Locus Online
September 2006

Readers respond to Cory Doctorow's essay How Copyright Broke...

Sunday 1 October 2006

Dear Locus,

Very interesting article. Thank you Cory Doctorow. Couldn't agree with you more.

Writers know that intellectual properties need protection. Question is, how much is too much? It's worth mentioning that current literary copyright "protection" in the US was extended a few times in the late 20th Century. Originally 56 years from proper publication, it changed (in 1976) to life of author + 50 years, or 75 years for a corporate authorship such as Mickey Mouse. (Berne Convention standard). That kept the early Mickey Mouse animated shorts and everything that followed under Disney Inc.'s control till at least 2000. Then in 1998 the US law was changed again, to life of author plus 70 years, or 95 years for a corporate authorship (which is a kind of Work for Hire). Disney lobbied hard in Washington for these changes, as Mickey and Donald are big money-makers, as is Winnie the Pooh, which they control and exploit under exclusive license.

Tim Underwood
Underwood Books

Sunday 24 September 2006

Dear Locus,

I ask — I don't state because I don't know — but doesn't Apple operate iTunes as a loss-leader for sales of its iPod, and, if so, what does this do to Cory's analogy? I worked in the eBook space in 2000 for a company that pioneered a lot of what we see outfits like Google Print wrestling with now (and, in fact, my former CTO now works for Google), so I can hardly be said to be ignorant of or hostile to digital media having been first to market in the ebook space seven years ago. But while Chris Anderson's magnificent The Long Tail (which everyone should read) has made a very good case that there has never been a better time to be a content aggregator, particularly a digital content aggregator who can offload the lion's share of his marketing/promotions to his customer base, the question of what this all means for the creative producer has still not been satisfactorily answered. The answer too often given — by Cory and Chris — sounds like they are saying that writers, artists and musicians have always been poor and unpaid, that the last century or so was a happy fluke — the exception not the rule — and that now that the pendulum is swinging back creatives should be satisfied with their exponentially increased opportunities for exposure and not worry about something as 20th century as being paid for their work doesn't satisfy. Nor does the notion that the song is now merely the advertisement for the tour, the book for the speaking engagement. Anyone aware of Cory's own Herculean lecture schedule can easily guesstimate that he himself must achieve the lion's share of his income from his speaking/proselytizing and not his science fiction, but now that he is the #1 anti-copyright digital future spokesman, that niche is filled. The rest of the science fiction community are going to have to pick other hot button topics if they are going to earn a living from this model, or figure out how — as hasn't been properly explained — the new Internet economics are going to benefit those who still find their best expression through the written word. Nor should asking provocative questions to this effect brand one a Luddite in a rapidly accelerating world.

Lou Anders
Pyr, an Imprint of Prometheus Books
Lou Anders Books

Saturday 23 September 2006

Dear Locus,

The copyright system has significant problems. For example, the term of copyright is too long (a flat fifty years is probably about right), the work-for-hire doctrine undermines the very concept of author's copyright, and so on. People can disagree about this sort of thing. People should disagree about this sort of thing.

The real problem, though, comes when one leaps from "the copyright system has significant problems" to "we must abolish copyright." To only slightly paraphrase Winston Churchill, copyright is the worst way to "encourage Progress in the useful Arts" — except for all the others. Consider the alternatives:

  • Direct government support for artists leads to government censorship and constant fighting over who is an "artist." Just ask Boris Pasternak, or Dmitri Shostakovich, or Natalia Gorbanevskaya, why this is a bad thing.
  • Nongovernment patronage systems just shifts the identity of the censors. The work-for-hire system (particularly the US version) provides an unfortunate window into this system; so does the second half of the seventeenth century in Europe.
  • Last, and probably least likely, there is the utopian, Bellamyesque system: Everybody who wants to create art has enough leisure time to do so, and has so much other economic support (and leisure time) that creating art does not result in starvation for the artists.
At least in human history, that's it. There might be another possibility out there, but I haven't seen it or heard of it.

The key point that Cory makes — and it is one that really attacks the economics of distribution of copyrighted works, not copyright itself — is that "Apple has figured out how to compete well enough by offering a better service and a better experience to realize a good business" in competition with "free" P2P networks. (They're not truly costless — it's just that the costs are buried in other fees gladly paid by users.) In that sense, he is absolutely right. Historically, the only way that companies have ever successfully fought "piracy" is to provide distinct added value at a very low premium over the market price of the pirated goods. Remember all of those Korean, Taiwanese, and Chinese knockoffs of designer clothing in the late 1980s? Several high-end brands (and their corporate parents) failed by not changing either their quality or their pricing policies. The parallel between the dreck put out by media conglomerates — in all media forms — and the pricing for that dreck is striking.

