the surface. The surface beyond these cheerful agreeable slogans is called copyright enforcement. Lets add copyright enforcement to the mix.
  • An author should be able to make money from their work. To enforce this, I should be able to spy on everyone's private communications!
  • Copyright enables a market for works, and this encourages the creation of new works! To enforce this, we should scour the web and search for things that potentially violate copyright and shut them down without even a court order!
  • Copyright is property, and a property rights are essential to a modern society! Therefore, we should sue single mothers and students for millions of dollars when we catch them violating copyright!
Whoa. These statements look a lot similar to the ones above, all I did was add copyright enforcement to the mix. Now these statements I don't agree with, and in fact, just reading them makes me nauseated with disgust.

Some pro-copyright'ers might be like "still looks good to me". Especially the few that supported SOPA/PIPA, Hadopi and thought record companies suing random Americans into life servitude is a noble cause. But once you add copyright enforcement to the mix, naturally the support for copyright starts to fall apart.

But that is real copyright enforcement. It's incredibly ugly, and even the most ardent pro-copyright'ers don't like to talk about it very much. You won't see any of this on a pro-copyright blog:
  • If you can't audit people's private communications, you can't know if what they are doing is copyright infringing. Therefore, you can not have a healthy copyright system. France has decided that mass invasion of privacy is an essential element of copyright enforcement - and the USA is following their lead even though this violates the Forth Amendment - by taking this system private via a conspiracy of ISPs and content companies called the "Center for Copyright Information".
  • Due process, proving infringement is difficult and expensive. Therefore content creators have helped pass an oppressive law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows them to remove content from the web without having to prove that actual infringement occurred. There are many example DMCA gung-ho philosophy to injunctions being used to outright censor speech, even political speech, including the Democratic National Convention's live feed. Other attempted bills such as SOPA/PIPA could have extend this idea to entire websites but were narrowly defeated.
  • Copyright damages that were designed for massive scale. Fines of up to $150,000 per instance of infringement are applied on the average citizen by copyright holders. Copyright holders don't even have to prove that damages occurred under the current law to get these kinds of judgements!

Without copyright enforcement, copyright law is worth less than the paper it is printed on. And the pro-copyright'ers are always hungry for new enforcement, because the crazy amount of leverage in the law that they have today (high statuary damages, injunctions without proof, suspension of privacy rights) is not sufficient against the tide of the information age.

Problem is you can't have real enforcement without violatating basic principles of liberty and privacy that we are accustomed to (feel free to correct me, but I haven't seen it).

So with enforcement, copyright shows it's ugly side. And since copyright and enforcement can not be separated, copyright itself is ugly. Don't support copyright.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pirate Party Founder Rick Falkvinge on Political Activism

Pirate leader Rick Falkvinge gives a TED talk on how a person can start and nurture a growing political movement. He also mentions many of the inconvenient truths about copyright enforcement on the Internet. Excellent talk.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mimi and Eunice

This is a very funny comic series by Nina Paley of Sita Sings the Blues fame.

Obviously, I especially like the cartoons that poke fun on the idea of "intellectual property" (or more correctly "intellectual poopery").

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Long Copyright Terms Kill Culture to Benefit Glorious Creative Industry

Some people focus on the fact that long copyright terms help artists make more money from their work. But I don't see that as the real effect of long copyright terms. See this article on The Atlantic that shows the effect of long copyright terms. It's really profound what a small graph can tell you.

The effect of long copyright terms is a kind of artificial scarcity, I should call it artificial extinction. When an author or publisher is no longer interested in a book, yet it is still under copyright, it becomes very increasingly hard to find. This makes older works entirely unavailable for many. This is really bad for our culture, but it's good for the culture industry. Because the culture industry doesn't want to compete with the public domain. A healthy collection of public domain works which are de jure free will hurt the creation of new works because people can just tap into the public domain for content.

When you see pro-copyright people complaining about Creative Commons, they are actually channeling this idea. Creative Commons is an artifact of copyright itself, how could someone who is pro-copyright be against it?

