The Copyleft

If you go into a Walmart and walk out with a CD or a DVD you did not pay for in the United States, you will probably get arrested.  Society has determined that removing the record album or DVD from the store without permission is an act that should be prohibited.  If you stop reading this right now and go to any pirate media site on the Internet and remove a copy of a record album or a movie without permission, in most cases, nothing will happen.  How did this come to be?

There are actually think-tanks at Stanford and Harvard that campaign for weaker copyright laws.  Theirs is a philosophy of basic tyranny.  What is yours is mine – we will force you to share – you have no choice.  Now that the Internet is here, your art, your songs, your performances no longer belong to you, they belong to us.  Never mind if other people profit from your ideas, you have no right to your ideas.  There are multiple organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation that actually fight in court against creative people and content owners who are trying to stop the massive theft of their work online.  These groups arrogantly pronounce that because intellectual property “cannot be protected online,” they will force us without our consent to “move beyond” copyright.  On the To Artists page, we debunk many of these popular canards.

In speaking at the Music Tech Conference in San Francisco in March 2012, John Barlow, Co-Founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in responding to a question raised by Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead said regarding music on the Internet, “We just have to get the property model out of the picture.  It is not a good way to monetize something that can be infinitely duplicated at zero cost and infinitely distributed at zero cost.”  Barlow’s comments start at 4:33.

Is “getting the property model out of the picture” a good thing for society? Can music, movies, software, books and games truly be infinitely duplicated and infinitely distributed on the internet at zero cost?  It seems unlikely that Verizon shareholders and bondholders would agree that there is no cost to distributing information on the Internet.  After Verizon’s $23B investment in their super-high-speed FiOS network they found that it was costing $4000 per subscriber to build out the new service.[1]  Google spends as much as a billion dollars a quarter on infrastructure.[2]  Indeed, during the initial growth of the Internet, from the first quarter of 1996 to the fourth quarter of 2000, investment in communications equipment grew from approximately $62 billion per year to over $135 billion per year in constant 1996 dollars.  Additionally, the more than 85 million broadband internet subscribers in the United States pay an average of $42 a month for service, totaling $39 billion annually.[3][4]  What then is Mr. Barlow referring to when he says zero cost?

In a seminal February 2003 article in Wired titled “The Economy of Ideas,” Mr. Barlow makes the case that since there is no way to protect digital content, we should accept that intellectual property is an outdated concept.  He goes on to state that even trying to find a way to protect digital content will inevitably threaten rights to free speech.

Mr. Barlow writes, “. . .  when the primary articles of commerce in a society look so much like speech as to be indistinguishable from it, and when the traditional methods of protecting their ownership have become ineffectual, attempting to fix the problem with broader and more vigorous enforcement will inevitably threaten freedom of speech.”  Mr. Barlow’s organization, The Electronic Frontier Foundation says that when “our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense.”   Where is the call for innovation to protect all stakeholders on the Internet rather than the few.  Why does EFF believe that creative professionals have lost the right of defending themselves on the Internet?

In 2003, the music industry was seeing declines in growth coincident with the debut of peer-to-peer networks and had begun to sue people for copyright infringement on the internet.  At that time,  the motion picture industry was still growing, as the first BitTorrent search engines had yet to appear, unlike today when the Home Video market, which includes new streaming services is in its 6th consecutive year of declining revenues down to $18.B in 2011 from a high of $25B in 2006.  Yet, how did new challenges, affecting only music content that had only begun in 1999 with Napster, call for abandoning 300 years of progress in intellectual property rights in just four short years?

Indeed, copyright has been a fundamental part of the American experience.  The framers wrote in the Constitution “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”  Through each technological innovation from printing press, to camera, to sheet music to wax cylinder to phonograph to radio, to motion pictures and even DVDs, laws and technologies found ways to co-exist to compensate creators for their ideas.  How did Wired magazine end up calling for this provision in the Constitution to suddenly be declared irrelevant and unenforceable after only four years of peer-to-peer technology on the Internet?

