Discussion: On Copyright

738 Responses

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  • Matthew Poole,

    Yup. That's about the measure of it. Hugely successful businessmen make their descendants hugely rich; hugely successful whatevers tend to be able to make their children rich.

    Why shouldn't creators?

    To be of value, a business must be successful. If it's inherited, in order to provide income to the inheritors it must continue to be successful. Successful businesses contribute to society, through tax paid, through employment provided, through goods and services provided to other businesses that allow those businesses to pay tax, and employ people, and so on. A business doesn't exist in and of itself, and it doesn't rely on the state saying "Pay up, or else" in order to exist. Inherited financial instruments rely on the continued success of the issuing body to remain of value. If I will you a million shares, but the company goes bust, those shares aren't much use to you, are they? Land, the ultimate asset, has value because it is scarce. If I own the land. you can't own it. If I will it to someone, you can't own it, because they'll own it, etc.

    Contrast this with copyrights, which are of value to society as a whole only when the subject matter passes into the public domain. Until then, they're a private benefit to the creator and their family, and then to the creator's beneficiaries. Copyright doesn't exist solely to benefit the creator, it exists to benefit the creator and to benefit society. You're so fixated on the benefit to the creator that you cannot see that society must also benefit. If there's no benefit to society, why offer the coercive power of the state as an incentive to create?

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    The issue for copyright now is similar to the major problem with DRM.

    Copyright protects people who make a living selling certain kinds of information (keeping it secret is obviously not an option). Computers work by copying information. It will be copied. I don't really know what the new model is, but all the machinery of the old model used to its full power will not prevent this.

    Unauthorised copies have always happened, just not so easily. Font designers have had it since the invention of type and might have lessons - AFAIK they've learned to - mostly - lump it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    I can't see anyone arguing for copyrights being extended based on the demand of one person or company. That's a silly system, but you get that in the USA. If it's copyright for life plus 50, or plus 70 or whatever, that should be the system, if it changes it should be for good reason rather than Mickey Mouse being another 25 years older.

    Yes, it's silly. Yes, it's corrupt as all hell. But it's reality. NZ has life-plus-50 because of the first time it was extended to protect Mickey. We haven't moved to life-plus-70, but you can be certain that any FTA with the US will require not only life-plus-70, but also that we stay at life-plus-whatever as the terms keep getting extended. Twice Mickey's nearly entered the public domain, twice the term of copyright has been extended to ensure it doesn't happen. I'd almost put money on a hat-trick.

    I think lifetime plus 75 years is too long. But lifetime would be too short for me. Many authors publish shortly before their death, or even after it (again, Tolkien, edited by his son). If it was just lifetime someone would just reproduce it straight away. Which sounds fine in theory, but the publisher would never publish it as they couldn't protect it, and we wouldn't necessarily see books like the Simarillion and the Children of Hurin.

    I don't like lifetime at all. For one because it encourages people to knock off artists in order to get their works into the public domain. For another, because it discourages, as you observed, deathbed works from being published by their estates. But why does the author's lifetime have to factor into it at all? Why can't it just be a fixed term, say 33 years? Why 33? Because it's roughly half the current average lifespan. Remember, copyright is meant to confer a benefit on society, too, not just provide for the remuneration of creators over time. Once you start using life-plus terms, you're pretty much ignoring entirely the fact that society is meant to benefit too.
    Consider the Beatles: when they formed, the average lifespan in Europe was roughly 10 years less than it is now. By the time McCartney dies, the average could be another five years higher. That's 15 extra years that their work is unavailable for the public at large to utilise in creating new works, and that's if terms don't get extended any further. Once you start down the life-plus path, you're ensuring that every generation has to wait even longer than the last before they get access to their grandparents' pop culture.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    it exists to benefit the creator and to benefit society

    I'd have said it exists to benefit society by benefiting creators (and the 'creation' industries). One bit you miss is that the social benefit isn't just from having the work in the public domain, it's from having it exist at all.

    In fact the first can't happen without the last either.

    So for me whether it these legal right should be heritable - like every other aspect of copyright - is between the extra work and production it encourages makes up for the imposition of everyone not being able to use it as they like.

    If we all sound like IP dinosaurs to you, speaking for myself it's because you've found a rather odd area to fixate on.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Why can't it just be a fixed term

    Actually, I'd always assumed that was administrative convenience.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Nina Paley is screwed because she can't get copyrights sorted for songs written and performed in the 20's. The composers and the performer are long, long dead.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • David Hamilton,

    Contrast this with copyrights, which are of value to society as a whole only when the subject matter passes into the public domain.

