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A NT H ONY RE A D
“Information wants to be free” is a slogan among many Internet users. Will copyright, as we understand it, survive in the digital age and does it matter?
The term ‘copyright’ is becoming increasingly redundant. Copyright laws can no longer guarantee the intellectual property of a person, as the power of the Internet has made information freer and more liberal to use as one wishes. If current intellectual property laws remain, there will be a chasm of difference between those who want to keep the current system and those who want to abolish it. Alternative options exist for those who wish to keep some rights to their work but allow others to interpret and use it, but there seems to be a level of arrogance associated with traditional copyright, real and perceived.
The Invention of the Copyright
Intellectual property began with the 1967 establishment of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The WIPO website describes intellectual property as “creations of the mind”, and breaks this down into two parts, “industrial property…and copyright” (WIPO 2008). Industrial property includes inventions and trademarks, whereas copyright means literary and artistic works. However, the term did not come into popular use until the Bayh-Dole Act that was passed in the US. This act states that universities, small businesses and non-profit organizations will have full rights over their intellectual property (Cornell University 2008). The ideas behind intellectual property date far back, as ideas related to this concept can be found in the Talmud. The book declares “prohibition against…the theft of ideas” (NYSun 2005). This may paint the law as safeguarding anything one thinks at any time, but this is where the confusion begins. The ‘intellectual property’ is not really property at all.
These laws protect “the original expression of the idea, not the idea itself” (!P Australia 2008). In essence, one can copyright the drawing of a logo or the sheets on which a story is written, but cannot copyright the idea as it resides in their mind. If someone hears another person humming a tune on a train, then goes home and writes down that tune he heard, he would have copyright over it. The other person may cry foul that his tune was used, but because he did not have it physically written somewhere, he has no rights over it whatsoever. This rule applies to industrial property as well, where if a invention idea is overheard and patented before the original person gets a chance to use it, it is technically not his to patent. These laws may seem rough to those who are unlucky enough to have an idea stolen, but laws cannot copyright the mind. It simply is not possible. One cannot think something, and automatically call it
copyrighted, since verifying the mind’s actions is nigh impossible. However, information is a different beast altogether.
Is Information Truly Free?
The phrase “information wants to be free” is a difficult concept in itself. It contains many words that are vague in nature, and perhaps this is why Internet users enjoy it, for the vagueness of the statement is a licence to break copyright laws. The dictionary describes the word ‘information’ as “knowledge derived from study, experience or instruction” (Dictionary.com 2008). This presents a philosophical question: what is knowledge? It cannot be knowing the truth, for knowing the complete and objective truth is never possible. We only ever experience the universe through our senses, which are representations of the truth. Everything is a perception, and therefore nothing can be truly designated as ‘knowledge’, or even ‘information’, since the meanings of these words (and these concepts) lie in perception. One man’s knowledge is another’s experience.
The next two key words make the phrase even more obtuse and vague. The word ‘want’ indicates a desire to possess or do something. Are we saying that information has a consciousness that makes decisions relating to its actions? Some may say yes. In a lecture on quantum theory and philosophy, Robert Miller states that if two identical particles are sent flying in opposite directions, and one is measured for spin, then the other, at that exact moment of measurement, acquires an equal and opposite spin. “There’s an instantaneous link across astronomically vast spaces”, Miller states (2008, pp. 6). In other words, information travels instantaneously. While this is mind-blowing stuff, it doesn’t say that information is sentient. Lastly, the word ‘free’ is a tricky concept, for nothing is ever truly ‘free’. Everything is connected to everything else is one way or another, but mostly through language. Think of it this way: can any word exist without another? Look up the definition of ‘information’, and you will find a bunch of other words, formed into a phrase, to describe it. To truly understand, one needs to look up the meaning of all those words as well. And so on. All these terms indicate the phrase ‘information wants to be free’ can be misinterpreted and used for personal gain. Perhaps it should be changed to ‘we want information to be free’, for that is what many Internet users really mean.
Ignoring Intellectual Property and the Consequences There are many examples of how intellectual property rights are being ignored in modern times. Perhaps one of the largest examples was the battle between Napster and various bands/artists to remove their work from the Napster online database. Metallica, Dr. Dre and Madonna all discovered that various musical works they had written were being disseminated and downloaded for free by Napster users. One of the issues with this form of file-sharing is the ability to “make…perfect copies…and send them around the world at the speed of light”. However, Ku makes a good point that the Internet can make it “possible to control information to an unprecedented degree” (2002, pp. 264). The reason why these bands and artists were so riled up about this issue is that they assumed their music was being stolen. What they didn’t recognise is two other major points: one, the wide dissemination of their music meant they were gaining a much higher level of recognition than ever before; and two, if they really wanted to control their music to a high degree, they had the tools available on the Internet to do so.
