Sunday, November 28, 2010

Copyright and Intellectual Property

Copyright (and much later, the notion of Intellectual Property) originated in the notion that an author should have some protection for his works, and a right to profit from them for a reasonable period (originally twenty years). The goal was to keep the author and his family fed, but also (and a forgotten point) keep him producing new work (thus the limit of 20 years, to specifically avoid encouraging one grand tome followed by a life of leisure...).

Regrettably, this has been perverted over the years to a system of entitlement for production houses (publishers, recording & movie studio's, etc.) with an additional level of parasitical agents and attorneys practiced in the exotic ins and outs of licensing, profit-skimming, and IP law dwelling in a slime-filled chasm between the creator of the work, the producer, and ultimately the consumer of the work. Often, all of the middlemen between the creator and the consumer result in, IMHO, a fair number of starving creative sorts who - with greater and lesser degrees of culpability - are effectively deprived of any significant compensation for their works.

And then we have the Disney Mouse Protection Act(s) extending the term of copyright to between 70 and 120 years...which tends to promote producing one or two successes and then taking a comfy (or semi-comfy) retirement wallowing in royalties (if one lucked into an honest agent/attorney that knew their stuff well enough to navigate the treacherous waters of copyright and intellectual property law, and garner at least a pittance for the creator of the work in question).

And all of this is protected not by the civil courts, but by the full force of criminal law - complete with not only fines, but seizure of property (always an opportunity for petty power and empire building, not to mention illicit profit). and prison sentences.

Toss in what is effectively a copying machine and distribution service in every house in the land, and we have a new legal industry. Suing folks who may (or may not) have downloaded various works without sprinkling money on all the right heads - for what appears to be as closely as can be calculated, a few hundred dollars less than it would take for them to hire an attorney and mount an effective defense - in effect, judicially endorsed extortion.

This business model stands up pretty well - send out a few thousand summons, and watch the cash roll in - as long as cost-benefit analysis is in favor of capitulation rather than fighting. It tends to fall apart when some uppity lawyer with ethical imperatives publishes a self-help kit to mounting the beginnings of an effective defense at $20 a copy.

Not surprisingly, the US Copyright Group and its' attorneys are unamused at having to actually work for their money rather than simply cashing the checks of their targets. It is likely even more unamusing when the expense model is effectively reversed, however briefly.

They have sued attorney Graham Syfert of Jacksonville, FL for having the temerity to actually provide an affordable ($20) beginnings of a legal defense to the targets of their scheme and costing them money in actually having to argue their cases.

It's this sort of predatory (IMHO) legal behavior that leaves me leaning towards the notion that simply abolishing copyright and IP laws might not be such a disaster after all.


1 comment:

Newbius said...

Will Shakespeare had it right...