“Taking Copyright Back” is the Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s (EFF) theme of the week. “Taking Copyright Back” marks the days leading up to the two year anniversary of the SOPA blackout protests. It’s a series of principles that purport to support an “open” internet. In the words of EFF:
Let’s send a message to DC, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Brussels, and wherever else folks are making new copyright rules: We’re from the Internet, and we’re here to help.
This statement is more confusing than enlightening and risks shedding more heat than light: From whom are we taking copyright back? What’s the message that we’re supposed to be sending? Who’s from the internet? And how are we helping? The EFF’s “principles” lead to more questions than they answer.
The EFF states that it is in favor of a copyright policy that “promotes progress, innovation, and creativity, instead of stifling them. One that drives more speech, instead of shutting it down.” And who doesn’t favor that? The real issue is how to enact and enforce a policy that protects copyright creators and owners. That’s more easily said that done.
Everyone favors a body of copyright law that protects his or her own content. That’s a no-brainer. But what about content belonging to others? It would appear that the EFF supports a system where it’s OK for me to use your content in pursuit of my creative pursuits. And that’s OK with me until you try to use my content for your creative pursuits.
A policy that approves the use of my content for your creative pursuits, without my approval, provides a disincentive for me to continue to create. The disincentive may be economic in that I can no longer afford to create if my content is not generating income. It may be philosophical in that I lose control over my content.
Copyright is ultimately about control and choice. I may choose to make my content free for all under a creative commons license. I may chose to select who can use my content and under what circumstances. I may choose to use it exclusively for my own purposes. Copyright affords me the ability and the protection to use my content as I see fit.
There is, of course, a balance struck in the creation of effective copyright laws. At a certain point, a term of years, copyrighted works should enter the public domain. There should be Fair Use to the extent that copyrighted material is parodied, reviewed or presented in a new and different context. But it is a balance between the rights of the owner and creator and society. And society does have an interest in providing incentives for the creation of new content.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” as the saying goes. There’s no such thing as free content either. Content may be freely available but that’s because its owners or creators have chosen to make it so or because it is no longer protected by virtue of time. Ultimately, I am in favor of “Taking Copyright Back.” I am in favor of “Taking Copyright Back” and restoring it to its creators and owners.