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10101001 10101001's Journal: A New [Copyright] Deal

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I am no fan of copyright. There are many reasons for this. Some of the more notable reasons include how copyright is the primary basis for Microsoft's dominance in the personal computer world (and all the adverse effects of one organization having such vast control over so many systems), the disconnect between the application of copyright to other mediums (like books) and software that arises from the compilation step of source code, the way the US (and other countries) have begun to rely so heavily on a purely governmental construct to economically exist, and the way copyright law has become so horribly twisted into more of a grotesque beast than any attempt to promote the arts or sciences (this coupling with the former point, and being forced down the throats of other nations in trade agreements). It's not clear to me that any form of copyright could successfully solve all these problems. Much like the roaring 20s, the boom of copyrighted works may lead into an extended depression as what seems like a means to print one's own money, with every computer user with their own printing press, becomes a nightmare when no one will accept it.

So, while many long term answers elude me, I humbly propose some aspects of a "New Deal" of copyright law. At the very forefront of this is the consideration of what everyone involved gets out of this new social contract. To the copyright holder comes the privilege to exclude others from selling unauthorized copies for a very limited time (on the order of half to a whole decade). To the copyright holder also comes the advantage of said limited time allowing much more extensive use of derivative forms. And to further bolster this comes an aspect of the advantage given to consumers, eventually access to the source of a copyrighted work.

Without copyright, the author of a work could obfuscate their work as much as they please. Even reverse engineering a work completely would still leave one with an approximation of the original (especially true when refactoring and macros can radically simplify an author's work and whose form is often lost in compilation). Yet when a copyright ends, one only gains access to what's available to the public. Source code could be lost, yet it holds under the same copyright as the binary (as compilers commit non-creative translation). Similarly, when a CD is created, the many channels that make up the final song are condensed into one through a mix-board, removing the ability to obtain the pure vocals or the pure guitars. Such greatly goes against the ability of reuse the many parts of the whole in a way unlike most other copyright forms (although rough drafts and incompletely painted layers serve under similar quandaries).

This is especially important given the very nature of copyright. Copyright covers not ideas but embodied ideas. This further means that the point of expiring copyright is to allow others to use those embodiments. All the various ways in which modern copyright law and those who use it work against this, by not sharing sources with anyone, leaving technological rot to lose those private copies, and employing encryption schemes to hinder legal (or otherwise) copying of public copies. Most importantly, all such schemes cast a lack of faith in the legal system (that enforcement will take place) and copyright itself (that copyright actually means anything). Would 1930s US society have accepted the idea that because prohibition wasn't be enforced by the states that citizens should have the legal right to create alcohol-proof glasses and forbid any attempt to circumvent them? Why should we today accept DRM formats and devices or laws that make it illegal to circumvent them? Why is there more faith in the law stepping in to stop DRM violations when it can't seem to be bothered to stop the copyright violations the DRM is designed to stop?

Source for copyrighted works has to be available. And the only way to insure that is to require copyright holders to provide that to the Library of Congress [or an equally apt repository]. And at that point, copyright intrinsically reverts back to requiring a registration for a copyright to exist. This is actually a good thing, given that it is the glut of copyrighted works that drives down the worth of such works (supply and demand). Further, all those works that aren't copyright suddenly become a huge repository of public domain knowledge to be used as one pleases. And much shorter terms removes the fears of many that their project might contain 10+ year old random snippets of questionable code from interns who copied from others instead of doing the work themselves (admittedly a bad thing to happen if it's true, but tracking 10+ year old code to prove copyright is very difficult).

The intent of copyright is for authors to have faith in the law to protect them so that they might widely distribute their creative works and for the people to benefit very directly from access to the authors' works without an author inducing arbitrary restrictions. A new deal is necessary for copyright because copyright today fails on both parts of this intent. I don't have faith that a new deal is coming. That is a strong reason I call for the next best thing, an end to copyright.

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A New [Copyright] Deal

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