The problem is Creative Commons is competition. You'll see some copyright crusaders promoting Britannica these days. Really? Why? I read and contribute to the free encyclopedia Wikipedia. I'm sure you've heard of it. I like most others have no need for Britannica, which contains a tiny fraction of the content available on Wikipedia. So really, why have they suddenly become Britannica fans? It's quite obvious because Britannica's business model is based on the typical artificial scarcity concept and it costs money (pre-Wikipedia it used to cost a lot of money). Attributes they like in their cultural works. Wikipedia has neither, it's actually a free culture project. Likewise, I don't see why I need to buy music from iTunes at 99 cents a track when I can download thousands of tracks from Jamendo for free. When you tell pro-copyright people this sort of thing, they get extremely uncomfortable. Because they have no easy way to react. Suddenly their usual rhetoric feels cheap.

Public domain is a threat for the same reason. And how do you kill public domain? Extend copyright durations of course. The public domain is essentially frozen in time, just the way they like it. But is that really good for society? Hell no.

And this sort of thing encourages piracy. Now if someone wants this content, they can't even pay for it. Suddenly file sharing looks less like "evil pirate activity" and more like the most effective systems for ensuring the preservation of human knowledge and culture.

Monday, April 2, 2012

You Can't Ignore Engineering and Mathematical Facts When Discussing Copyright

Unfortunately a lot of the pro-copyright crowd is totally tone deaf to the concerns of engineers. Some of them, especially the lawyer types, think there is some magical Internet fairy that can sniff websites for copyright infringement. If only Google knew about this, they could stop piracy overnight!

Devlin Hartline points out some sites Google blocked. Over 11 million domains blocked by Google! That's a HUGE number. Huge numbers conclusively prove that the Google censors can stop piracy, if they wanted to. Somehow.

It is only people who know nothing about Computer Science who would make such absurd claims. Those 11 million sites could be matched by a single trivial regular expression. Go ahead, write Google the regular expression needed to block piracy. I'm sure they'd put it into production right away.

In our debates about copyright, let us not ignore protocols which implement a peer-to-peer topology. This is where a lot of filesharing happens. P2P is the idea that various peers (filesharers in this case) connect to each other directly. There is no intermediary involved. P2P filesharing has been going on for 10 years unabated though networks like Gnutella and the copyright crusaders can do squat about it, Gnutella can't be shut down because there is nothing to shut down. It's a protocol, not an infrastructure.

TPB has engineered itself to be based on P2P technology, using the new BitTorrent DHT system based on the concept of magnet links. A $10 flash drive can carry the entire TPB website in your pocket. If they shut it down, anyone can just put it back up. That's why TPB hasn't been shut down despite being declared illegal in over 9000 jurisdictions.

Here is an example of the dreaded copyright-killing magnet link. With this information, you can download something via P2P BitTorrent:


There is nothing hidden, no secret link to TPB or some random cyber locker. That string of text you see in your face would work just as well tattooed on your butt.

First of all, how do you know what this gets you? It's a hex string that doesn't encode the contents it describes. It could be the latest Hollywood movie, it could be something even worse.

Remember, there is no magical way to know if something is copyright infringement. In fact, without telling you what that magnet link is, there is no way for you to even know what is until you actually try to download it. Copyright is not a natural trait of data, no matter how many laws you force down the legal system this will always be so.

In this case, this magnet link points to a popular open source Linux distro. Non-copyright infringing uses for P2P, who would have known?

Don't even get me started on DRM, the whole concept is built on mathematically unsound foundations. How the hell are you suppose to protect a decryption key when that key is needed to play the media?

When you are fighting against piracy, you aren't just fighting against an increasingly politically connected foe, you are fighting against a foe that has the technology and quite frankly the laws of nature and mathematics on their side. I'm glad I'm not in that camp, it must be frustrating as hell.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Privacy vs Copyright

Dominic from the Copyright Blog offers striking examples of how copyright and privacy are similar. On the surface, his quotations missing the word "privacy" can very much be used in the context of both pro-privacy and pro-copyright arguments. He uses this to justify the fact that if you support privacy, it really isn't much a stretch to support copyright. However, I can not ignore that the primary justification he provides for copyright, namely "it advances our culture and our knowledge, it inspires others to create more things, it moves us forward as well as entertaining and delighting people", does not make any sense for privacy rights.

I see similarity with arguments for protecting "intellectual property" without taking into account the differences in what constitutes intellectual property. The rules and philosophy between copyright, patents and trademarks are quite different.

