What is meant with Post-Copyrightism? What does it have to do with today’s intellectual property frameworks? And why do we need it anyway?
These questions are a short summary of some fascinating discussions I had following the publication of my articles Toward an Age of Post-Copyrightism and Not Gonna Give Post-Copyrightism Up in which burning social issues regarding intellectual property were handled.
These issues and others are addressed in the following article, offering an extensive explanation for the notion of post-copyrightism.
In order to understand what post-copyrightism is all about, it is first needed to see what kind of situation it suppose to follow and more importantly – appeal.
As pointed out in my prior articles to the subject, copyrights are the embodiment of a three-fold problematic with the current exercise of intellectual property worldwide, leaded mostly by western countries (with the US as the front-runner):
- It is a mechanism that sacrifices our cultural capital for the sake of financial profit.
- It reproduces the dependency of developing countries in the west (thus bringing colonialism into the era of information and knowledge society).
- It threatens freedom of expression with acts such as DEA, HADOPI, and Protect IP (COICA’s following act).
At this point I will also add that:
- It deepens the divide between the ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-Nots’, between those who can afford to “purchase” more information and knowledge and those who don’t. It can be developed and developing countries, but it can also be upper, middle and working class within one society (to name two examples).
It is somewhat absurd, considering that the expectations from the Internet and digitization of information were to produce exactly the opposite effects.
But how come the introduction of these amazing information and communication technologies ended contradicting those expectations and the intentions of their developers?
© for Capitalism, © for Copyrightism
One factor in the development of capitalism is commodification, the transformation of goods, services, and ideas into commodities.
Books, music, news, movies, pictures etc. are all being gradually regarded less as cultural pieces and more as commodities. Their intellectual and spiritual value is being transformed into exchange value (measures by currency). Our cultural capital is transformed into financial capital.
Among others, copyrights provide the needed environment for this development to take place.
In a broader sense, it seems that advanced capitalism is taking the role of a censor and suppresser free expression, introducing new forms of colonialism, and (of course) helping the (information-)rich get richer while the (information-)poor get poorer.
You Can’t Both Play the Game and Make Your Own Rules
But I do not claim intellectual property to be entirely obsolete, yet.
We currently live in the capitalist system and therefore creators should profit from their creations and the labor invested in them.
However, as capitalism develops so do the mechanisms of production, distribution, and consumption (in this case – of information). Many intermediates (record companies, publishers etc.) see how their role in the value chain diminishes before the eyes. And for actors, which until a decade ago were of the most profitable branches, it can be frustrating. No surprise than, that they hold on to old and expired models (copyrights) in order to survive.
As happens with all other goods and services as the capitalist apparatus kicks in, the production and distribution become cheaper, cheap distribution and successful marketing increase the target audience/consumers dramatically, and the consumers who can buy more commodities for less money – consume more (that is, buy more but use it less).
In contrary to many other products, information is intangible. It wasn’t always like it, because up until now it was always bound on a physical medium (printed book, vinyl, CD etc.). But since can be digitized, only one single production of an information item (let’s say, an album) is needed. Afterwards it can be duplicated in a theoretically infinite amount of copies and be transferred around the world within seconds. All that for negligible costs.
This has several effects:
- The production and distribution costs almost diminish.
- The target audience increases dramatically.
- The audience is already ahead of the production in its “evolution” – it consumes more for less. It will download more eBooks than it could ever read, more music than it could ever listen to, and more pictures than it could ever use.
Now if in this situation, you still expect consumers to pay the over-priced rates they used to pay for information in the old system (e.g. a CD found record shop in one of the few limited markets where the album is distributed) – you’re deluding yourself. More than that, you’re disgustingly greedy. And when you crash, you can complain only to yourself.
The Consumer’s Revenge
After being cynically exploited several times by the entertainment industry (new technology? Time for you to re-purchase your vinyl collection in CDs), it is no surprise that consumers feel no guilt when they can share their information with the world and have all the information they want a mouse-click away. P2P (file sharing) is not just a genius ahead-of-it-time communal concept of knowledge, culture and information sharing; it is also the sweet revenge of the former prisoners of the entertainment industry.
Because consumers know they didn’t purchase a peace of plastic which accidently contains their favorite album. They purchase their favorite album and want to carry this purchase with them to the new laptop, iPod, and smartphone without paying for it all over again.
An interesting model for those different understandings of information objects is the FRBR entities.
Back to the Post
After addressing the problematic in the current exercise of intellectual property and looking on what has changed with the development of information and communication technologies, I will explain what it is that should follow the current situation.
First, post-copyrightism is no model and no system. It is an era and a state of mind regarding the sharing of information, knowledge and culture. It stands for collective good and supports the interests of society as a whole. Furthermore, it rewards creators for their work but also society for its contribution (because no work is a creatio ex nihilo, no creation is free of social and cultural implications of previous creations). And finally, it encourages further creation, research, production, and development!
The Marxists between us will notice right away that it can come with socialism and is inseparable from (real) communism. But I don’t plea for socialism or communism, I plea for post-copyrightism. It can come with them, but it doesn’t have to.
The capitalist system is more than capable of comprising it and even profiting from it. Because post-copyrightism:
- Insures creators get what they deserve for their work.
- Offers access to culture and knowledge to more people, which in turn will be able to create more, research more, develop and invent more.
- Encourages people consume more (information), much more.
It is like a cycle feeding itself, how can capitalism ask for more than that?
Sketching Some Models
- Differential payment: students, researchers or developers in the private sector will pay different fees (or as for students, not at all) for research and scientific information. The same applies to teenagers, working adults, or clubs and restaurants listening or playing music.
- Make it cheap, really cheap: models such as iTunes proved that people are willing to pay for their information if they believe the price is fair. Now if they already on the golden road of endless consumption, why now making it cheaper? A song for 50¢, an album for 2$, a discography for 4$, and a subscription to all future releases for 8$. Just think of how many copies will be sold, taking into account that the distribution costs a negligible and the target audience is each person on the globe with high-speed Internet connection.
- Merchandise with extra value: high-quality hardcover for (really cheap) eBook; Digipacks versions of albums; signed copies; offering albums/books for download free of charge when purchasing a concert/public reading…
- Open Access: an existing publishing model, which offers free access to scholarly, scientific, and research information. Furthermore, a law enforcing free access to all information and knowledge that were produced using public resources and financing (such as researches done on universities) should be made.
- Creative Commons license: a further existing model, which allows creators to communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive for the benefit of their audience or other creators (take a look at the top right corner of the blog – I have one also!).
These were just a few suggestions. Now imagine what all those sharp minds working in records and publishing companies, advertising agencies, or as talent managers could come up with just in order to earn a few more $$$.
The Bottom Line Is…
It’s about combining interests. Some are interested in making money, no matter what the consequences are, and some are interested in more than that (remember the social problematic from the beginning of the article?). So let’s create a framework that protects and promotes society and its cultural capital, while keeping capitalism and the business-guys in their made-in-____-suits satisfied.
When that will be done, we will also get rid of those last two