Friday, December 18, 2009

The End of Copyright

The Canadian government, like many others around the world, is coming under increasing pressure to conform to US, and now EU, copyright regimes. It is only a matter of time before we too have draconian copyright laws that levy ridiculous penalties for sharing, for being human. Good, I say; the sooner the better.

I think these new laws are good because they will only serve to hasten the inevitable, the end of copyright as we know it. I say the Canadian government should, after negotiating suitable concessions in other trade areas, capitulate and whole-heartedly pass all manner of restrictive copyright legislation. However, the next thing they should do is require prominent warnings.

Canadians should pass a law that states that every distribution channel of every bit of copyright-restricted content come with a prominent warning. These warnings, like the side-effect warnings on US pharmaceutical advertising, should tell every consumer just how the product is restricted. I'm not talking about the "copying this is against the law" warnings, I'm talking about warnings like:

WARNING: This product is distributed with restrictive copyrights:
* You are NOT allowed to make back up copies.
* You are NOT allowed to share this with your friends.
* You are NOT allowed to redistribute this work.

And so on. The wording should be explicitly spelled out in the law with specific phrases that must be used when certain conditions are met. Like the disease-photos we mandate be printed on cigarette packaging, these phrases would not be media-friendly. Every distribution channel needs to require these warnings. If you want to air a show on TV that you maintain the copyright to, then a warning must precede it. The same for playing a song on the radio, or selling a book in a store. Every bit if media that is protected by copyright must display prominent warnings. If you don't want to display the warnings, then modify your copyright. With this approach, Canada would both fully comply with international obligations while encouraging the end of copyright, at the same time.

I don't really expect this to happen, but it would be nice. It would speed the demise of copyright. However, even without it, copyright will self-destruct. It will just take a little longer. In the mean time, we will get restrictive laws and we will ignore them. Some of us will continue with copyright infringement, while others will stop consuming copyrighted material. It's not like either is a particularly tough choice.

The problem with passing restrictive copyright laws is that they only work if they are enforced. The only reasonable way to enforce them is through technology. And, as should be very obvious by now, the technological arms-race is clearly being won by the file sharing community. Like the War On Drugs, that still has people becoming heroin addicts while in maximum security prisons, the prospect of the War On File Sharing being a success is pitiful. Yes, a few people might be financially ruined, a few might go to jail for a while, but the torrent of humanity joining the file sharing community is not going to stop. New systems for sharing will be created faster than any systems for detecting. History shows this to be a fact. It is not going to change.

The other problem with passing restrictive copyright laws is that the people at the other end of the spectrum, those morally opposed to copyright infringement, will also be morally opposed to restrictive copyright. These people will support and embrace any business model, like Keliso, that provides non-restricted media. They will simply stop consuming copyrighted material. In the digital renaissance we are experiencing, it's not like they don't have the choice. A person could choose to only enjoy media from artists that eschew copyright and never run out of new material to experience.

Thus, faced with increasingly restrictive and draconian copyright laws, people will either choose to ignore them, relying on increasingly stealthy copy systems, or they will simply, in protest, stop consuming this copyrighted material. The only people consuming restricted media will be the people that don't care about copyright, ignoring it while copying the media for free. If the only people paying are only willing to pay for non-restricted media, then the people in the business of distributing media will have no choice but to distribute non-restricted media. In an environment like this, which is the direction we're heading in, the existing copyright regime will die. It is inevitable. It would be nice if the Canadian government instituted a pharmaceutical side-effect like warning system to speed the collapse, but it's not necessary.

You can view more about Keliso here