    You've mentioned this notion a couple of times and I don't get it. Doesn't society benefit from art/music/ideas regardless of whether the creator owns them or not?

    Hamiltron • Since Nov 2006 • 111 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Contrast this with copyrights, which are of value to society as a whole only when the subject matter passes into the public domain

    They are of benefit to society even while still under copyright. You can tell this because people choose to pay money for works. In general people are rational enough not to throw money away; ergo, selling copyright works is of benefit to society, the same way that selling milk or rice is.

    A business doesn't exist in and of itself, and it doesn't rely on the state saying "Pay up, or else" in order to exist.

    Er, you do know that businesses are arbitrary creations of the state, just like copyright, and in fact rely heavily upon the coercive power of the state all the time?

    Also, I never mentioned a word about inheritance of going concerns &c, and was in fact considering the case of someone receiving a large number of Treasury bonds and living off the interest.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Er, you do know that businesses are arbitrary creations of the state, just like copyright, and in fact rely heavily upon the coercive power of the state all the time?

    Extremely good point, Keir.

    I'm very much down with a shortening of copyright period and with various other tweaks, but I do think that it's easier to sermonise about the evils of copyright when it's not the way you actually earn your living.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    If it's inherited, in order to provide income to the inheritors it must continue to be successful.

    This also applies to copyrighted works. If they don't continue to be successful (ie, reprinted, reproduced, re-released) then they don't provide income to the creator.

    Yes, that success is passive, but it originates from the creative endeavour, which was completely unrewarded. It's the nature of copyrighted works, as Keir has pointed out, that the income flows from the later use, not the actual creation.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • David Waters,

    Wow I'm really quite suprissed at the level of opposition to copy write here. Is this just a case of I break the law it must be a bad law quick justify why it a bad law?

    Copyright is benifitial in creating content we all love. The creater has a right to make a crust of there work.

    There is a lot of debate to be had around the length of copyright, the constant extension of Micky's copyright does not seem right. And it is making less and less sence to base it on someones life spam when so much content is the collaberation of hundreds if not thousounds of people.

    Since Sep 2008 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    As someone noted over in the other thread, copyright is also a matter of *control* over what happens with a work you have created.

    Most contracts for writers will specify just what areas publishers want to obtain - audio, dramatisation, electronic, etc.. In some of my work, I am happy to on-sell some of those property rights; in other work, I am not (which is why I *always* retain control of dramatisation and electronic rights, and generally of audio, and may negotiate other contracts later.)

    Matthew Poole et al- tell me why anyone should have the right to use my words in other media for their own benefit without paying me for the use of those words? During the copyright period? (Or my estate once I'm dead?) And, my words sometimes make memorable characters which are my property too...

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    in reverse order
    @RB

    I do think that it's easier to sermonise about the evils of copyright when it's not the way you actually earn your living.

    Ah, but then you have a conflict of interest ;-)


    @keir

    They are of benefit to society even while still under copyright. You can tell this because people choose to pay money for works. In general people are rational enough not to throw money away; ergo, selling copyright works is of benefit to society, the same way that selling milk or rice is

    Actually, no. It's of benefit to individuals who are prepared to pay for it. That doesn't necessarily benefit society. Culture may be enriched by the presence of a work (though history says rarely in a creator's lifetime cf Jackson Pollock for one), but IMHO society is enriched when you can do something new with it (for any given value of "it").


    @Stephen

    Nina Paley is screwed because she can't get copyrights sorted for songs written and performed in the 20's. The composers and the performer are long, long dead.

    Nina Paley is screwed because she assumed the fairies would bring her money to pay for the rights she knew she had to have in order to get the film distributed. Although the spreadsheet is fascinating reading, if you want to see the nature of the numbers being talked about. And not a bit of it will go back the creators of the works.

    @keir

    Yup. That's about the measure of it. Hugely successful businessmen make their descendants hugely rich; hugely successful whatevers tend to be able to make their children rich.

    Because of what they do in their lifetime. J.K. Rowling can leave an obscene amount of money to her heirs, as JP Morgan could to his. But his bank, when he died, had to be managed to continue producing profits. (Fortunately, his son appeared quite able to do that. Many other scions of the rich have not proved so and the enterprises have withered). Under current copyright law, Rowling's heirs don't have to lift a finger and their benefactor's work keeps generating income.