Ryan describes postmodern culture as “random cannibalisation of all the styles of the past” (1990, pp. 396), and this is another example of why intellectual property laws are being outmoded. There is a culture of appropriation occurring all over the Internet, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the social media zeitgeist, Youtube. It seems as though immediately after a song or video clip is released, the wider Internet community gets their hands on it and changes it around to give it a new meaning. One only has to look at the proliferation of fake music videos floating around Youtube for popular songs to realise how far this has gone. Even Dove’s ‘Evolution’ advertisement was taken and twisted into a damnation of exactly the same concept (Youtube 2008). ‘Mash-ups’ of albums by high-profile artists are being released without consent all the time. One only has to look at the backlash from EMI against Danger Mouse and his Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up ‘The Grey Album’ to see how major music corporations are still against the idea of appropriation and pastiche. From all this we can see that existing intellectual property laws are outdated, but Internet users still have no right to completely steal other’s work to use without permission. However, there are alternatives to move forward into new areas of copyright law, without the total monopoly rights that existed before.
The New Alternatives
One such way of identifying work as yours, without the heavy copyright restrictions, is to utilise Creative Commons licensing. Instead of the traditional copyright phrase ‘All Rights Reserved’, Creative Commons licences fall under the heading of ‘Some Rights Reserved’. Their website states that “balance, compromise and moderation…have become an endangered species” (CC 2008). Users of this copyright have the choice to keep some rights while allowing other people to use their work, but to always attribute the original work to the original maker. Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails, has released his last two albums under Creative Commons licensing, created a remix website (where fans can remix NIN songs and upload them for everyone to hear), and even states to “share *The Slip+ with your friends, post it on your blog…give it to strangers, etc” (NIN.com 2008). Another form of new copyright law is to give rewards directly to inventors, and then they allow their invention to pass straight into the public domain. A system where one could choose between traditional copyright law and the rewards system would be a healthy alternative, when used in tandem with Creative Commons (Shavel & Van Ypersele 2001, pp. 525).
In conclusion, we can see that the traditional intellectual property rights system has been outdated by the advancement of technology, reproducing systems and the proliferation of the Internet. While these rights and laws are outmoded, it still is no excuse for people to use other’s work without permission. Problems have reared their head, but no-one seems to be able to come up with a direct solution. Perhaps either a Creative Commons-style licensing system could work, or a choice between total copyright and rewards. Copyright will not survive much further into the digital age, as we have seen. Will it matter? No, not if a new system is implemented that satisfies the criteria of the Information Age as well as the people inside it.
Cornell University Law School 2008. ‘§ 203. March-in rights’, http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/35/usc_sec_35_00000203----000-.html, accessed 18/9/08. Creative Commons 2008. “About”, http://creativecommons.org/about/, accessed 19/9/08. Dictionary.com 2008. “Information”, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/information, accessed 19/9/08. IP Australia, ‘What is Intellectual Property?’, http://www.ipaustralia.gov.au/ip/copyright.shtml, accessed 18/9/08. Miller R 2008. ‘Do I exist separate from things? – Samsara and Schrodinger’s Cat’, Lecture 6, RMIT University Melbourne. NIN.com 2008. ‘The Slip’, http://dl.nin.com/theslip/signup, accessed 19/9/08. Ryan J 1990. ‘The Problem of Pastiche: Patrick Suskind’s Das Parfum’, The German Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. ¾, pp. 396-403. Shavel & Van Ypersele 2001. ‘Rewards versus Intellectual Property Rights’, Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 525-547. Shih Ray Ku R 2002. ‘The Creative Destruction of Copyright: Napster and the New Economics of Digital Technology’, The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 69, No. 1, pp. 263-324. The Sun New York 2005. ‘Fighting for Intellectual Property Rights’, http://www.nysun.com/business/fighting-for-intellectual-property-rights/22289/, accessed 18/9/08. World Intellectual Property Organisation 2008. ‘What is Intellectual Property?’, http://www.wipo.int/about-ip/en/, accessed 18/9/08. Youtube 2008. ‘Evolution’, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U, accessed 19/9/08. Youtube 2008. ‘Slob Evolution’, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0u0wWOMIsE, accessed 19/9/08.
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