Won’t Anyone Think of the Children?

by on November 8, 2007

When I’m murdered in my bed by a gang of bored teenagers, I’ll try to remember to blame the RIAA as I expire.

Some issues are too big to arrive at any useful perspective until you have thought and experienced a great many ideas relating to them. For a long while now, I have tried to fathom what it is about my concern, not to say alarm, about the increasingly draconian imposition of copyright law and the erosion of fair use that has come with it.

It is easy, when faced with a threat, to fight fire with fire. Recall my ancient war cry in this regard – born out of a desire to break free of the stultifying media, the Murdochs, the Ballamers and other monopolists. This led me towards the extremists – the abolitionists and zealots. But it didn’t feel right – even from there to more sophisticated territory, I was still unclear about what was bugging me.

Having just watched Lessig’s new talk on TED (using Miro I might add), his closing point showed me the itch I couldn’t scratch. We exist, he says, in a strange age awash with easy prohibitions even more easily broken. Ordinary people live day-do-day in the knowledge that they are acting outside the law, perhaps daily (the MP3s, videos, the mash-ups, the p2p…).

It’s not just that the law is an ass and that the justifications are easy (and hardly anyone gets caught) – it’s the fact that we are now in a position where we have no choice but to shake laws through some kind of moral sieve before we decide which to obey. How has this happened and where will it end?

Comments

How does he do his presentations? I asked Lessig once for a copy of his presentation but he wouldn’t give it to me. He declined in an obviously false way but it wasn’t a straight no, so for that I should be thankful.

The government is clearly aware that many many people are breaking the law in the ways that you list – and I think in part this is why one of the Gowers recommendations was around pastiche. But IP is a difficult area of law and I’m not sure to what extent brownie points are earned for enlightened or even common sense legislation in this area.#

I think we are in an era of market economics – ideology and with it a concept of morality or even “the right thing to do” has long been dead. I would argue enlightened public policy has been little in evidence since the establishment of the Welfare State and the following ten years thereafter.

If you look at Gowers, and its reliance on economic evidence, in part this was an improvement on the bad old days where influence equated to political lobbying power. But IPR affects not just companies’ bank balances but our society and culture. Look at the battle the Sanger Institute had. It rushed to publish the human genome on the web before a US pharmaceutical could patent it. Yes, all research in the bioscience field relating to the human genome would have to have been under licence from a US pharmaceutical company.

In part I feel encouraged that IP is making column inches – but in part I feel depressed because it is always about the music industry. Digital lockdown is going on in ways far more invidious and catastrophic in the science and research sectors. Our universities and national libraries are spending hundreds of millions of pounds a year on scientific content that comes with agreements that undermine what is allowed for in copyright law. Fair Dealing is being undermined by contract, and in the same way those that mix / mash are criminalised the scientific community too is being criminalised for wanting to cut and paste scientific articles or textmine raw research data. The negative effect this has on scientific developments of the future worries me far more than the price of the latest Radiohead album.

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