Monday, September 17, 2012

Is Copyright Really Benefiting Us?

Last week, I posted a short piece about E.L. James complaining that people are writing fanfic based on her novel 50 Shades of Grey.  It's quite ironic considering her own work is based upon Twilight.  The truth of the matter is that building upon past work is how society advances and this is something James herself did.  In the comment section, a reader left a link to the following video.

This really got me thinking about piracy.  Most people who have internet today are guilty of downloading what they know damn well is copyrighted.  As an avid reader, I have read complaint after complaint from authors who I really respect about e-book piracy.  As someone who also sells my writing, there is a part of me that completely understand why this is a problem.  If someone asks me if they can reprint my work, unless it's for an organization that is extremely offensive, my standard answer is yes.  To some degree, the original artist needs to retain some kind of control to make money and to ensure that their work is not misrepresented, but where is the line between being able to earn a living from your work and stalling the advancement of society? 

RiP A Remix made some very important points about medicine.  It specifically cited Brazil, which did not follow American Patent law and re-created HIV/AIDS drugs for its population because it deemed the right to life more important than profit.  I then started thinking about the fact that this profit is used to fund other advances in science which are beneficial to humanity.  This entire conversation then becomes circular.  Profit is needed to create new drugs, but because profit is needed, the poor don't necessarily get access to life saving medicine.  To me the problem really comes down to the fact that we live in a capitalist society, therefore; though it really is cliche, money is the root of all evil.  Without needing to be paid for an invention or for a work of art to survive, there would be no need for anyone to have to worry about capitol, or who has access to their endeavors.

Moving back to publishing for a moment, when a book is published by the big 6, the original author only receives a small portion of the profit and that is because of associated costs from editing, distribution, advertising and of course a need for publishers to make a profit.  When it comes to e-books, the associated costs are significantly reduced because distribution is no longer an issue. When you buy an e-book however, you don't actually own a book, you only own the right to access said book.  This is a problem because access can be removed at anytime, as more than a few Amazon users have discovered and this is compounded by the fact that with DRM files, you cannot share this item with others.  This recently became a problem when I bought an e-book and wanted to share it with a friend, only to discover that though I had paid my money, I didn't own the right to share said book.  Had I purchased a paperback, there is nothing that the publishing industry could have done about me loaning, or in fact giving that book to my friend.

Interestingly enough, it was copyright that stopped by friend from being able to buy the book in the first place. It is quite often the case that you can buy a paper copy of most books but then find that outside of the U.S. you cannot buy an e-book until months after the release.  There is also the issue of claiming a book to be out of print in order to charge an exorbitant amount for said book.  How can an e-book ever be out of print? These are the situations which encourage piracy. When you make it hard for people to pay for something, or charge an unreasonable rate, they will take it if it is available.  The music industry has already profited from reducing albums to singe mp3's and selling them at a reasonable price.  This model may not work as well for books, but what they are doing is certainly costing them money, even as authors and publishers scream about copyright infringement.

There is also a question of what happens if an artist or an inventor creates something new based on what is already in circulation.  Since new ideas are based on what came before, this is something that happens quite often.  Nothing, and I do mean nothing is completely 100% original, no matter what the corporation, inventor or artists says. For instance, Western music is all based on reorganizing the same scales repeatedly and this true of classical, rock, pop, ragtime, country, jazz, blues etc., so how can one truly claim originality?  I think one could reasonably argue that someone who remixes music is simply doing what already has been done. 

I think rather than fighting the battle of copyright, what we need to be doing is ensuring that the artist, inventor always has a way to make money so that they can continue to work. Society can only gain by increased access to information, resources and ideas.  Ramming copyright down people's throats is not going to get us anywhere and only increases the chances of governments policing and criminalising its citizens. Essentially the problem is the profit based system and though we have all been told that capitalism is good, when it comes to copyright, it's clear there is a problem.

What are your thoughts on this? 

Editors note: I apologize for not having a transcript of this video but it is 86:25 long and I simply cannot create a transcript for  video of this length.