In the Industrial Age, the fight between labor and the owners of industry (“capital”) was the overarching political issue. As we move away from an industrial economy to one based on knowledge that debate is likely to diminish.
Instead, among the big battles to be fought in this century, will be about intellectual property — who controls it, who gets paid for it, how much they get paid, who owns it and whether ideas can properly be considered property in the same way we consider land to be property.
I’ve written about this before, but a recent story about the settlement of a suit by Star Trek was settled recently, as reported in the NY Times, brought this to mind, especially as I came across an interesting series of posts that provide some new perspectives.
These were written at the end of last year and the beginning of this year by the former chair of the Australian Film Critics Association, Rich Haridy.
His aim was to “examine how 21st century digital technology has given artists a set of tools that have dismantled traditional definitions of originality and is challenging the notions of copyright that came to dominate much of the 20th century.”
Here’s a quick, broad-brush summary of his argument for a more modern and fairer copyright system:
- Not just in today’s digital world of remixes, but going back to Shakespeare and Bach and even before that, creative works have always been derivative from previous works. They clearly have originality, but no work is even close to being 100% original.
- The tightening of copyright laws has undermined the original goal of copyrights — to encourage creativity and the spread of knowledge.
- This reflects the failure of policy makers and the courts to understand the nature of creativity. This is getting worse in our digital world.
- While the creators and distributors deserve compensation for their works, this shouldn’t be used as a reason to punish other artists who build and transform those works.
- The enforcement is unequal. While bloggers and artists with limited financial means are easy targets for IP lawyers, the current system “while [theoretically] allowing for fair use, still privileges the rich and powerful, be they distributors or artists.”
It’s worth reading the series to understand his argument, which makes a lot of sense:
- The remix wars: Originality in the age of digital reproduction
- The remix wars: Copyright and the Socially Awkward Penguin
- The story of the Star Trek fan film that is challenging copyright laws
Haridy is not proposing destruction of copyrights. But if arguments, like his, are not heeded, don’t be surprised if more radical stances are taken by others — just as happened in the past in the conflict between labor and capital.
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