And if you scratch past the surface, privacy rights and copyright are quite different.

Privacy is fundamentally a system to protect you from others who may find your private dealings objectionable. Even if you are perfect, someone out there will want to put you in jail, embarrass you, or threaten you if they figure out enough information about you. This could be copyright enforcers, it could be the DEA, it could be anti-abortion activists. Privacy is a protection of the individual against any kind of (state-sponsored or not) malicious harm to them. It's a check and balance against coercive power.

Copyright does not have any of these privacy attributes. It protects published work which are intended to be in the public sphere. Copyright serves as a profit incentive for publishing work to a public sphere, the goal of which is to generate revenue. This is by selling as much copies of that work as possible, with as much possible cost and government-endorsed scarcity as the market will allow. Copyright may look like privacy at a shallow level, because it's enforcement is to make information scarce or unavailable.

But the purpose behind copyright is different. The purpose of copyright it is not to make information scarce or unavailable, quite the contrary. As Dominic rightfully points out, the theory behind copyright it to use the economic powers scarcity affords to make the continued development of artistic and useful works more economically feasible, to allow new and more diverse creative works to be made available to the public. This is fundamentally different from the idea of privacy!

In fact, they are so different that privacy and copyright are diametrically opposed to one another. In the world of the information age, you have to pick between privacy or copyright. You can not have proper enforcement of both.

The problem with copyright infringement is that copying is typically done in private. Nobody wants to "publish" their legal transgressions, so copyright infringement is one of the most private of acts.

So how are you suppose to even discover copyright infringement? Simply said, you must invade everyone's privacy on a massive scale. If you want to enforce copyright, you have to gain knowledge of people's private dealings. Yes, your Internet usage, your e-mails, your file and program usage behavior on your personal computer are all things that can be used to discover copyright infringement. The problem is, they are not things you have "published" for the world to see. Allowing companies the ability to access, store and data mine this information for various purposes is an invasion of privacy.

But copyright enforcers want this information regardless. Of course you can't not opt-in or opt-out otherwise all the filesharers would opt-out from being monitored. So they want involuntary access to your private information, the purpose thereof so they can punish you for any legal transgressions they find.

To be fair technology companies on the free culture side of things, like Google, want this information too. However Google wants it for different less malicious reasons. In addition, Google doesn't need to personally identify you the way copyright holders or their enforcement apparatuses need to.

So in conclusion, copyright and privacy can not really coexist anymore. Comparisons between copyright and privacy are not so simple, and there needs to be a focus on the differences between the philosophies of privacy and copyright to understand how one can be opposed to the idea of copyright but for the idea of privacy. In fact, you can only really be for one or the other.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fixing The Content Industry: Legalizing And Profiting From Filesharing

A law should be created that allows for file sharing sites (eg: torrent trackers, cyberlockers) to acquire a license that gives itself and its users some limited degree of copyright immunity.

The licensed filesharing service can permit filesharing from individuals who have "copyright immunity". Obtaining copyright immunity involves payment of a standard monthly fee (which can be paid anonymously) to a central authority. This central authority would operate a federated OpenID system filesharing websites could subscribe for verification of the user's status. We can argue about how the monthly fee would work (what would it be, would it be the same for everyone) but that's a separate concern. The only thing I feel is important is it should be high enough that it generates useful revenue for content authors, but low enough that it is affordable for almost everyone (tiered pricing based on ability to pay may be one possibility).

Implications of "Copyright Immunity":
  • No one possessing copyright immunity can be held liable for copyright infringement on works obtained from licensed filesharing services, where the intended use of the copyrighted work is non-commercial. This is regardless of the copyright status of the work shared, or the nature of the work.
  • Commercial use is permitted in case of individual commercial proprietorship. This is because too authoritarian to audit anyway. The exception is in the case where it can be proven that the individual proprietor largely does his commercial activity for one entity (ie. as a de-facto employee).
  • Derivative works (remixing) are explicitly permitted, even for fully commercial purposes. This is subject to two conditions:
    • The  derivative work is ONLY shared on licensed file sharing sites. 
    • A derivative work MUST explicitly give credit to the originator of the work in a way that is easily attributable to the originator by software (I explain why later).

