Author’s rights

When trying to explain to a colleague why personal correspondence should be private—with ‘piracy’ and p2p on the background—he pointed out the fact that what I was saying applied to the “big content” corporations, but not to the authors. In other words, while the law should not protect big corporations, it should protect individual authors, that strive to produce books, music, whatever, for those productions create and contribute to culture, which is nothing short a form of wealth. Well, no. I mean, it’s true that what authors produce is nothing short of a (very important) form of wealth. But authors, like everybody else, should be paid for their work, through contracts. It not reasonable to first write a book, and then put up for sale and expect that all those who want to take a look at it will buy it instead of downloading it. It’s not reasonable because nobody has the incentive to do this. It was reasonable, before the internet, because there was no alternative (except borrowing, which—unlike the internet—is a lot more limited in scope). But now, in a time where the cost of sharing information has gone from very costly to essentially free, it simply cannot be expected that people in general will buy what’s readily available for free. In a most interesting twist of history, this means that now the financing for new works of art must also resort to patronage, as was the case in times long gone. The (very big) difference is that now, unlike then, that patronage can come from the general public, instead of from some rich guy with more money than what he is actually able to spend:-)

The other objection my colleague raised was that the fact that I buy a book does not entitle me to share what’s in it. And he provided an example: if I was an IRS worker, that was required to handle confidential information, that would not entitle me to share that information. My reply to this is that we’re talking about two fundamentally different kinds of information. The information that exists in books that you can buy off-the-shelf is the kind of information that the law should encourage to share! If that is best done by granting copyright monopolies (as was the case before the internet) then so be it. But if that’s best done by relaxing ( or outright eliminating) copyright law, then that’s the course of action one must take. On the other hand, information regarding one’s taxes is the kind of information that the law should protect. That’s why we veto the employees that get to work with that kind of sensible information. And that’s why it makes sense to spend resources protecting information like tax forms, or healthcare records, while essentially letting information like the latest novel book, or blockbuster, or whatever be free (both as in beer and as in speech), so it more rapidly becomes a part of that commons we all share, viz. our culture.

Google v. Isohunt

The first book in the bibliography of my Introduction to Geometry class is Michele Audin’s Geometry, which in Amazon costs, well, a lot. So the first thing I tried a couple of weeks ago, when the semester started, was to search for the book in isohunt (and a couple of “sister sites”). But despite my insisting efforts, I was unable to find a pdf of the book, and resigned to that situation.
Today, I decided to give it another try, but in google, and as soon as I wrote “audin geometry” this happened:

And as it turns out, I did find the djvu of the book (which I never thought of looking before, I always looked for the pdf), in good quality and with minimum hassle! And this happens at a time when Isohunt, which is fighting a permanent injunction served against it, argues that what it does, Google does better. No argument here!

Alex de la Iglesia, Goya 2011

Por discordar da nova contra a “pirataria”, também conhecida como “lei Sinde”, assim chamada por causa da sua principal proponente, a ministra da cultura espanhola Ángeles González-Sinde, o até então presidente da Academia Cinematográfica Espanhola, demitiu-se. No último dia do mandato, que coincidiu com a gala dos prémios Goya, eis o que ele tinha para dizer:

Durante o discurso, as câmaras focaram extensivamente a referida ministra da cultura: a sua expressão, de tão inexpressiva que é, acaba por ser bastante cómica (e reveladora). Reveladora do vazio de substância que costuma ser a “justificação” para este tipo de leis.

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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