The true substance of what Cory is complaining about — with some justification — comes from the interaction of copyright with other parts of the legal-economic system. In no particular order, these include antitrust (and selective enforcement), distribution inefficiencies, cultural imperialism and arrogance (and yes, I mean you, French Dictionary Police), informational inequality in contracting, censorship by government and other power centers, economies of scale (and occasional diseconomies of scale), inertia from sunk costs, and securities reporting requirements. None of that, though, says that the copyright system is broken; it says only that it needs to adjust and evolve, not become extinct.

C.E. Petit
Scrivener's Error

Dear Locus,

Cory says "If you put some magazine clippings in your mood book, the magazine publisher will never find out you did so. If you stick a Dilbert cartoon on your office-door, Scott Adams will never know about it."

In fact, neither of these examples fall under current copyright law at all. Copyright law only applies to those who *make and distribute copies* of a work.

Putting some magazine clippings in your mood book, that's not an infringement of copyright. Publishing your mood book and selling five hundred copies of it — *that's* a matter of copyright.

Sticking a Dilbert cartoon on your office door has nothing to do with copyright. Making a few hundred copies of a Dilbert cartoon and selling them on the street — *that's* a matter of copyright.

Don Sakers

Wednesday 20 September 2006

Dear Locus,

I love your article. So clear and especially, TRUE. People are letting themselves brainwashed and manipulated (undefended by the law) into foregoing their rights. Free trade is only useful is there is real competition which drives prices down to fair levels (i.e. about 1/10th of the current prices for music and movies). At those levels, nobody needs to worry about customers copying instead of *buying* a "copy". Think about it, everything you buy was manufactured, and you pay for the cost of that plus some fair profit. Services you pay for are rendered specifically to you, work and time spent for you. Does this apply to the "copies" of music or video that you buy? And that you can "manufacture" just as well yourself? (can you manufacture any other product or service yourself?) That's where the fundamental problem with selling "copies" lies. They are so easy to make that their price is totally inappropriate.

However, I don't understand why you cite iTunes as an example (DRM'd media is definitely not an example of respecting the consumer's right to do whatever they want with their purchases).


Sunday 17 September 2006

Dear Locus,

Excellent piece. I hope this comment posts because my UL is currently maxed out by utorrent.


Thursday 14 September 2006

Dear Locus,

How about this, it's 2075 and the teleport machine has been invented, albeit a simplistic device. It works by making a copy of a local object in a far off place.

Now moving copyrighted material through the machine is ok because the local "copy" is destroyed during the teleportation. But what happens if someone starts to filter off the information in order to make illegal copies of objects for themselves. Okay they need their own machine and they are expensive but they get access to fantastic objects they never thought they could obtain such as art etc.

Then one day a copy is made of a person, a real beauty, by accident initially, (because it's so embarrassing to have your own copy of the president or someone famous) but when it was realised that you could own your own collection of real people to keep/love/abuse/kill it became an obsession with the copier. At some point in the future some of the captives escape and get mixed up with the other copies of themselves (who have lived a different timeline since the teleporting) so which one is the "real" person, they are both copies really, as the original was destroyed at the point of teleport. There is only one answer and that is DRM. The human copy must be encoded in DNA with a time code date stamp that ensures that copies can be sequenced and out of date or early copies can be erased without fear of disposing of a more up to date version. Only seven copies can be made from the original unless the earlier copies are erased. Once teleported the human copy becomes the copyrighted property of the broadcaster and as such the broadcaster has the right to invoke erasure of a copy. Okay Iím off on one. Just make sure you are the last and latest copy thatís all!

Debbie Sanger

Wedneday 13 September 2006

Dear Locus,

I was somewhat disappointed by Cory Doctorow's commentary "How Copyright Broke", as enlightening as it was. He somehow forgot to cover one aspect of copyright which poor, unknown writers such as myself are quite concerned about.

What about cases in which writers author original stories and novels which are secretly published and/or sold for profit by companies or people who had absolutely nothing to do with their creation, behind the author's back, even while the author him or herself never made a single penny of profit from those stories or novels?

Isn't it morally and ethically criminal for such a thing as a complete stranger or company of strangers to simply steal all the copyrights to someone else's original work and profit off of it behind their backs in secret, especially while they themselves make no profit whatsoever?

Please be so kind as to cover this extremely important aspect of the state of copyright and enlighten us about how such unethical abuse of someone else's original work may be either prevented or legally acted upon.

Thanks for the info into this serious matter.

Nick Zentor

Wednesday 13 September 2006

Dear Locus,

Cory Doctorow's words hit the spot for me. Couldn't have put it better — well said, Cory.

Doug Kitsis

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