Copyrights? I don’t even think about it. Consider me a renowned painter universally appreciated for technique and creative vision. Buyers pain themselves to authenticate originals. Brush strokes and signatures are studied. Paints and canvas is analyzed. Money flows. Duplicates are nearly worthless in comparison to originals. In an odd turn, copies help originals sell at higher prices by increasing awareness and widening appeal. Business is good – or at least it is now that I’m dead.
The value of expressed creativity is seldom so utterly intrinsic. It gets used up. Wouldn’t it be magnificent if I could write a novel only to watch it unavoidably increase in value each time it was copied, distributed, and read; once universally consumed, my words would reach their appraisal peak. Realistically however, if everyone read it, there’d be no more buyers; plus, copies would be so ubiquitous they’d be nearly worthless.
Emotionally at least, “Dead Heads” – the fervent fanatics of the band The Grateful Dead – owned the music. In a pre-digital demonstration of relaxed Copyright restrictions, Dead Heads were allowed (encouraged is more like it) to record the band in concert using portable devices. Recording “zones” were set up for bootleggers during concerts. The honor contract: bootleg recordings are for personal use only; don’t even think about making money from them. Profit is the sole dominion of the band.
The result of this grass roots distribution is a wider fan base. The recordings were second rate so sales of studio recordings increased. Concert attendance was steadily substantial. Fan loyalty is legendary. It was a shrewd marketing strategy for the pre-digital age, but what about now?
In the digital age, a “copy” no longer means a “copy”. A digital-to-digital copy is, in fact, a clone. Prior to digital content, a copy was a lower grade replica of the original. Listen to a copied music CD or view a copied Digital Photo – for example – and it’s indistinguishable from the original. Analog copies result in quality loss, or if you’re clever, added value. Either way it was different.
Today, once you express yourself digitally, you are not only producing an original, but the capacity for limitless originals. The workable definition of being an original has changed. The ability to clone and distribute content spawned a more lucrative model for piracy: steal, sell or trade clones and get away with it. Distribution is fast, easy and often under the radar.
As a result, copyright protections swell in consequence on both ends of the scale. On one balance, there is a hyper necessity to protect intellectual property now that originals are so easily stolen. It’s as if the door to the vault has been left open or – more accurately – demolished. Effortless anonymous pillaging is still pillaging. Damage to legacy business models is massive. Traditionally, easy crimes, that result in big injury, carry stiff penalties.
Among the more draconian copyright legislators, Orin Hatch, while serving on the Senate Judiciary committee, showed his distain for digital piracy by suggesting:
“If we can find some way to do this without destroying their machines, we’d be interested in hearing about that. [However] If that’s the only way, then I’m all for destroying their machines. If you have a few hundred thousand of those, I think people would realize the seriousness of their actions”
Don’t mess with Orin. Unfortunately for him, unlicensed software was discovered on his computer days later, but that story is for another article.
On the other balance sits inspiration caused by mass distribution of original creative expression. Creativity begets creativity. One can argue that all creative expression is derivative; it’s just a matter of where the line is drawn. The new global reach allows a boost up for higher innovation. Copyright legislation can inhibit distribution when owners disallow digital publication of out of print books, or when powerful interests lock out the use of past creative products that are well beyond commercial viability. Strictly govern access to past creativity, and valuable derivative works that would potentially benefit our culture are simultaneously limited.
Dissenters eagerly point out that this is neither the first nor last time change will cause businesses to collapse. Railroads ignored progress at their virtual demise, so how far should we carry our remorse for the likes of major music labels? Where there is change there is opportunity. Eliminate one viable business model and another is born.
The Internet and digitization has increased competition in the business of intellectual property just has it has in other businesses. Duplication and distribution is no longer a strong value-add for digitized intellectual property such as music, photography, or the written word.
By way of digital copy and distribution, protagonists direct us to new opportunities that deliver increased compensation to those who deserve it most: the creators. Musicians can produce and distribute their original compositions with nominal investment by embracing digital recording and Internet distribution. “Dead Head” marketing schemes with a digital spin are sprinkled throughout the Web. Music piracy drops when artists make song access simple and cheap [see Apple iTunes]. Times are exciting if you’re an artist with more passion than money.
Copyright laws protect the monetary incentive for creative expression, also referred to as intellectual property. Practically speaking, copyright protection makes it possible to build a profit model based on creative manifestation. Creativity wouldn’t end without protection, but no doubt it would be less profitable to be an artist – if that’s even possible – and society would be less culturally vibrant.
New to the scene: Creative Commons helps balance the copyright scales of public vs. private interests. I hope CC won’t disapprove of this direct copy from their Web site: “Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright — all rights reserved — and the public domain — no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright.”
Frequently, there is no avenue for contacting copyright holders regarding permissions. Life plus 70 years is the current copy protection granted to every intellectual property creator with need to neither register nor be aware of copyright protection. How do you find owners? Often, you can’t, effectively removing any legal opportunity for building on the past. No derivation allowed. For the property holder, this could mean a loss of beneficial exposure – reference: Grateful Dead.
Creative Commons enables co-creativity: a valuable tool in the digital age. Wikipedia proves just how valuable co-creation can be:
“Wikipedia is a Web-based, free-content encyclopedia written collaboratively by volunteers and sponsored by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. It has editions in roughly 200 different languages (about 100 of which are active) and contains entries both on traditional encyclopedic topics and on almanac, gazetteer, and current events topics. Its purpose is to create and distribute a free international encyclopedia in as many languages as possible. Wikipedia is one of the most popular reference sites on the internet receiving around 60 million hits per day.”
Likewise, Open source program code is what our Synthesis product, Synapse, is based on: PHP for you code geeks. To borrow from Wikipedia: Something is open source when it includes everything needed to make improvements to it, and is licensed under terms that allow a person to legally sell it or give it away to others, without any fee or royalty.
From this time is born the “Copyright law of sacrifice”: give and gain; bend, don’t break. Whatever the name, no longer strategically obvious, and occasionally counter intuitive, granting rights to use digital originals is a new strategic challenge.