Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Waiting Out the Copyright Crisis

Creative Commons License, by AJ Cann
My argument is that the solution to the copyright crisis is in allowing copyright law to drown in its own obsolescence as we move on in creating meaningful, integrative, world-changing content that is connected, open, and free. It's taken me a little while to really come to that stance, but in any case, the Copyright Law Panel at BYU on the 25th of October gave me the chance to deliberately think about copyright and thus helped me to come to this conclusion. I think that with time, we will build up a large enough creative commons base that we won't any longer need to lean on copyrighted materials as a primary foundation for modern media arts and digital studies.

Well, to start off, do copyrights have a place in society? Yes. Absolutely, in my book. While I most certainly agree that there are other ways of making money than by copyrighting material, I think there are some really good justifications for short-term content ownership and capitalization. Whether that means five years or ten or even fifteen, I'm not really sure, but what I do know is that if copyright law does end up getting a makeover, it's still probably going to be a pretty ugly beast.

That's why in the end, I'm not so much about copyright reform, or rather, I don't think it's a distinct possibility in our modern economy. Major copyright holders like record companies and the movie industry have little to no incentive to liberate copyrighted materials, as such companies are the primary beneficiaries of antiquated, top-down copyright laws. Additionally, in that these organizations hold a considerable amount of influence (here, a word synonymous with money) in America's legislature, chances of resolving the "copyright crisis" through petitions or other grass roots methods seem slim. So, what do we do?

Well, a start is that we hold to the rights that are granted us under Fair Use and appeal to courts where necessary in order to preserve those rights. But aside from that, my answer is that we focus on creating our own open content as a way of showing people the potentialities of this new digital age. In the cases, I don't think that most creators and individual copyright holders have in their hearts a black desire that their music or art be locked away in airtight vaults with thugs and machine guns patrolling the borders. What they do have, however, is a very understandable fear that without revenue from their copyrights, they won't be able to do the things they want to do or care for their families or anything like that. And I certainly can't blame them for that.

I don't think that America will see top-down change in copyright law over the next little while, but what I do see happening is lots of people making lots of content that is free and open and ready to be built upon. We've already seen how Linux, an open-source, free operating system, has in many ways taken precedence over paid operating systems, and I think the same will happen in other areas. Complex, expensive tools are admittedly often "better," but the fact that I haven't had Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Word for nigh on five years tells me that the bells and whistles don't mean so much to me as basic functionality and openness. In the end, all we yet lack is time--time to improve those open resources already exigent and time to build up the cache of creative commons content for the future.

My answer to the copyright crisis is that rather than bickering endlessly over copyright law, we need to simply move on in championing the creative commons. We need to show how business models can adapt for creative commons content, and we need to respect the laws that are in place while asserting the liberties that such laws provide us. That doesn't mean that we stop working toward content liberation; rather, we step up our efforts, submitting respectful requests to content holders to liberate their content, and then we actively support those individuals and groups that agree to do so. Maybe for now, that means that we go without certain resources or have to pay for their use, but eventually, a large enough body of creative commons content will be built up to allow us to assert our independence from the antiquated system of copyright. We have to be willing to let copyright law drown in its own obsolescence as we move on in creating meaningful, free, world-changing content.