I just read this article on TechDirt: EU Officially Seizes The Public Domain, Retroactively Extends Copyright. As the article says, “This is nothing short of governments and the entertainment industry seizing works from the public domain”. Let’s be clear: it’s theft. It’s a matter of big companies (and it should surprise no-one that record labels have lobbied aggressively for this) stealing content that belongs to you and me, and taking it for themselves.
In fact, let’s call it exactly what it is: piracy.
And the shocking thing is, this piracy is not a crime. It’s legally sanctioned.
But that doesn’t make it right.
Let’s take a moment, then, to consider two forms of “copyright theft”.
In the form that record labels are so worried about, you give me a copy of your MP3. Then I have a copy, and you still have a copy. (Many people would argue that since no-one has their possessions taken away, this by definition is not “theft”, but let it pass.)
But in the form of copyright theft that has just been enacted by the EU, they take books and music that were freely available to everyone, and lock them up. If you owned a copy, you no longer have the right to it. Neither do I, nor do any of the other people who have copies or might have obtained them. Now that is theft.
What this tells us is that the content owners (note, not the content creators, who are a completely different set of people) hold the rest of us in utter contempt. They have no interest in what is fair or what is right. Placing out-of-copyright works from the 1940s back under copyright can’t possibly provide any incentive for creators to make more stuff, which is the supposed purpose of copyright. So there is simply no other way to read this move than as a land-grab made for purely greedy purposes.
And what this means is …
… that copyright is over. It’s never been possible to enforce copyright in the digital age, and what power it’s retained has depended entirely on the honesty and goodwill of consumers. When I choose to buy the House series 5 DVD box-set, it’s not because that’s the only way I can see those episodes, it’s because it seems right to me that I should do that rather than torrenting the episodes — which would be trivially easy to do. But by demonstrating their absolute contempt of right and wrong, the content owners are forfeiting whatever moral high-ground they may have held.
The message that this ruling sends to listeners and viewers is simple: copyright is a tool for taking things away from you. It was intended as a bargain, but it isn’t that any more. It’s a weapon of coercion.
To summarise: content owners are saying SCREW YOU to consumers. And so, as sure as night follows day, consumers will say SCREW YOU right back to content owners. And I won’t be condemning them when they do.
It’s over. The copyright system is morally bankrupt and technologically impotent. I’m shedding no tears.
Update (the next day)
I (or rather the article I read) may have misinterpreted the new copyright extension, as discussed in the addendum to this article on TechFruit. If the addendum is correct, the additional twenty years will not be retroactive after all: so works published between 1941 and 1961 and which have now entered the public domain will not be taken back; but everything published since then will remain under copyright for an additional twenty years, which of course means that no new material will enter the public domain for the next twenty years.
If so, then that is slightly less iniquitous than I’d initially thought. Still immoral, though, and the basic point remains: that when content owners show such contempt for the population, they have to expect it to be reciprocated.