    @Keir

    Doesn't matter; you haven't paid me for it, and you're depriving me of the money you should give me under the law. I don't care if I can listen to, listening to my own CD doesn't feed or clothe me. I don't really like calling it theft, because it isn't, but it is similar.

    Actually, it's not. The legal definition of theft is around the removal of property from the rightful owner. If Matthew took your CD and didn't give it back, that would be theft. Copyright infringement is not theft, despite all the adverts from the industry to try and convince us it is. Their understanding of "intellectual property" is flawed (some might say intentionally) in order to transfer formal property rights to copyright. If infringement was theft, it would be covered under the Crimes Act and enforcement administered by the Police. Funnily enough, the US Department of Justice has just persuaded Congress that they don't want that power or responsibility.

    Besides, Matthew would only be infringing your copyright if you were the one who recorded the CD. Mere possession of a storage medium gives you a property right in that medium only, not any of the material that is stored on it.


    @Lyndon

    And seeing as this has been said in public, illegal downloading is not like stealing. The best analogy I've seen is it's like jumping the fence to a swimming pool.

    Nice. I concur, as does the law (at the moment).

    Can't think what to search for, or of the name of the legal guy's book Cory Dottrow was recommending more recently. Sorry.

    Copyright's Paradox by Neil Weinstock Netanel, perchance?


    @Don

    Sorry, but there comes a point where the community good does trump individual "fairness". The Copyright holders are taking us well beyond that point.

    Ah yes, but don't equate "copyright holder" with "artiste (or creator, Stallman notwithstanding)", 'cos they ain't necessarily the same thing. Otherwise, I agree.


    @Matthew Yes, pretty much, to all you posts so far. I think you articulate the problems well. I too would not like to see creators bumped off in order to release their work and a fixed term (regardless of life or death of the creator) would see the work repaid.


    @Sacha
    yeh, yeh, whatever. [insert FX of 747 overhead] ;-)

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Actually, it's not.

    Um, it is pretty similar. Consider the case where you steal $7.50 from me; that's theft. Now consider the case where you infringe my copyrights to the tune of $7.50. In both cases, you are depriving me of $7.50 I have a right to in law.

    Now, OK, they are different because we make distinctions between money and potential money, and between criminality and merely illegality, and because of the impersonality, and so-forth, and they're all valid points, but ultimately, illegal downloading is taking without paying.

    Now, the RIAA are a bunch of thugs & lawyers, but the fundamental point about illegal downloading is quite legit -- what you are doing is exploitative.

    Under current copyright law, Rowling's heirs don't have to lift a finger and their benefactor's work keeps generating income.

    Look, J K Rowling earned the money when she wrote the books, and all her heirs are doing is getting paid for it, as all heirs have the right to. Exactly like Treasury bonds -- you earn the interest & return of the principal when you buy the bond, not when the money is paid back.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    Infringement !=theft. Theft is a crime, copyright infringement is (still) a civil dispute. You make the same basic error as the RIAA. Potential money is not real money. There is no evidence that an infringer would have paid, had they not been able to infringe. It's right up there with "if only I could win Lotto" - imaginary money.

    You only have a right to $7.50 of my money if I purchase your copyrighted item. What you might have a right to, if the Court agrees, is an amount in damages which may be more or less than the amount you might have got had I purchased it. Using the RIAA's maths, it would be substantially more, but I think their accounting is as corrupt as their understanding of property law.

    Treasury bonds are not the same thing. You pay money for them and they accrue interest. They are a form of property. Copyright is not.

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Treasury bonds are not the same thing. You pay money for them and they accrue interest. They are a form of property. Copyright is not.

    Jesus, you really have this mantra that you aren't going to let go of, don't you? Treasury bonds aren't property in that sense either, being purely societal promises to pay, and solely potential money, just like copyright is a societal promise to pay on use of an idea.

    There is no evidence that an infringer would have paid, had they not been able to infringe.

    So? There's no evidence that most shoplifters would have paid the money had they not been able to shoplift.

    You appear to be arguing against dodgy claims by the RIAA that the music industry is losing Very Large amounts of money in sales, which are pretty dodgy. What's not dodgy about those claims is the fact that there's a Very Large number of people exploiting the labour of musicians without paying them for it. Seems a lot like theft to me, even if it isn't exactly the same.

