Went to see Richard Stallman do his talk “Copyright vs community” at the LSE last night. Andrew’s co-worker Anthony spotted the gig and sorted tickets (thank you Anthony).
Stallman didn’t disappoint. I now wish I had brought a pen and paper as the examples he gave seemed potent from his mouth but not quite fully formed when reported to Nicki back at home. One of his main purposes is to challenge the large set of assumptions surrounding copyright legislation.
Under the guise of protecting the artist for the good of the community as a whole, legislators in both the UK and the US have enacted draconian rules that ultimately do not serve you and me.
He describes copyright as a social contract, one we entered eyes-open many years ago because at the time, we were trading a freedom that as individuals we could not use for enforcement that we could. Specifically, most individuals probably did not have access to printing presses and so could not exercise a right to share their assets with their neighbours. Instead, early copyright legislation restricted printers from copying works. This early law regulated industry for the benefit of us all—an equitable trade.
This initial trade however is no longer fair. We can now easily copy and share the assets we have payed for, so it makes sense that we no longer wish to be held by the terms of the initial social contract. What was a good deal for our great great grandfathers is now very much not one.
Stallman goes on the mention other assumptions we have been trained to accept as axiomatic. For example, all copyright must be equal the same rules must cover all copyrighted items. This part of the law lets asset owners (let’s put this in Marxist terms just for fun…) protect 99% of the copyright they shouldn’t have by finding one rare exception that they can convince the courts that they should.
Instead, Stallman propose a tiered system of copyright based not on the author or the media but on the purpose. It’s at this point that memory fails me as his three-part structure seemed very lucid at the time, but I can’t remember the exact details (I must be getting old) so tonight (he is talking about patents tonight) I’ll bring a pen;-)