In an increasingly open world it seems that the idea of traditional copyright protection has just become an anachronism.
The internet, the cell phone and ‘free’ wireless broadband have changed the dynamics forever. This year there will be more authors than readers, more artists than listeners and more news producers than those watching news on television. Everyone has become a writer, critic and TV producer.
Now, with the announcement of a radical five-year economic strategy by the US president, the West has finally joined the move to ‘openness’ by abolishing all copyright legislation and replacing it with a revised form of Copyleft – an approach developed by the Open Systems community twenty years ago.
The new US economic strategy aligns itself with China’s persistent ‘brand pirating’ strategy, but now makes it completely legal!
The implications for artists, writers and musicians are zero – they have been working without agents and intermediaries for years. The real impact is on music publishers such as Sony BMG who are trying to eke out profits from falling consumer sales in a world dominated by what used to be called ‘piracy’.
“Of course Copyleft isn’t perfect,” said Elton John, MP for Watford, at a rally in London, “but we will certainly have far fewer pirates in the future than in the world where we thought that copyright was the solution.
“The UK should fall in step. Instead of trying to protect copyrights we need to start focusing on constant innovation and generating new economic value – by all of us capitalizing on all the world’s knowledge resources.”
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
Copyleft is a new form of ‘open’ licensing for intellectual capital such as software, writing, music, and art. Whereas copyright law can be seen as a way to restrict the right to make, use and redistribute copies of a particular work, a Copyleft license uses copyright law in order to ensure that every person who receives a copy or derived version of a work can use, modify, and also redistribute both the work, and derived versions of the work. Thus, in a non-legal sense, Copyleft is the opposite of copyright.
A key requirement is that authors, artists and developers who use Copyleft-covered material, also make their improved and elaborated work available to all, under the Copyleft agreement.
The simplest way to make material available freely is to put it in the public domain, uncopyrighted. This allows people to share the material and their improvements, if they are so minded. But it also allows uncooperative people to convert the program into copyrighted material or a proprietary product. They can make changes, many or few, and distribute the result as a proprietary product. People who receive the program in that modified form do not have the freedom that the original author gave them; the middleman has stripped it away.
So instead of putting material in the public domain, you can ‘Copyleft’ it. Copyleft says that anyone who redistributes the material, with or without changes, must pass along the freedom to further copy and change it. Copyleft guarantees that every user has that freedom.
Copyleft provides an incentive for others to add to the pool of material and to improve on it. The whole Linux movement and the GNU C++ compiler exist only because of this.
The economic value of this is starting to go mainstream. IBM now regularly spends a billion dollars per annum creating products and services around the free and open Linux system. The BBC has put large chunks of its video archive online for individuals to use to develop their own video material. It’s understood that users will make their new developments available on the BBC web site under the same terms and conditions.
The developers of the Copyleft approach believe that agents and other intermediaries use copyright to take away the users’ freedom. Copyleft uses copyrights to guarantee their freedom. That’s why they reversed the name, changing ‘Copyright’ into ‘Copyleft’ and reversing the traditional copyright logo.
Copyleft is a general concept and, while it originated in the world of software, it is equally applicable for all materials.
March 2006: Wikipedia founder campaigns for fair use of information
Wikipedia is a charitable effort to organize thousands of volunteers to write a free high-quality encyclopedia in every language of the world. Wikipedia has more than 3.5 million articles, written by tens of thousands of contributors. The 4.2 billion page views Wikipedia gets every month is more than what the online editions of many prominent media companies achieve. Content is written collaboratively by volunteers, allowing most articles to be changed by anyone with access to a web browser and an Internet connection.
The project began in 2001 and was founded by Jimmy Wales. In 2006 he continued his call for new and ‘good’ copyright laws. He claims that the staff of Wikipedia have been forced to become copyright experts because so much of cultural heritage is now being restricted by absurd limits on fair use of information and it is becoming increasingly difficult for normal people to document their cultural heritage for fear of being sued for copyright infringements.
Sept 2006: Amazon and iTunes stir the pot
Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller, reports that its sales of used books, through its on-line network of a hundred thousand used book dealers, now represents a bigger profit stream than new books.
While this is great for Amazon, publishers and writers pounce on Amazon as they are not getting a solitary cent in royalties from this booming used book industry. They liken this to ‘file sharing’ in music and call for increased legislation and a ‘royalty tax’.
iTunes reports that it is still the world’s top music download site. Well, perhaps it is the top LEGAL download site but it still represents less than 1% of the total music download industry. The fact that most download sites are illegal by traditional Western standards has ensured that the largest ones are based in new economies such as China and several Eastern European states.