The answer starts in 1984 at the first “Hacker’s Conference” in Marin County where Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog is famously quoted by Mr. Barlow in Wired in 2003 and internet pundits today as having stated “Information wants to be free.”  However, that is not what Mr. Brand said.  He stated that “Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine—too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, ‘intellectual property’, the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.”[5]

Why do proponents of abolishing property rights on the Internet quote the first part of Brand and not the latter?  Maybe they have an agenda.  Maybe they make a lot of money.

The Copyleft claim to believe in the concept of an “Open Internet” meaning that there should be no barriers to someone who is browsing the web.  The first logical fallacy of this philosophy is internet banking.  Do Open Internet advocates believe that everyone’s bank records including their own should be “open”?  Of course not.  The “Open Internet” only applies to freedom of access to  information in which they do not have a vested interest.

In our opinion, many of these Copyleft organizations appear to be financed by the companies, their executives or their families that profit from weaker copyright laws.  They appear to use rhetoric and positioning as if they are championing new “digital rights” for the internet user when in fact that are simply undermining the property rights of the creative and artistic class to create unfair competitive advantage for their donors.

Indeed, sometimes they make their motives quite plain.  In an April 2012 interview promoting open internet philosophies, Sergey Brin, Google Co-Founder,  stated that “If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great.”  He went on to say, ”I haven’t tried it for many years but when you go on a pirate website, you choose what you like; it downloads to the device of your choice and it will just work – and then when you have to jump through all these hoops [to buy legitimate content], the walls created are disincentives for people to buy.”  We feel that the current lack of walls is the disincentive to buy.  We believe that “jumping through hoops” means actually compensating people for their work.  We believe that as a direct result, we have the massive decline in revenues in music and home video.  Why would someone pay to obtain a product they already possess?

  • Vinko

    Hi, I’m interested in knowing why finding an alternative model of compensation is out of the picture. Why can’t a model where everybody pays a little be enough to compensate every artist?

    And as for your last phrase, I have actually freely downloaded things I’ve bought, for convenience purposes.

    • admin

      @Vinko Great comment. That is why we created the site. Youtube now pays some royalties to creators and content owners, but that is only because Viacom (owns Paramount and MTV) sued Google. Our message is that if creators don’t assert their rights, they will not receive any form of compensation from the works distributed on ISP networks for free that ISPs profit from and the ads served on the pages that point people to their content that internet ad networks profit from. If you have ideas on how ISPs or internet ad networks might compensate content creators for the money they make off 19% of US internet traffic used to distribute “free” content, please share them.

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  • Simon Bellord

    I’ve said this for ages, I don’t mind buying a digital copy of something as long as the artists get something for it.

    I’d rather have a physical thing, or be able to attend a concert.

    All I want are ‘Audiophile’ quality files, I can appreciate as much as a CD or Vinyl Record.
    Thanks for this perspective.

  • thaicares

    Wow I’m waiting for moderation so the one who thinks my ideas should be mine doesn’t want them to exist in vicinity of his own :/ Ethics does not require government it is quite the opposite.

  • Veryon

    “What then is Mr. Barlow referring to when he says zero cost?”

    If at all, ISPs profit the most from so-called “piracy”. As you’ve seen in those incredible numbers, an extreme amount of data traffic stems from duplicated “intellectual property”. If they lost those numbers, the ISPs would be in serious problems.

    I have some projects going on (non-activist) regarding finding solutions to the new century’s big Internet topics, but you’d understand that I won’t share my identity here where the risk of getting associated with criminal intents is simply too high. (“Ethicalfan” basically screams “problems”.)

    I hope we won’t see too big of an apocalypse once the revolution goes into the next phase, because our economy is really interwoven and I think it’d be damaging if all those old companies and corporations couldn’t find the tempo to keep up with technological changes.