Thursday, September 11, 2003

Intellectual Property

Today's debate over file sharing over the internet, p2p (peer to peer), and the "Napster" phenomenon has evoked much strident debate. Law professors can be found claiming that song recordings have the same value as Disneyland, so the owner has the same right to demand admission payment whether his attraction is an edifice that requires maintenance, employees, and the payment of property taxes or is a recording that may have been the result of ten minutes of labor two hundred years ago. Law Professors. Musicians have sued their fans. The recording industry trade association has actually sued almost a thousand college students who have shared their property over the internet.

This debate has gone way too far. Congress, always ready to support the buttered side of their bread, has extended the time limits on copyright many times, such that works that the Disney Corporation took for free from the public domain before I was born are now protected until well after I will have died. And, since Disney and the recording industry have much more money to spend (and clout) than we consumers do, this bowlderization of the constitutional provisions relating to copyright can be expected to continue. And continue it has. Today, a 12 year old girl settled with the RIAA for $1,200.00 for the "crime" of trading songs online. College students have settled for between 12,000.00 and $17,500.00. Their "crime"? making songs that they legally own available to others, who make songs that they own available to them.

Now, we can't kill everyone who wants to continue a comfortable sinecure. But we can question whether they have the right to such continuance. I can certainly lend, or even rent or sell, any CD that I own. But somehow, if I transmit this music over the internet, rather than sneakernet, I become a criminal. This may be the best example or the poisonous effect of money in politics. Ane, surprise surprise, no proposal of "campaign finance reform" even begins to address the effect of lobbyist cash on the promulgation of legislation. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act is an anticonstitutional travesty, and it is the basis of all this trouble I point out here.

What would be wrong if the system was changed to a form that agrees with our constitution, which demands that copyrights have a reasonable temporal limit? Who says that artists have the right to profit from their work, and then their children have the same right, and their grandchildren retain the same right to profit into the next century? Why, the U.S. Congress, that's who! And the president signed this bill, making it law, and the Supreme Court has confirmed is as well.

Nobody says that an artist has no right to profit from his work. What I and others propose is that more reasonable limits be placed upon this, and our (consumers) right to fair use of recordings we have bought be expanded just a little bit from what they have been whittled down to. Record companies have built up a stranglehold on an enormous profit center, but it is the essence of capitalism and entreneurship that capital will flow in different ways as society progresses, and no sinecure is forever. The record companies are terrified that new technologies will make their profit center less profitable. Rather than using technology to succeed, they will use the Congress and the courts to extend their success, as long as they can. Meanwhile, many artists are using technology that the record companies have used to maintain their stranglehold over the emergence of new acts to promote themselves, with some small success. I for one will do what I can to encourage them in this endeavor. I personally believe that anyone who buys the art of an artist who has sued it's fans (think Metallica) is a fool.