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August 21, 2008

Debating Copyright and DRM in the Digital Age

A work colleague and I have been debating/arguing copyright over the last week or so-- it started a pub, as all good discussions do after a few pints.

Folio_portrait My argument is simple:

  1. Yes, there should be copyright protection for creative content (music, movies, etc.) and artists/creators should be compensated for their work. But current copyright law has been perverted against the original intentions of the U.S. Constitution (granting copyright as a limited monopoly for the promotion of the Arts and Sciences) and no serves provides the right balance of economic benefits between Creator and the Public Good/Domain.

  2. Second, not all who download music without paying for it are pirates because "fair use" allows the Public to use copyrighted works, which is how our "Rip, Mix, Burn" culture has evolved-- the democratization of content creation. This doesn't mean that downloading music for free off of the Internet is always allowed BUT there are circumstances when sharing "copies" is allowed and is your right.

Or put more simply, should the economic losses from the open sharing of content/intellectual property  (which are legitimate losses but often overblown), the erosion of current business models, be fought at the expense of fair use disappearing?

I liken to this question to the gun or automobile example: sure plenty of people are killed by cars and guns everyday but that doesn't mean that we ban their use. We should examine the copyright and fair use argument in the digital age under the same guises, that a small but vocal minority's worsening economic benefit is hurt by a conversely and overwhelmingly increased benefit dispersed over a large group of people (society), who may not inherently notice this added public good.

This is a complicated issue, which lots of passionate people on both sides and my colleague used to work for the copyrights clearing department of a software company, so we disagree (but only in theory, in practice we're on the same side-- but any good argument/debate is about the conflict and discussion, even if you don't believe in everything that you're saying) not only on the issues but on how to argue. Again, this debate started after a few at the pub so of course we're arguing over how we argue the argument.

I'm of the camp that believes that citing others, standing on the shoulders of giants if you will, is the way to debate your argument. I've read a lot on the topic of copyright, IP, and DRM, but that doesn't make me an expert or a good debater. But that doesn't negate my viewpoint or the belief shared by many that:

  • copyright needs reform
  • DRM is inherently flawed

My colleague is of another inkling, that I need to be able to debate my side without referencing the experts. Now, that's a separate argument but let me answer our fundamental debate my way, by channeling Lessig's concise and precise argument on this topic.

Watch this short 18-minute talk that Lessig gave at TED last November. It's the most succinct argument of my beliefs and of this movement that anyone has ever have.


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