The Paradox that is Copyright

The advertising model for revenue generation on the Internet is effective when a 3rd party is prepared to pay for advertising to gain access to sell their product to your audience but it is inefficient and ineffective in many areas particularly when the value of that access is low or when such access distracts your audience from the use of the product that assembled the audience in the first place.

This model worked well for media and brilliantly for Google. There are also excellent variations. Construction Data Management applied this model to the construction industry by collecting building plans from architects without cost in exchange for providing the architects with costing data by region and CDM in turn built a revenue stream from manufacturers by charging them for access to information on building projects to help their sales team sell building products to construction projects.

Contorting this model as Chris Anderson has done to apply to everything is nonsense and will reduce economic efficiency when the total fees from the 3rd parties are less than the cost of the products provided. Put another way the total costs within the economy have to be met by someone and a more efficient system with lower total costs and less “wastage” will provide a higher growth in GDP and ultimately a high standard of living for its citizens.

If there ever was a paradox then copyright is one. At a superficial level it is easy to agree with both sides of this argument. When an author labours for a lifetime and produces a substantial body of work why should the ownership of that work vaporise 70 years after their death. If the author had chosen to apply their labour to build physical objects then their heirs could enjoy that value for an unlimited time.

Alternatively why should a company that freely utilised the ideas from earlier stories involving animals and fairy tales strictly control the use of a mouse, or a rabbit or a deer in all film and television forever? If Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd had been given the same copyright protection in the 1590’s as Disney has been given for Mickey Mouse, would the works of William Shakespeare have achieved the same recognition 500 years later? For in the words of Sir Isaac Newton William Shakespeare stood on the shoulders of giants and in Shakespeare’s case the giants were Marlowe and Kyd.

If you want to quote Tom Peters from his In Search of Excellence there is no requirement to pay a copyright fee nor do you have to ask his permission to do so.  With all the multimedia tools available today rather than quote his text it would have much greater effect if you inserted a short video of Tom making the point. But because and only because you’ve changed medium you are not only required to pay a copyright fee you are also required to negotiate permissions first. Why is it that a learned speech is free to quote but quoting with modern tools is now against the law?

At the turn of the last century when the Wright Bros first flew an aeroplane American law held that a property owner owned not just the surface of his land but all the land below to the centre of the earth and all the space above to an indefinite extent upwards. If American property owners where allowed by the courts to keep those rights the airline industry would never have got off the ground.

The connected digital economy similarly requires the law to change. If it does not change the digital inventors of the future will be grounded because they will be negotiating with every digital property owner beneath every digital flight path they wish to take.

There are many other examples where a new technology has changed the law. If the courts had decided that photographers required the permission of property owners to take photographs of their property what a difference that would have made to photography? Imagine how much music radio stations would play if they were required to request permission from the copyright holders before they could play a song?

The greatest advocates for the current copyright laws are the Hollywood film studios and it was these film studios that took on iiNet in the Australian Federal Court charging iiNet with authorising their customers’ illegal downloading of music files. One wit described this as an argument to charge VicRoads with aiding and abetting every armed robbery because the robbers use their roads to escape.

The irony here is Hollywood was created by film producers escaping to the West Coast of the US to avoid paying royalties to Edison back on the East Coast because Edison held patents on film cameras. The even bigger irony is that the copyright police of the world, the USA itself was built on piracy of IP from the old world. Self-interest is king and the kings of self-interest have deep pockets. We need politicians with great foresight and enormous integrity to with stand the onslaught from those vested interests.