The files shared on these sites could be "claimed" by a copyright holder (although NOT removed!) it would than go into a system which a third party anonymously audits how many downloads this file has, and using a formula can disperse proceeds originating from the monthly fee to the copyright holders. Derivative works will be legally permitted using a system that rewards both the originator (as listed in the remix's metadata) and the derivative.

The formula is largely auxiliary to the main point but here are some properties I'd like it to have:
  • Publicly known. IE: Not like Spotify.
  • Balanced in a way that encourages a middle class. Here is a specific idea on how to accomplish that: 
    • Individual proprietors are scored based on the popularity of their each of their works relative to similar works in the same field, summed. This score is used to place the individual proprietor along a Bell-curve scale which determines their final salary. To allow for financial stability, the score is a weighted-sum including all past scores from the last 20 years (which the further away it is from the present, the less of a component it is in the score). Even if their work suddenly becomes so last year, their payment will not decline by a massive amount. The age of the author may also have some effect on how the weighted-sum works (it can start to smooth out more), to allow for something like a retirement pension.
    • When involving corporations, they can be paid in proportion using a similar philosophy to above, but paid multiplicatively to the number of employees they have. Hey, it's also encouragement for companies to retain (hopefully good) talent!

This work takes part in the Future of Copyright Contest

The Decline of the Value in Human Endeavour and its Implications Under the Current Economic Systems

The information age, the progression of automation, globalisation and other factors have fundamentally changed societies class structure and has stratified wealth. The reason is the value of human labor itself is in a decline, especially in career endeavours that can either be easily outsourced or made redundant or difficult to maintain by machines.

The political system in place does not handle this situation very well. Layoffs for instance, are not always the product of a failed enterprise. Companies that have record profits have laid off many of their employees. This is simply because their employees are often not needed, having been replaced by more efficient business processes. This is increasing their profit while increasing the general state of unemployment. This will only continue as new software and technology makes business processes that involved lots of manual human labor easier.

The problem is in the most of the world there is no financial net. The terminology "making a living" is not metaphorical, it is literal. To survive in any sense of dignity in this age, a revenue stream is required. People have bills to pay and these bills are often high, and the consequences are huge if you do not pay them. You could lose your home and all your possessions, basically going from middle class to extreme poverty simply by being unemployed for an excessive period of time. This is happening today. All while people who are in close proximity to the machines of tomorrow get wealthier. There is nothing that I see that is reversing this trend, it seems like it has the potential to get worse.

Some people who have identified this troubling trend have decided that the problem is the machines themselves. But that's not the problem. Technology has the power to literally make the term "making a living" a thing of the past. How great would a world be where people can spend more time with their family? Or try for more lofty pursuits? This is the power of technological advancement. We can make everyone's lives easier and happier. But we must model our society in a way that respects the interests of the greater population, and that is not what is happening!

This is not an easy problem to solve and I don't have all the answers. It's something I am still learning more about. Future blog posts will try to provide more insight on the problem, and hopefully possible solutions.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

You Can't Compromise With Copyright

Mike Misnick of Techdirt fame recently wrote an article about the impracticability of balancing copyright law. It's something I totally agree with. No matter how you change copyright law (increase/decrease it's duration, increase fair use, etc.) it is not workable on a free and open Internet. This is because at the most fundamental level, the Internet has made the access to information post-scarce. On the other hand, copyright is an attempt to enforce artificial scarcity. Scarcity which looks increasingly artificial as technology makes copying ever more easier. These are fundamentally conflicting things. And because of how easy it is to copy things these days, enforcing copyright only works through widespread monitoring of people's private dealings.

Here is a comment I made on that post:

Technology has created a situation where the the sum of human knowledge and culture can be made available to anyone in the world. It's like giving everyone in the world access to a more than Library of Congress worth of knowledge and culture. You can hold and access huge body of knowledge and culture in using very small devices that you can hold in your pocket.

This is something that even if you were the richest man in the world 20 years ago, it wasn't possible. But today it is possible even for the poorest people in the world. This information age is a huge step forward for humanity.

We can provide this today. The technology exists. The only thing that stops this from happening is a law that was conceived when the printing press was the most efficient method of copying. This law is copyright law.

There is no comprising with copyright law. It is fundamentally incompatible with this vision.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Subscription Services: The Future of the Music Business (And Content In General)?

