Tag: copyright

 A Note To Gary Larson

It has apparently been around a few years, but I was just made aware of A Note From Gary Larson (via Reddit). In the note, he makes a personal appeal to all fans of The Far Side who have published copies of his cartoons on their web sites. Referring to his creations as his children, he makes an impassioned plea to all enthusiasts to remove said cartoons from the internet and allow his “kids” to return home. He makes it clear that he would rather communicate his desires himself rather than through a lawyer.

Okay, I get that Mr. Larson has an interest in protecting his work for what he claims are intangible and somewhat emotional reasons. And if that is truly his motivation, and not just concern for the impact to revenues, then this letter is probably as good a way as any to address the issue. But he is still attempting to manipulate his audience through guilt and this is the same tactic used by the RIAA and MPAA when they accuse so-called “pirates” of robbing creators of their rightful earnings. The fact is there is nothing to feel guilty about.

I cannot help but think that Mr. Larson’s is the last generation still clinging to these outmoded ways of thinking about digital media. As his career has spanned both sides of this digital revolution, this is understandable to some extent. But the truth is undeniable — the internet has changed the rules of the game — and while I applaud his honey-instead-of-vinegar approach, he (and everyone else like him) must eventually come to terms with this new reality. Copyright law is unenforceable. Intellectual property as we know it is dead. I regret to inform you, Mr. Larson, your children will not be coming home.

 The Undiminished Flame

In answer to the response to my last post, I thought I would elaborate a bit on copyright law.

My first assumption is that justice is served only when the victim of an injury is made whole. That is, the purpose of a justice system is to restore the victim to the point (or as closely as possible) they were at before the injury occurred. Justice is not about punishment or revenge. This is because the victim has a right to compensation, and it is only by exercising this right that justice is legitimately pursued. The victim does not have a right to punish or seek vengeance against their attacker. The only thing they have a right to is that which was taken from them as a result of the injury.

My second assumption is that the so-called “theft” of intellectual property falls into the rather large category of victimless crimes. And if there is no identifiable victim, then no crime has occurred.

So, a victim of embezzlement should have little problem proving that they suffered injury — one day the money was there, the next day it wasn’t. A criminal investigation would hinge entirely on the exercise of this victim’s right to compensation. Search warrants, obtained from a court, based on probable cause, would allow the legitimate suspension of a suspect’s right to privacy. In other words, the victim’s right to compensation trumps the suspect’s right to privacy.

Not so for the author of some intellectual property (especially that which is in some digital format). Theft does not occur when a copy is made because nothing is taken from the author. The argument that potential profits are stolen is also untenable because the author must then prove that the copies that were given away or sold at a lower cost would *still* be sold at the author’s asking price. Since this cannot be proven to any reasonable level of satisfaction, no injury has occurred. If no injury has occurred, there is no victim. If there is no victim to exercise his right to compensation, any suspension of another’s right to privacy in order to investigate the alleged crime cannot be legitimate. Therefore the law is unenforceable, and is no law at all.

Here is a brief excerpt from a letter detailing Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on this topic:

“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me … Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody…”

This quote very succinctly sums up the issue for me. Society has attempted in the past to grant this exclusive right, but we have a reached a point where the will and convenience of our society are now in conflict with one another.

“Intellectual property,” as defined by our current laws, is no more property than the flame on top of a candle. Technology used to be such that one could not convey the flame without selling someone the candle. Today, that is no longer the case.

 The Russian Front

In the war over copyright law a new front has opened. After being fired upon by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (and, presumably, the RIAA), the Russian government has agreed to shut down “websites that permit illegal distribution of music and other copyright works.” Russia has agreed to modify its laws by June 1, 2007 to make sites such AllOfMP3.com illegal. I’m surprised that the same government who just dispatched former spy Alexander Litvinenko would be so willing to just roll over. Maybe it’s all a ruse. Maybe when the deadline passes and the US cries foul, they will simply have lunch delivered to RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol in the form of a polonium sandwich. I wouldn’t mess with the Russian mob, if I were you, Mitch.

It’s sad news though in this terrible War, which, like so many other wars (Poverty, Drugs, Terrorism) is nothing more than a war on the rights of the individual. It was nice to see someone — *anyone* — willing to stand their ground and tell the RIAA to go to hell.

I used to be firmly in the other camp: defend the artists’ rights to profit from their creations, as provided by the Constitution. But then one day I realized that even though I am a potential beneficiary of this manufactured right, I value my natural rights to privacy and to freely contract much more. And since technology has led us all to a point where this pretend right can no longer be enforced without violating real rights, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 simply becomes null and void. Add it to the list of fundamental flaws in our Constitution.

If it wasn’t such an egregious violation of our rights, I could almost feel sympathy for the recording industry, as it flails about watching its business model evaporate before its very eyes, lashing out against those who would do it harm. Suing grandmothers (both alive and dead) for downloading rap music, while ignoring the sins of its own. Eighty-three year old Gertrude Walton died in December 2004, but that didn’t stop the RIAA from suing her. Meanwhile, in December 2006, the CEO of Warner Music admits that his own children have illegally downloaded music, and yet nothing happens to them.

Why the disparity? Because, you see, it’s all about the money. The RIAA would like to take the moral high ground, and claim they are just defending the rights of their artists, but their actions betray them. All they care about is the money. The law used to be crafted such that they were guaranteed a profit on their product. But technology has rendered copyright law obsolete. Rather than pursuing new revenue streams, they seek to infringe upon the rights of all people — not just Americans anymore — by drafting and pushing through Congress legislation like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA will gut, if it hasn’t already gutted, the notion of “fair use” and puts into place provisions of enforcement that are simply Draconian.

The RIAA (and MPAA) will get their money. Even if they have to sue, slander, and terrorize every person and country on Earth. Watch out comrades!