Innovation and 'rights' cannot co-exist
The 'disagreement' reported here is but part of a general escalation of disputation over copyright and patents across the range of cultural output. For instance, consider bitter disputes over interpretation of 'fair use' in materials uploaded to YouTube and similar publishing platforms; think on the recent EU effort to 'protect' supposed 'rights' of commercial online publishers by restricting how others may link to 'content' of the former; also ponder the efforts of bodies like the Premier League wishing to stamp out a black market in streaming which naturally arose in response to the League's restrictive distribution and price-gouging.
The foregoing, and much more too, represent deep malaise such as is retarding cultural advance. The flagship argument offered by holders of 'rights' is based upon supposed need to protect creative individuals'/teams' entitlement to draw money from their efforts; reality is of 'rights' being commodities tradable by owners which most often are conglomerate concerns, these seeking 'rent' at arbitrarily legal-monopoly determined prices - this regarding copyright almost in perpetuity (e.g. creator's life time plus 70 years).
Inimical effects on advance arise from provisions in law preventing unauthorised 'derivation' from works still in copyright. Intent being to protect income streams arising from the work derived from. This restriction is a necessary consequence of the concept of copyright. Exceptions and relaxations (e.g. 'fair use') enshrined in law are impossible to define absolutely and thus have given rise to a plethora of litigation. Persons of creative aptitude must constantly look over their shoulders lest their expression of ideas somehow intrudes on the 'rights' of another, some such persisting for a century and more.
Given that hardly anything, if at all, is created without attachment to cultural context, i.e. that which came before, derivation becomes bedrock for all cultural advance. One area in which derivation is welcomed is presentation of ideas/findings in academic literature. The more that others acknowledge and derive from an academic work the greater becomes the reputation of its author(s). Reputation is the currency of academic success. The second greatest sin in academia (the first being confabulation) is plagiarism. Dispute over activity by Sci-Hub and Lib-Gen focusses on right of distribution rather than ownership of ideas embedded in 'content'. This separation of threads within copyright is helpful for understanding issues in the general application of copyright, notably in popular culture, where the two threads have been intertwined into a single strand.
Current ferment about so-called 'intellectual property' was brought about by introduction of digital encoding for 'content' and by inception of the Internet for mass use. The former incontrovertibly established that the 'message' has separate existence to that of the 'medium' in which it is embedded. For example, printed books and vinyl records are physical media; they are objects tradable according to conventional market-economics because they possess scarcity of supply; not so a digital sequence representing the 'content': it is indefinitely reproducible at full quality for negligible cost; moreover, it can be sent anywhere on the world via the Internet by using simple equipment to be found in most households; supply and demand cannot apply and thus neither can price-discovery (in a market not 'fixed' through monopoly powers). Put thusly, digital sequences carry no intrinsic monetary worth (despite cost of initial production), yet cultural worth, measured on scales to which money-men are not privy, could be immense.
The concept of 'intellectual property' rests on shifting sand. It seeks to protect creative activity but results in stifling it. That suggests a form of reductio ad absurdum. Further suggestion of lack of fitness for purpose is evinced from increasingly complicated, nay impenetrable, law seeking to bolster a time-expired idea. To be borne in mind is law and morality are not coincident circles in a Venn diagram. Their overlap shifts according to general societal diktat. Physical property rights, some nowadays worthy of deep reappraisal, do not carry forward into the falsely analogous rights claimed for 'intellectual property'. Thus, individuals may choose to disobey copyright restrictions with clear conscience. Unfortunately for businesses and agencies objecting to the reach of copyright and patents they remain easy prey to parasitical lawyers.
Copyright and patents exist solely through consent within and between nations. Nation 'A' may decide to block access by nation 'B' to manufactured widgets: the stuff of trade wars and sanctions. Nation 'A' cannot block access to published ideas and those embedded in widgets (patents). Now that 'intellectual property' is established as restrictive, price-gouging, and destructive, 'third world' nations may soon abandon all pretence at obeying copyright and patents (especially for pharmaceuticals). These perhaps soon to be followed by other nations and trading blocks not in thrall to the USA.
Take away copyright and patents, what is left to motivate innovation? The only tradable commodity related to supposed 'intellectual property' is the imagination and skill to produce new cultural artefacts (ranging from pharmaceuticals to recorded caterwauling of a 'pop star'). In that competitive market reputation is all. Reputation can be protected under extant law should one person attempt to impersonate another in order to 'steal' money-making capability. Reputation depends, in part, upon attribution from others when they re-issue, modify, extend, and otherwise derive from an existing work. 'Entitlement to attribution' replaces copyright and patents. It is 'moral' entitlement few would object to and enforceable by people at large, rather than through law, through shunning blatant plagiarists.
Bear in mind, digital sequences have no monetary value. However, individuals/teams producing work others admire can raise funding for further works through voluntary patronage (donation, subscription, crowd-funding, etc.) and sale of associated 'added value' physical products and services; success being predicated upon reputation accrued from previous works; as reputation grows then so might income. People seeking to make livelihood from digitally representable cultural artefacts have no 'right' to do so; they first must gain reputation; also take note that most of the greatest contributions to culture (e.g. in science, mathematics, philosophy, and 'serious' music) were not, nor intended to be, vast money-spinners: present day cultural expectations of revenue generation are distorted by the tawdry rentier economics underlying distribution of popular 'content'.
The Internet places distribution in the hands of creators should they wish. Perhaps they might form distribution co-operatives. Cottage industry supporting roles could arise; these would have no 'rights' over material passing through their hands', they would receive money for services rendered. Collapse of the rentier economy for culture would impact solely upon the behemoth distribution/publishing houses (and upon some talentless caterwaulers manufactured according to the wiles of marketing), these populated by people whose only acquaintance with originality being through 'creative accounting'.
Huge sums of individual and national discretionary disposable incomes will be released upon demise of current middleman distributors. No longer shall it be syphoned off to 'intellectual property' monopoly dependent nations like the USA or to tax havens. Removal of distributor stranglehold (and cynical shaping in cahoots with the advertising industry) on popular culture shall enable many more people to dip toes into producing 'content' and earning respect and inflow of money from admirers. Although bland culture shall continue to have a following, the post-copyright regimen, based upon a truly competitive market, will encourage risk taking e.g. compare the independent film industry and 'content' displayed at film festivals with output from Hollywood.
The above is largely generic. Yet impact upon computer/Internet related enterprise will be immense. Software, both published code and that decompiled/disassembled by users) shall be freely available for use, modification, and extension by anybody under discipline imposed by attribution (more or less as now applied by many open source producers). Monoliths like Microsoft shall go the way of the Dodo to be replaced by numerous cottage industries. Rentier economics shall be superseded by competition among the skilled and without need of the present thick overlay of corporate and conglomerate structure.
Cotton weavers were displaced from their cottages by 18/19th century technological advance; those protesting, i.e. Luddites, were condemned as impeding progress. The tables are now turning. Large aggregates no longer are the best source of impetus for intellectual ferment and innovation (for instance Microsoft is stuck in the rut of Windows and Office). The mantle returns to cottages. Modern Luddites are to be found in computer behemoths, the recorded entertainment industries (plus streaming outfits), and companies like Elsevier living off borrowed time; instead of smashing equipment these seek to prop-up, ever more ineffectually, their defunct business models via buying legislators and imposing increasingly knotted 'intellectual property' law to protect themselves against competition. Gordian knots just beg to be sliced asunder.
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