Copy right, yet again

I have written several times about copyright (a quick search on this blog should prove enlightening). One of the things I’ve said about it, is that when you look at copyright evolution throughout the last 3 centuries, you realize that the copyright laws we have today are not what you would expect to have, when you consider the way in which it has evolved. If initially copyright was a strategy to encourage authors to write more books, today it has been totally corrupted into a (“legal”) tool to make-a-profit-for-doing-nothing. In particular, it makes illegal something that everybody does: file sharing. And that’s because we’re trying today to enforce a law that was drafted for a past reality: that before the advent of digital information and computer networks. Now, the funny thing is that, sometimes, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. That link is a to a piece in Ars Technica, in which copyright law is compared to (physical) property law. And as the author of the aforementioned article puts it, that comparison (to which RIAA and ilk are so fond) «has some implications that advocates of strong copyright may not like.». Further more:

The copyright system is currently undergoing rapid changes as technology undermines old business models and enforcement regimes. Some aspects of copyright law are widely ignored and evaded, and efforts to strictly enforce the law have sparked widespread outrage. If we want to take the property rights analogy seriously, it doesn’t make sense to compare today’s chaotic copyright regime to the stable, orderly, and universally accepted property rights system we have today. Rather, the right comparison is to the American property rights system at a time when it, too, faced rapid changes and serious challenges to its legitimacy.

Property law, in the colonization period, was at the center of a mayhem similar to that of copyright law nowadays. Essentially, Americans tried to copy the British law, and apply it to the (quite distinct!) American reality:

The American property system is based on the British common law system, but colonists quickly discovered that British property law was inadequate to the realities of the New World. In England, land was scarce, and titles were well-established. The American colonies, in contrast, had an abundance of land but poorly-defined boundaries and inadequate record-keeping. As a result, squatting became extremely common. Landless Americans would move to the frontier, clear some land, and begin building on it without first securing a property title.

Sound familiar? The then recently formed government had another quite familiar attitude, of starting to pass unenforcible laws in order to try to impose the British reality into the new world. But what is most relevant to the discussion at hand, is how the matter was resolved, «not by harsher enforcement of existing laws, but by adjusting the property system to recognize the realities on the frontier.» The final section of the article further details on how this lesson could (and should) be applied to solve or current copyright mess. If the big companies are an even bigger part of the problem, as I think they are, then this paragraph says it all:

Similarly, major copyright owners might learn something from this history. Ordinary consumers are more likely to respect copyright if they view its restrictions as reasonable. Rather than trying to browbeat consumers into accepting highly restrictive copyright policies, they might find it worthwhile to adjust their business strategies to provide their customers with legal ways to do things they’re likely to do anyway.

IMHO, five star piece of news.

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