®™copyright + law©


The system of passing laws to regulate computers networks are always too slow, forever trying to keep up, with the pace of new technology. In this environment of quick change and gross reactions art is being made criminal. Hasty legislators - unsure of a technology they often don't use - submit to the suggestions of big money lobbyists. Unaware of the implications, new laws extend in startling ways the reach of certain copyright content industries.

Listening to music is now illegal, unless you are licensed, as with software. Telling people where to get software or music can be seen as criminal. Water, air, genetics, forests, oceans, aboriginal culture? All of these things are becoming commodities and that is fast becoming the standard for if an idea merits some kind of exclusive intellectual property rights.

Even if some culture gets through the fringes as it inevitably will, the large scale participatory possibilities are already stifled.


Copyright's precursor emerged with Statute of Anne, in 1710. Patent law was first enacted in 1623. In that time it was an obscure business issue, mostly to book publishers.

Our history goes back to Britain in the 1700s during the Industrial Revolution - and the supposed Enlightenment. That birth of capitalism hinges on the land enclosure movement. Private property, land, became to dominant and legal concept. Previously, property was a much more malleable concept. This enclosure movement was - literally - the fencing off of land. It was devastating to the collective semi-socialist, semi-feudal, pre-capitalist peasant culture. People were forced into cities or to work as wage labour. The previous paradigm of shared common land that fed all who worked it was crushed. Apparently, this development was necessary to have the high efficiency agriculture that our modern age developed. As an aside, we now read Richard Manning's the ideas of high efficiency farming from that era and see how dubious it was. Mixed gene [not monoculture] crops are now the more modern theory for a more sustainable efficiency.

Land use didn't change all at once. It came in tumbles and still periods. Communism arose as a result of that periodic poverty and famines for the new workers in cities. Libraries were championed at the end of the Victorian age as altruism. Created by monopolistic capitalists, were they trying to redeem their guilt like Carnegie?

America, the anglo offspring of England, adopted similar values. Or maybe it was a two way interaction with England copying the pre-US colonies? In any case, it was a colonial project by genealogy - from the era of capitalist revolutions.


Intellectual private property laws are very scary in their reach. What is illegal now?

Fair use was once the accepted term, a bulwark against the fencing off of all ideas. But, fair use is losing ground. I can only approximately get into this topic because it is vast.

The modern IP movement is one of enclosure. The fences go up slowly. The source of the fences was not the artists or authors really, but business men. Disney and Microsoft are true pioneers of this kind. These super rich, monopolistic corporations, are generally seen to have succeeded not because of superior creativity, but keen business practice. They secured control over key assets. Many of their artistic techniques and ideas were stolen or copied from other less savvy innovators with more artistic merit but less capital. The well known skeleton's in the emperors' closet are Apple computers Steve Jobs and Mickey Mouse creator Ub Iwerks.

Microsoft and Disney companies were not just good at manoeuvring through existing law. They actually created the law to suit their own newly invented business models. Disney was ripped off for the rights to his first creation. From then on, hoarding the copyrights to cartoon icons was his way of business more than anybody else. The application was new. Through their influence on the trendsetting US congress, copyright law has been extended repeatedly in Disney's favour, so much that the 1998 copyright bill was nicknamed the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.

Similarly, microsoft chose to 'license' the use of it's product to its consumer, meaning you buy the thing but your disc is not yours to own. You only have a copy and a license to use it, no sharing. This is what the fine print you must always click through to install new software is about. There are some bits about limiting liability in there, but the real purpose is this new model of absurd super-ownership for the manufacturer. Most consumers are unlikely to appreciate this, the fine print is obfuscatory. We inevitably click 'yes I agree' without reading.

The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act severely extended IP into realms unknown even previously. Computer security is becoming a war and large corporations are not on our side, though they designate themselves as 'trusted' in their own virus scan software. Sony recently got in trouble for taking it too far by including a secret virus like anti-copying program on regular music CDs. International trade agreements such as the WTO and NAFTA make ideas private property without even the pretence of parliamentary consent. When is it going to stop?

Liberal democracy theories say that these sort of individual legal protections are a good way to administer rights. I think some aspects of copyright and intellectual private property might be reasonable if they were really about protecting the creativity from commerce. History indicates this is not the laws' intent. Creative commons licenses, though a nice alternative that don't totally eliminate sharing, are not aggressive enough to turn the tide. As well, they may not hold up in court. The forces of enclosure and piracy by privacy need to be pushed back. Then, after that, we can have a compromise solution like Creative Commons.

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