How do we fight sociology?

To the regulars of this blog, my stance regarding copyright et al. Should be nothing new. But I’ve recently noted something that had previously illuded me, whenever I tried to explain my views on the subject to someone. Indeed it became apparent to me that even some of the most bright and educated people I know are staunch defenders of copyright, not because they don’t understand my arguments, or can point to some error in them. No, far from it, their reason is another one entirely.

In world of distribution monopolies without viable alternatives, which is how our world was until the late 90’s, those monopolies will be exploited to generate as much profit as possible. This is generates segmentation of contents into those that are profitable—the film industry calls them blockbusters—and those that are not. And those running the monopolies will insist on the former, while essentially neglecting the latter. This is only natural, for monopolies perpetuate forever, if allowed to. From the point of view of those who create the original content—writers, musicians, actors et al., or, God forbid, programmers—this divides them into two categories, viz. the ones that create blockbusters, and those that create the rest. In order to keep them profitable, blockbusters are usually a small fraction of the creative universe, but one that receives a major amount of the investment, and correspondingly generates most of the profit. This translates into a situation where the blockbusters creators get millionaire contracts, while the rest strives to stay afloat, perhaps hoping to become the next blockbuster—and herein lies the rub. Surreal as this may seem, it appears that we prefer a system of “superstars” vs the rest, as long as it comes with the promise that whether or not we become these “superstars” is entirely up to us. Never mind that even if we tried, most of us will never make it there. And never mind the fact that, should these distribution monopolies end, so would blockbusters. And thus the people that create them will be worse off, but the rest of us, the vast majority of us, will be better of, a lot better of. For now there is no middle man, between artist and audience, between maker and user. Bear in mind also, that the “worse off” of the previous “superstars” will still be orders of magnitude better than how most of us are now.

And yet, now that a world without such monopolies has become not only possible, but indeed inevitable, what do we do? Do we embrace it? No. We cling to the old system, and for the most selfish of reasons: for an unlikely shot at success, at everyone else’s expense. And we label those who claim for change of “destroying culture”. Never mind that culture far predates any distribution industry. Never mind that if such monopolies had existed in the time of one the greatest dramaturgs in history, William Shakespeare, he would have had his ass sued off—thus depriving humanity of his legacy. And yet, those who call on those monopolies to be dismantled, or at the very least have the shameless legal protection that was bestowed on them removed, those are the ones “destroying culture”. Yeah right…

Finally, remember that although for the last decades, most of art was transformed into a business, that was not the case for the centuries before that, and indeed it need not be the case now.

End note: the more physics-inclined readers will recognize in the title the name of one of the chapters in Lee Smolin’s great book “The Trouble with Physics”. In that chapter, he also deals with the way how sociological interests can trump progress, even in such a “hard science” as physics.

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