I've covered the various problems that enforcing artificial scarcity in the information age has on society. But almost the entire "creative industry" has made a business model out of artificial scarcity (because copyright encourages it). How would they survive without it?

There is a business model for imaginary works that works without artificial scarcity. You don't impose restrictions on how a piece of content is used or distributed. People are free to share what they want, when they want, with whoever they want. They can remix and create new works. And they have access to all the world's content. Yet, authors still get paid. This business model is called "blanket licensing". Ideas for blanket licensing have been popularized by MIT as a solution to music piracy in their Open Music Model.

Limited forms of idea have been put into implementation. Spotify is a example of a post-scarce music outlet. With a single $10/mo subscription you can access tens of millions of tracks of music, something 20 years ago you might have to have been a billionaire to have. It gives "pirate-like service" at a reasonable cost. That's exactly what people want, pirate-like service with no artificial scarcity at a reasonable cost.

Spotify has the blessing of the "Big Four" record companies who collectively have copyright over a very large amount of music. This shows that even the "music dinosaurs" seem to be open to this idea of "unlimited access to all the music".

Hulu Plus and Netflix can be considered limited post-scarce outlets for video content, although the movie industry has been a bit slower than the music industry in adopting blanket licensing and post-scarce business models (they still practice "windowing" extensively, which is an invitation for piracy). They will get there eventually.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Eric Schmidt on Post-Scarcity, Collective Intelligence and the Future of the Internet

I just had to post this very fascinating video by the eminent Computer Scientist and chief Googler Eric Schmidt on the idea of collective intelligence and how it relates to the future of computers and the Internet. Best takeaway quote: “The last gasp of an autocrat is to turn off the Internet.”


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Copying vs Theft: A PSA

Without further ado, here is a public service announcement on this very topic:

Pro-copyright activists often compare filesharing to physical theft of property. I always thought this was a strange argument. Because unlike traditional theft, when something is copied the original copy is intact.

That not only complicates the idea of theft, it also makes is obnoxiously hard to detect. If someone steals my TV, I'm going to know about it pretty fast. Why? Because my TV is fucking gone! :(

Real theft is very visible. Although you may not always catch the culprit, but it's easy to know when it happens. And you don't need anything special to know about theft, the missing TV is evidence enough.

But if someone in Herpderpistan shares a copy of my "content" with someone else, I'm probably never going to know about it (let alone do anything about it). My original copy is intact, bit for bit.

But that's not good enough. I don't care about my original copy, I want to ensure nobody else, nobody in the world has a copy, unless I allow them to. But how can I enforce this? How will I know if someone shared a copy of the content I claim to have exclusive copyright on? The copyright crusader inside all of us wants to know about it, in fact, it's our right to know about it!

But the only way I can truly know about it is by invading everyone's personal lives and dealings. Unlike real theft, I need to violate the property rights of others in order to protect my "intellectual property" from this form of "theft". I need to know what you are doing after-all, so I ensure what you are doing isn't "stealing my stuff". I can't know simply by looking at my original copy. It's always there, bit for bit!

So I need to have commandeer some form of control over everyone's physical property (violating their property rights?) to police my so called "intellectual property". In some irony, I need wide-spread fascist-like levels of power to violate people's privacy at a grand scale. It's truly the only way I can be sure they aren't "stealing" my stuff. Strange how that works, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

ACTA Protests Spread Throughout Europe

Hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets Sunday in all major (and hundreds of minor) European cities to express outrage over the controversial ACTA treaty.

Perhaps as a result, countries all over Europe have begun to express doubts over the treaty.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Decline of Mass Media: Is Piracy To Blame?

I will not try to dance around the idea that mass media is as vibrant as it was ever. I believe (based on evidence) that mass media as a whole is in a decline. This includes movies, music, TV and newspapers.

Most copyright crusaders also agree with this. They view this decline as a critical problem that needs to be fixed. They also put the blame squarely (or largely) on piracy. But is this a complete view?

Consider that newspapers are among the largest have-nots of the information age. It's not a good time to be professional journalist. Do copyright crusaders believe piracy is destroying newspapers? Do people torrent the Wall Street Journal?

No. The reason newspapers are suffering is because people don't need newspapers to get information anymore. They get it from social media - blogs, social networking sites, and wikis. Basically, user generated content. These sources of information even in the most extreme interpretations are not typically infringing on copyright. But the financial damage they cause to mass media is astronomical.