    And, in fact, if you steal a CD from a store what you are denying them is the potential income represented by that CD; the CD itself is largely worthless to the store except as something to be sold (and i suspect the real value of the CD lays in the licensing, not the physical media anyway, but others could be more precise on that.)

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    but I do think that it's easier to sermonise about the evils of copyright when it's not the way you actually earn your living.

    As a software developer I do earn a living as a result of Copyright. Just though I would point this out to the "Creators" on this thread.

    Let's forget the issue of how long Copyright should last (and many authors & artists think it should be short time for very practical, business reasons). For me a key issue is what rights we are now expected to give up in order to enforce those Copyrights.

    In the past, a printing press that was breaching Copyright could be identified and shut down. Production was centralised, individual freedoms hardly affected.

    These days copying is a distributed activity (indeed, it has been since the invention of magnetic tape). This means that Copyright holders are more and more seeking to abrogate the rights of their fellow citizens. We are expected to assume guilt as the default position, to hand over web logs for millions of users, to only buy computer devices - that may never ever render Copyrighter material - that has been approved by the recording industry, and to curtail our own creative activities for fear of breaching their "rights" to print money.

    I could use a software development example to illustrate that last point. But here is a sadder one. At the Digital Development Forum a multi-media tutor of some renown explained how the creative talents of many of his students would never see the light of day because they probably were in breach of someones Copyright.

    There it is in a nutshell, the very thing Copyright is supposed to encourage has been destroyed, and largely due to commercial greed.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Still waiting for a response from Matthew Poole -

    because the issues I have brought up are not only cogent, they're bloody close to the bone-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    Islander - because I might want to learn from your wisdom (but be prevented from doing so or I might want to incorporate your wisdom into something "new" which may be even more fabulous than you are no doubt producing today :-)

    I probably wouldn't bother doing either if I knew the RIAA or equivalent were going to dob me in the shit. Which may be a big loss to society (unlikely in my case, but not for the next Da Vinci).

    Which is not to say you should not be able to earn a living from your original work. The issue is about stifling others and taking away other peoples' freedoms to maintain your monopoly.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Very seriously Don - and others- how does my keeping a tight hold on my copyright for my words & characters during my life-time (and possibly for the inheritors of my feeble wee estate) *stifle* any other person? *Take away any other person's freedom/s*??

    I wrote the words. I invented the characters. No other bugger did.

    Go write your own words. Go invent your own characters. Dont transgress mine.

    I certainly will not steal your's.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    The issue is about stifling others and taking away other peoples' freedoms to maintain your monopoly.

    But copyright doesn't prevent that. It simply requires that you get permission from the copyright holder before reproducing their work. I have to do it sometimes for my job and I've hardly ever been turned down by an artist, cartoonist, or writer, and I've never had to pay a cent for the right.

    In my experience a lot of the holders of copyright aren't concerned about preventing their work being used, they're concerned about how and where it's used. It is after all their work, and has their name on it.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Yo Kyle - ae ae ae. It *is* an important part of copyright - the originator *controls* what is used and where - hell, I've swapped use of one my poems for a hug, and use of one my short stories for filming purposes for a smoked snapper, and several of my forewords for copies of the books they introduced...while *always* keeping & controlling all the rrst of copyright-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    Kyle, you are correct in both your assertions. Unfortunately the latest amendments to the Copyright Act and the secretive ACTA agreement take us down the path that I and others have been describing.

    We differ on the main identities of Copyright holders. I agree that individual authors, artists etc. are often very amenable to fair use of their works. But the bulk of wokr probably does not belong to them. It has been reassigned.

    Disney and others are not at all of the view you describe. And it is this latter group that are causing so much harm and concern.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Don Christie - please point me to amendments of the Copyright Act and the ACTA agreement - I rather think there is a lot of us who would like to read these- cheers/ kia ora-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    The issue for copyright now is similar to the major problem with DRM.

    DRM potentially destroys all the benefit for society. If an uncrackable DRM scheme is somehow created (and believe me, I doubt (and sincerely pray) it could ever happen), everything protected by that scheme will never pass into the public domain because it will be unable to be extracted when the copyright finally expires. In that situation I would be lobbying for the abolition of copyright for all works protected by such a scheme, because it'd be a unilateral revocation of the social contract under which copyright is granted in the first place.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

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