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.

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