As I see it, there is one common idea of information post-scarcity. It presents itself in two different ways: in social media, and in piracy. Social media is the legal side of information post-scarcity, piracy is the illegal. But both damage the idea of mass media.

Some copyright crusaders I've talked with acknowledge this fact - social media harms mass media. But they don't care, they are only trying to protect "their" work. Well, if piracy went away they still wouldn't be as healthy of an industry as they were before the information age. And that is because of this social media movement, which if looking at website statistics eclipses piracy sites and mass media sites. Can you find a website focused on creating and distributing mass media in the top 20? The closet thing I can find is BBC News at #47, an entity that doesn't even rely on copyright for most of its revenue.

The fact of the matter, piracy or not: The good ol' days where "content is king" is gone. What matters these days is providing a platform where prosumers can create and share content. That is the heart of social media.

The Scope of Copyright Has Changed

Copyright as a concept hasn't changed for hundreds of years. Copyright law itself has changed dozens of times in the United States. But the fundamental principle of copyright is protecting the "copy right" of authors, this has been immutable over the years. Copyright's most important stipulation is that only the owner of a copyright controls the legal ability to produce a tangible copy of a work. This is typically done for profit. It is believed with strong conviction that such a system can only enhance the creation of works protected by it.

Yet copyright has changed so much since the creation of the Internet, without even a word having to change in copyright law. Copyright has become very hard to enforce, hard to not violate, and it turned into a law that applies to everyone universally.

The "copy right" is no longer easy to enforce because computers are copy machines by their nature and the Internet makes distributing these copies to a wide audience of interested consumers very easy.

The Internet and computers has turned everyone into a possible violator of copyright. Recall from my previous post that the copy machines of old, the printing presses were very expensive and hard to operate. Only a subset of business really owned these machines, these businesses are called "printers" or "publishers". Copyright largely only concerned them. If they didn't like copyright universally, they are still such a minority of the greater population no one cared. There is no way to violate a copy right when you lack the ability to make copies!

Now everyone with a computer has the most advanced printing press ever invented, as good as what the major companies have. The ability to copy conveyed by computers is post-scarce, everyone has can make perfect copies of anything that can be conveyed in information and no one really has this capability better than anyone else. So we live in a world where everyone is potentially a copyright violator. And it's a law that amazingly easy to violate, even if you don't try to. Even the hardline proponents of copyright law have been caught violating it.

All this has led to a once largely uncontroversial law possibly being the single most controversial area of politics in existence.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Copyright Today

"Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing."
Jimmy Wales, Founder, Wikimedia Foundation (Wikipedia)

The Internet has created a world where the sum of human knowledge and culture can be made available to every single person on the planet no matter where they are. It's like handing every single person on the planet a Library of Congress, except even bigger than that.

This is not a futuristic sci-fi idea. The technology to do this is already here. The only thing that is stopping this world of total post-scarcity of information is a law that was conceived when the printing press was the most efficient medium of copying knowledge. This law is called copyright law.

Copyright law works on the concept of artificial scarcity, that is forcing something to be scarce by law instead of by nature. In the age of the printing press, this artificial scarcity did not feel artificial at all. In order to efficiently copy something a person required to basically own a printing press machine. These machines were only owned by fairly large businesses and very difficult to use.

Individuals really did not posses the technology to copy things at a mass scale. Thus copyright rarely, if ever, conflicted with the rights of the individual. It was a law that affected printing businesses exclusively, so it could be considered an industrial regulation. Much like trademark law but even more narrow in scope because it only applied to a specific industry. Thus copyright wasn't very controversial.

The information age changed all that. Now every individual potentially has access to be best copy machine available: the modern computer with Internet access. This is a quantum leap forward over the printing press as far as copying technology is concerned. Copyright law now applies to the populace just as much as it applies to mass printing companies. It's scope has increased without the law changing very much. So it is no longer a uncontroversial law.

Today, copyright is very hard to enforce because you have to enforce it on everyone. Copyright itself is also under attack. This blog will examine this phenomena more closely. Compared to many other blogs that discuss copyright, this one will look at copyright from a perspective of sympathy for the current zeitgeist of the information age.