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.