Why Copyright Should Die

Angel of Death

First off, I am a tad prejudice

I think Copyright is a dirty, sadistic low-life who deserves to die. If Copyright were a person, he’d be that guy who smiles, promises to help you, then stabs you in the back.

Copyright is the supervillain in my story not because he needs improvement or is ineffective, but because he’s a duplicitous sadist. It’s one thing to hurt people, it’s another thing entirely to stare into your victim’s eyes as they scream for help and promise that you’re saving them.

Copyright promises to promote creativity and protect creators’ interests. He promises to be the good guy, to be there for you when you need him. Not so.

  • Books are forced out of print when a publisher purchases the rights, but then refuses to print, leaving the back-stabbed writer helpless to printing his own book.
  • Creators are sued because their creations too closely resemble another, despite being independently produced.
  • Delightful remixes that could have been made never come to light because Copyright forbids using an already invented wheel to make something better. In the name of Copyright, creators must always reinvent the wheel.
  • PIPA/SOPA/ACTA – legislation is gaining increasing power to control the internet under the guise of enforcing Copyright.

I feel betrayed. I think you should too.

Even if you don’t (yet) have a vindictive prejudice against Copyright, you have to admit Copyright has got some problems. Copyright’s claims to protect creators and promote creativity isn’t all roses and cherries. There are bloody back wounds around every corner. So what’s the problem? Where did Copyright go wrong?

Two fundamental problems with Copyright

1. Ideas are not property

It’s beyond the scope of this tiny brain to offer a robust, philosophical framework for property rights, but I thought this first point would be worth mentioning anyways. Copyright is built on the false notion that ideas are property in the same sense that physical property is property. The problem is that ideas are as different from physical property as they could possibly be.

Physical property is scarce, but ideas are non-scarce. Something is “scarce” if it can only serve one purpose at a time. The defining trait of physical property is scarcity. If Bob is using my pencil, I can’t. However, if Bob, or a million others, are using an idea, we can all employ that one idea at the same time for our own purposes. The defining trait of ideas is non-scarcity. See! As different as they could possibly be.

Copyright is broken because it presumes to force a non-scarce peg into a scarce hole. It can’t work. The result is that real property rights are violated in the name of enforcing fake property rights, like Bob forbidding me to use my computer and my fingers because he “owns” some sequence of letters.

Let me address a common quibble that often surfaces here. People will argue that the theft is not in copying the idea itself, but in stealing potential business away from whomever you copied the idea. The argument goes that if I copy Bob’s idea and sell to Alice before Bob can, then I stole that profit from Bob. There are 2 obvious problems with this argument. First, theft presupposes ownership. To argue that I’m stealing Alice’s business away from Bob is to argue that Bob owned Alice’s purchasing decisions to begin with. Not so. Second, the logical extension of this argument is that I’m stealing Alice’s business away from Bob by selling anything to Alice, because if Alice buys a Ford from me she can’t afford to buy a Honda from Bob. Foolishness.

2. The value is in the audience, not in the content

Copyright falsely assumes that the value is in the content. It is not. The value is in the audience. No book, no matter how good, can make money without readers. There is no intrinsic value of printed words on a page, it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. Without the beholder, there is no value. Copyright doesn’t get this. Copyright threatens and fights the beholder. Copyright turns on and attacks the audience.

Why Copyright will die

Copyright will die because it fights the audience, and in battles between content and audience, the audience always wins.

Why does Copyright insist on fighting this losing battle? Because of those 2 fundamental misunderstandings. Copyright fights the audience because it mistreats ideas as property with intrinsic value. Little does Copyright know, ideas are the opposite of property (non-scarce) and have no intrinsic value (the audience is the value).

Why Copyleft will win

Open publishing platforms like Copyleft and Creative Commons will win because they nurture the audience. While Copyright battles against technology, marketing trends, and human nature to keep control over content, Copyleft is leveraging these to his advantage.

Technology instantaneously delivers content anywhere in the world for free. Copyright hates this. Copyleft loves it.

Marketing is about social sharing. People don’t want to hear from strangers pitching their own products, they want to hear from friends recommending their favorite products. Copyright hates sharing. Copyleft loves it.

Human nature doesn’t like to be controlled. People want to copy, remix, and redistribute as they please. Copyright hates remixing. Copyleft loves it.

Copyleft is thriving because the value of the audience runs deeper than the obvious result of more customers buying more work. A large audience means new opportunities and new value. This new value is often hard to predict, but it’s there, like an untapped gold mine.

Look at the YouTube channel Cute Girls Hairstyles. The booming business started with a dad, Shaun McKnight, making hairstyle videos with his daughters. McKnight never imagined playtime with his daughters would pay the bills, but as their YouTube audience grew, not only did ad revenue pour in, but so did the business offers from major hair product lines and production studios. McKnight quit his job to pursue hairstyling with his daughters when his full-time salary was surpassed by the lost hairstyle opportunities.

Oh, did you know that the five new cast members just hired for Saturday Night Live were pulled directly from YouTube? See. There is serious value in having an audience.

Metaphor of the Seed

I think seeds are a great metaphor to drive this point home. Copyright is like a miser clutching to watermelon seeds, stubborn to only plant where he can keep control. Copyleft is like Johnny Appleseed sowing wherever he thinks the seeds will flourish. It’s not hard to imagine how apples will displace watermelons as the dominant crop, no matter how good those watermelons might be.

People will enjoy the apples, and tell their friends. Others will harvest the seeds and plant more apple trees. Farmers will graft the sweetest branches to the strongest roots, building continually better apple trees. Birds will carry these improved seeds to new places to grow. 

If the miser has his way, most people will never know what a watermelon is. There will be no hillsides, streams, or paths covered in watermelons. There will be no farmers building better watermelons. Pirate birds carrying seeds to new places will be shot.

Johnny will have an audience. The miser will not. In a world with a growing army of Johnny’s spreading all varieties of seeds, it’s increasingly difficult for the miser to convince people the watermelon is worth it’s price.

Are you a Johnny? Why or why not? Leave a comment below.

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