The last two copyright myths

(this page is just one part of my “Dangerous Copyright Myths” piece. Please also read the introduction and index for more context)

Myth 6: Copyright is not necessary because humankind and artists did perfectly well without it for centuries

This is the “Mozart was great without copyright, nor did he care about it” school of so-called thought: copyright would be dangerous or at least useless because it is a very recent thing. People who say this deserve all the fines and trials the courts can throw at them.

Universal vote, anti-rape laws, penicillin or the Internet itself are much more recent than copyright, where they are available at all. Does their recent age make them useless? Just forget Mozart, please. Geniuses like him will sprout, create and prosper whatever the system around them. That’s no reason to not try to make things better. It’s terribly wrong and stupid to create a system that only lets the top artist in every million through. If all and only the bad artists were doomed to starve through cancellation of copyright… the geniuses would grow up in a cultural vacuum that would severely limit their possibilities. Flowers need compost to bloom.

Speaking of a better world: before copyright, almost all artists belonged to three classes of people: idle richs, people under patronage of the idle rich (see previous myth), and people who could afford to live without any reliable income at all, or who lived in poverty, without raising a family, without decent medical assistance and so on.

In all other cases, it’s really difficult and time-consuming to go beyond the part-time hobbyist level. A fair copyright system, instead, should make it possible for people who weren’t born in a castle and have no need for or interest in a private yacht or plane, to live normally simply out of their creative works. If anything, an age where artists can finally be their own publishers and agents if they so wish, could be just the one when a well done copyright starts doing even more good to society than it was originally planned.

Myth 7: There is nothing wrong, and no damage done, with illegal copies

I’m not sure what’s more frightening: DRM and copy controls, or the public attitudes that make them necessary (read on Slashdot).

I’ve left this particular myth for last because it’s not only the most common sand easier to believe in without thinking, but also because it is maybe the worst and most dangerous one, even for end users.

According to common wisdom, illegal redistribution of copyrighted material would be the right way to beat the majors and they are not losing money for this. To prove the depth of their analyses, several of these people even confuse “I firmly believe it should not be illegal” with “it is not illegal”! Now, redistributing copyrighted works without respecting their license is illegal, period. By definition: “illegal” is a very precise and formal definition. Something is illegal if the current laws say so. “Right” and “wrong” are different issues.

Of course, some people will buy more music if they can sample it gratis before. But there are many more people, especially youngsters, who only share music illegally and have no intention to ever pay for any of it, knowing that they can get away with this much more easily than if, every morning, they took the first car parked around the corner for a free ride to school. Doing this only because there are absurd prices today is certainly illegal, even if not done for profit, and above all is not necessary and counterproductive. The only results, in the medium and long term, are to:

  • hurt the authors and performers who do the actual work
  • listen to the worst music, just to be trendy (how many illegal downloads are of music which is at least 20 years old?
  • give the majors excellent pretexts to get more restrictive laws and technologies approved. There would be no excuse at all to propose DRM if there were no proofs of millions of illegal downloads of mostly canned, done by committee music
  • (from a parent’s point of view) send a very disturbing message: “it’s OK to break laws if they are unfair from YOUR point of view. Even when the only real reason to do it is looking cool”. Music and movies (especially those that every cable channel or radio station will throw at you in a few months) are not food, medicines, clothes or shelter.