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Troll-Under-D'Bridge's Journal: Copy privileges

Journal by Troll-Under-D'Bridge

I was within minutes of claiming first post honors in a Slashdot story today (or tomorrow, depending on your time zone). Unfortunately, my crappy Internet connection relegated me to fourth. And that spot isn't even obvious by now, buried as it is by the number of replies to the first post.

But what surprised me was the similarity between the titles of the first three posts:

NFC

NFC = Near Field Communication

NFC = Not F*cking Clear

If you need proof of the existence of a hive mind, this is it. Three different people, possibly on different countries and even continents, were thinking of the same thing. What the f*k is NFC? And it appears we even consulted the same reference source, the Church of the Almighty Jimmy.

What this, aside from giving me the creeps, tells me is that ideas have a way of converging when people are confronted by the same situation, scenario or problem. Think of it as the parallel evolution of ideas. Much as a fish, an ichthyosaur, and a dolphin evolved a similar body plan in response to the problem of aquatic propulsion, so did at least a trio of Slashdot posters have a similar knee-jerk (or should I say, "elbow-jerk") reaction to an initialism that didn't have the currency of USB, SATA, or RTFA.

Now what does this say about so-called "copyrights" when three or more people can come up with the same brainwave? Oh sure, one might argue that copyright only concerns copying substantial parts of a work. But what constitutes substantial? If I write a story or produce a movie about blue-skinned, cat-like giants, would I be violating the copyrights of the Avatar film partners? What if I do a story/movie merely about blue giants living in an extrasolar planet? To be sure, it's likely I wouldn't get sued to death unless I start making millions off my amateur media project. But that, I believe, is a valid question with regard the scope of copyrights.

Despite what some free software and free culture advocates say, at some point copyrights do start to resemble patents. In the future I suspect there would be a convergence between the two. What happens when molecular printing becomes a reality? People can get sued for having similar-looking designer cars.

It may well be time to rethink the basic social premises underlying the legal idea of "copyright" as a right. What if we consider copyright not as a right in itself, but a privilege, a copy privilege.

My idea of a right is that of an abstract entity that you can take away, either figuratively or literally, from someone. We might talk of a person's right to something by taking that thing away from him or her. Put a man in jail, and you take away his liberty, his ability to move around and go W(here)TF he wants. Seize his home, and you take away his ability to sit in front of his TV and enjoy his TV dinner. Steal a woman's iPhone, and she loses her ability to chat and update her Facebook profile, until she gets that new Android 2.x dual core/camera/SIM/and-everything-else-comes-in-twos highly-recommended smarter-than-her-b/gfphone.

But when you download an MP3 or an AVI file off a BitTorrent Swarm or some file-sharing site, what precisely are you depriving whom? The copy of the (original?) copy is still there. So it must be something else. In what way do we disable or handicap the copy "right" owner by our unlicensed downloads?

When defenders of copyright argue about its necessity, they quite often conveniently forget the social clause that lies at the foundation of copyright, that copyright isn't a good in itself, but a means toward an end, being "to promote progress" in the fields under its coverage. But what if copyright no longer promotes but obstructs progress? What if the "network effect" can produce innovation at a faster rate than a s(ee/ue)-you-in-court "chilling effects" regime? Isn't it time to uproot the legal jungle that grew up on the quaint idea that copyright is as obvious a right as the right not be thrown into a dungeon or beheaded for a crime you didn't commit?

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