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.