Anti-copyright

Anti-copyright

Anti-copyright refers to the complete or partial opposition to prevalent copyright laws. Copyright is a branch of intellectual property which protects literary and artistic work. Copyright is known as the author's rights for copies to be only made by the author or with his/her authorisation in form of a license. Critics of copyright include infoanarchists, scholars, anti-copyright groups and groups that argue for fundamental reform of prevalent copyright. A central anti-copyright argument is that copyright has never been of net benefit to society, and instead serves to enrich a few at the expense of creativity. Anti-copyright groups may question the logic of copyright on economic and cultural grounds. In the context of the Internet and Web 2.0 it is argued that copyright law needs to be adapted to modern information technology. More general anti-copyright arguments point to the fact that humans have always copied and establish arguments around the “need” to share or mash-up culture and knowledge.

"Anti-copyright" is a phrase without legal meaning and an anti-copyright notice may be placed on material in order to encourage wider distribution.

Anti-copyright groups and scholars

Recent developments around BitTorrent and peer-to-peer file-sharing have been termed by media commentators as "copyright wars", with The Pirate Bay being referred to as "the most visible member of a burgeoning international anti-copyright — or pro-piracy — movement". One well publicized instance of electronic civil disobedience (ECD) in the form of large scale intentional copyright infringement occurred on February 24, 2004, in an event called Grey Tuesday. Activists intentionally violated EMI's copyright of The White Album by distributing MP3 files of a mashup album called The Grey Album, in an attempt to draw public attention to copyright reform issues and anti-copyright ideals. Reportedly over 400 sites participated including 170 that hosted the album with some protesters stating that The Grey Album illustrates a need for revisions in copyright law to allow sampling under fair use of copyrighted material, or proposing a system of fair compensation to allow for sampling.

Groups that argue for fundamentally reformed copyright include the copyleft movement and the Creative Commons, which have developed their own Creative Commons Licenses. These groups may be described as "anti-copyright" in reference to the fact that they oppose the currently prevailing copyright laws. Pirate Cinema and groups like The League of Noble Peers advance more radical arguments, opposing copyright per se. A number of anti-copyright groups have recently emerged in the argument around peer-to-peer file sharing, digital freedom, and freedom of information; these include the Association des audionautes, and Defective by Design. Scholars and commentators in this field include Lawrence Liang, Jorge Cortell, Rasmus Fleischer and Siva Vaidhyanathan.

Anti-copyright arguments

The classic argument for copyright is the view that granting developers temporary monopolies over their works encourages further development and creativity by giving the developer a source of income. The anti-copyright response to this argument is that copyright has never been of net benefit to society, and instead serves to enrich a few at the expense of creativity. Anti-copyright arguments in the context of the Internet tends to argue that today’s copyright laws are obsolete, unlikely to reign in Web 2.0 and hence, that laws need to adapt to modern information technology. Culture related anti-copyright arguments point to the fact that humans have always copied and establish arguments around the “need” to share or mash-up culture and knowledge.

Economic arguments

Creative Commons

Often described as anti-copyright because of its criticism for prevalent copyright law, Creative Commons states that it is not anti-copyright per se, but argues for copyright to be managed in a more flexible and open way. Creative Commons takes the position that there is an unmet demand for "copyright" that allows the copyright owner to copyright work as “Some rights reserved” or even “No rights reserved.” According to Creative Commons "many people" do not regard "all-out copyright" as helping them in gaining the exposure and widespread distribution they want. Creative Commons argue that their alternative Creative Commons Licenses allow entrepreneurs and artists to employ innovative business models rather than all-out copyright to secure a return on their creative investment.

Creative Commons also argues that its licenses can be used by those who "get fulfilment from contributing to and participating in an intellectual commons". Creative Commons reasons that "many citizens of the Internet want to share their work -- and the power to reuse, modify, and distribute their work -- with others on generous terms." This is particularly in the context of Web 2.0 and the increase in user generated content.

Legal filesharing

Like Creative Commons, the French group Association des audionautes is not anti-copyright per se, but proposes a reformed system for copyright enforcement and compensation. Aziz Ridouan, co-founder of the group, proposes for France to legalise peer to peer filesharing and to compensate artists through a surcharge on Internet service provider fees (i.e. an alternative compensation system). Reportedly, major music companies have equated Ridouan's proposal with legitimizing piracy. In January 2008 seven Swedish members of parliament from the Moderate Party (part of the governing coalition), authored a piece in a Swedish tabloid calling for the complete decriminalization of filesharing. The Swedish members of parliament wrote that "Decriminalizing all non-commercial file sharing and forcing the market to adapt is not just the best solution. It's the only solution, unless we want an ever more extensive control of what citizens do on the Internet.

