Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Paper: Copyright Class War

I'm not that keen on the black & white labeling that often goes with the "copyright war" talk. Though (rhetoric) polarisation can make the interests at stake more clear in some kind of crude manner, this crudeness may also hinder (legal) solutions in the end. Anyway, Niels Schaumann has published a paper called Copyright Class War (SSRN). The second sentence of his introduction reads: "To call it a war is overstating the case a little, but only a little." I'm working through the pages to read why this is only a little overstatement, but I can guess somewhat which grounds he'll treat upon. The works of Jessica Litman and Siva Vaidhyanathan are analysed in depth at the end of the paper. Still have to see if it provides some new ammo for the "copyright warfare", but you can guess from which Schaumann is firing.

Here's the abstract:
Developments in digital technology are dramatically reordering the content distribution business. The industry's traditional business model, based on controlling the channels of distribution for tangible copies, is threatened by digital distribution, with its low barriers to entry, low marginal costs and worldwide reach. An industry preoccupied with marketing, distributing and selling containers for content-books, CD's, DVD's, and so on - is discovering that the ability to control distribution channels for such containers is increasingly irrelevant in a world where the content formerly anchored to physical containers now flows freely through fiber-optic cable.

The threat to the content industry has resulted in a kind of class war. The combatants' positions, and the changes in position that occur over time, can be understood in terms of a struggle between those that claim to possess a valuable resource and those that cannot, or cannot yet, make such a claim. Today, the Copyright Act, which was drafted by special-interest groups and is essentially incomprehensible to the uninitiated, is being used against the public. It has become critical for the public to engage with copyright law, and re-assert the primacy of the public interest. The author maintains that a nation gets the copyright law it deserves. A public that is passive in the face of expanding property rights in information will pay a heavy price in the form of homogenized culture and loss of intellectual liberty.


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