Information technology related arguments

Web 2.0

According to Daniel Nations copyright infringement has proliferated with the rise of Web 2.0, which allows collaboration on a global scale (e.g. Wikipedia), but has brought with it a rise in copyright infringement. Commentators have pointed out that Web 2.0 "users" often do not realise that they are engaging in copyright infringements. For example, blogging and the associated passing around of articles and images may not be recognised as copyright infringement by the blogger, and/or not intended as such. Web 2.0 is part of a recent shift in public awareness and expectation of the Internet, which acts as the interface for almost instant, ubiquitous availability of information as and when required. While many Web 2.0 users or companies do not advance consistent anti-copyright arguments, their actions and business models fundamentally question prevailing copyright. Companies, such as YouTube, Viacom and Google, may comply with requests to remove copyrighted material, but refuse to actively enforce copyright on their site. These companies argue that they do not have the power to prevent the uploading or downloading of copyrighted material.

Scholars such as Rasmus Fleischer argue that copyright law simply seems unable to cope with the internet, and hence is obsolete. He argues that the Internet, and particularly Web 2.0 have brought about the uncertain status of the very idea of “copying” itself. He argues that in an attempt to rein in Web 2.0, copyright law in the 21st century is increasingly concerned with criminalizing entire technologies. Leading to recent attacks on different kinds of search engines, solely because they provide links to files which may be copyrighted, Fleischer points out that Google, while still largely uncontested, operates in a gray zone of copyright (e.g. the business model of Google Books is to display millions of pages of copyrighted and uncopyrighted books as part of a business plan drawing its revenue from advertising). Fleischer's central argument is that copyright has become obsolete with regards to the Internet, that the cost of trying to enforce it is unreasonable, and that instead business models need to adapt to the reality of the darknet.

The Darknet Theory
In 2002 a group of Microsoft-affiliated researchers, published “The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution”, investigating what they call "the darknet", a collection of networks and technologies used to share digital content (such as peer-to-peer file sharing and CD and DVD copying). The authors stop short of stating that copyright law has been made obsolete by the rise of "the darknet", but state that "we believe it probable that there will be a few more rounds of technical innovations to sidestep existing laws, followed by new laws, or new interpretations of old laws, in the next few years." The paper discusses evidence that the darknet "will continue to exist and provide low cost, high quality service to a large group of consumers. This means that in many markets, the darknet will be a competitor to legal commerce."

The authors also argue that people have always "copied", however in the past valuable objects were mostly physical and it was uneconomical or, when carried out on a large scale, stoppable using patent or copyright law. They argue that this has fundamentally changed with the Internet and associated technologies, as valuable digital content can be copied at little cost and distributed on an unprecedented scale. Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, has commented that "when copies are superabundant, they become worthless, while things which can’t be copied become scarce and valuable. What counts in the end are “uncopyable values,” qualities which are “better than free.”

Cultural arguments

Freedom of knowledge

Groups such as Hipatia, CULT OF THE DEAD COW and Hacktivismo advance anti-copyright arguments in the name of "freedom of knowledge" and argue that knowledge should be "shared in solidarity". Such groups may perceive "freedom of knowledge" as a right, and/or as fundamental in realising the right to education, which is an internationally recognised human right, as well as the right to a free culture and the right to free communication. They argue that current copyright law hinders the realisation of these rights in today’s knowledge societies relaying on new technological means of communication.

Copyright law is seen as preventing or slowing human progress. It is argued that the current copyright system needs to be brought into line with reality and the needs of society. Hipatia argues that this would "provide the ethical principles which allow the individual to spread his/her knowledge, to help him/herself, to help his/her community and the whole world, with the aim of making society ever more free, more equal, more sustainable, and with greater solidarity."

Authorship and creativity

Lawrence Liang, founder of the Alternative Law Forum, argues that current copyright is based on a too narrow definition of "author", which is assumed to be clear and undisputed. Liang observes that the concept of "the author" is assumed to make universal sense across cultures and across time. Instead Liang argues that the notion of the author as a unique and transcendent being, possessing originality of spirit, was constructed in Europe after the industrial revolution, in order to distinguish the personality of the author from the expanding realm of mass produced goods. Hence works created by "authors" were deemed original, and merges with the doctrine of property prevalent at the time.

Liang argues that the concept of "author" is tied to the notion of copyright and emerged to define a new social relationship - the way society perceives the ownership of knowledge. The concept of "author" hence naturalised a particular process of knowledge production where the emphasis on individual contribution and individual ownership takes precedence over the concept of "community knowledge". Relaying on the concept of the author, copyright is based on the assumption that without an intellectual property rights regime authors would have no incentive to further create, and that artists cannot produce new works without an economic incentive. Liang challenges this logic, arguing that "many authors who have little hope of ever finding a market for their publications, and whose copyright is, as a result, virtually worthless, have in the past, and even in the present, continued to write." Liang points out that people produce works purely for personal satisfaction, or even for respect and recognition from peers. Liang argues that the 19th Century saw the prolific authorship of literary works in the absence of meaningful copyright that benefited the author. In fact, Liang argues, copyright protection usually benefited the publisher, and rarely the author.

See also

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