Consumers are still displaying their preferred choice of retail model for music, movies and games, and are one-in-the-eye for Apple. They reject Apple’s $1 a track model as being essentially the same price as a CD. Given that 90% of a CD’s price is in the physical aspects of the medium, they reason that Apple’s download price (or anyone else’s) should be closer to 10 cents a track rather than $1 a track.
2007: Cities make free wireless broadband access the norm
What started in South Korea and Taipei has blossomed into an urban norm in many world centers. San Francisco started the US rush that now embraces 50 major cities. Outside the US, cities from Mumbai to Shanghai, Frankfurt to Cape Town and Anchorage to Rio have joined the band of renegades that is decimating telcos and mobile phone networks alike. Beijing announces that it will make the entire city a free wireless hotspot for the 2008 Olympics.
These free networks have become the powder keg for consumer demand in file sharing. Sales of music, movies and games through stores and shopping malls take a massive hit.
2008: Google Grid sets new standard in open information
To many, the announcement of GoogleGrid is truly liberating and closing the world’s digital divide. In the eyes of aficionados, this is real democratization of information and knowledge.
GoogleGrid has merged its own existing capabilities with Berners-Lee’s idea of the Semantic Web – linking information buried in data bases to that already available on the web, available to anyone.
“Everything is about information – from books to music, from education to medicine, from games to business strategy, from a Picasso portrait to the price of a cauliflower in your neighborhood store. We want to be the epicenter of your world of information,” says the GoogleGrid launch message.
“Access to communications and knowledge is a basic human right,” says FutureWorld’s Wolfgang Grulke. “Google is a big step towards that reality.”
Read more on GoogleGrid in the MindBullet on this topic – see links below.
2009: China and India support OpenInfo movement.
A new alliance of Copyleft and OpenSystems supporters has led to a massive global initiative to make all information ‘open’. The rationale is that with open sharing of information, the world will be more innovative and economies will thrive.
The alliance begins using the title OpenInfo and gets the full support of the Open Software movement, many musicians and most business book authors. Google and several other information grid providers lend their support.
The Chinese and Indian trade authorities warmly support this new movement as it supports their traditional attitudes towards intellectual capital. They remind everyone that this is not the first time that nations have used information as a tool to build economic efforts – Taiwan and Singapore did the same to develop their nations’ skills in the 1970s and 1980s. At the time you could purchase a complete edition of Encyclopedia Britannica in Taipei for just US$ 10 – they just ignored copyright ‘in the interests of human development’.
2010: Musicians and authors take a stand
“Bad copyright laws are not on the side of small or up-and-coming artists – and this represents almost 98% of all performers.” So says Elton John who has finally split from his publishers at the end of his contract and vows to fight for the rights of individual musicians.
The balance of power is moving from intermediaries to producers, and from the big corporates to consumers. With the formation of the Free Music Alliance, artists are getting their own back! Within a year the number of registered performers exceeds five million.
Business authors also get in on the game against the industry intermediaries, who they see as not being on their side. Authors are typically restricted by their publishers from making their works available on the internet.
75% of all published books are still stranded in the copyright twilight zone and so cannot be made available to those in the world who would benefit from using the information to develop their economic competence.
The Free Knowledge Alliance attracts hundreds of business authors who are frustrated with the authoritarian attitude of big publishers. Amazon.com makes available a part of their web site to this new alliance. All works are protected by a Copyleft contract. By the end of the year the number of business authors has swelled to more than 100 000 – everyone is becoming an author.
Pearsons, the world’s largest publisher, sees their business book division decimated as sales plummet.
2013: Download everything
Novels are now being downloaded directly to individuals via their smartphones – together with TV soaps, music, sporting events and news. The smartphone has become the center of the information universe. Plasma displays are now ‘wherever you are’ and can receive smartphone images on demand.
2015: The US steps up to the future
Interaction with real books, movies and documents is becoming increasingly rare, says the US President, in a rare position statement on the future of the US economy, and focused on intellectual capital, education and the entertainment industry. “We have to move with the times and give everyone access to the resources needed to develop their skills – it’s part of the American dream – it’s a part of our global competitiveness. We have to make access to information and knowledge simpler, better and faster than any other country can. We have the know-how and now we have the will!
“By 2020, Congress has agreed that we will move US copyright and patent laws into the open world with our adoption of the Information Freedom Act. In an historic sense, this will come to be seen as important a move as the abolition of slavery. It will give everyone free access to information, knowledge and entertainment.
“We will start immediately on this revolution in openness with the strategic industries of biotech and nanotech where we must lead the race in order to continue to play an active part in the future world economy.”
The revolution in downloaded music in the first decade of the 21st century wasn’t just about “kids stealing music” – it was a new consumer revolution. America’s democracy has always protected the wishes of the majority of Americans. Now the majority of Americans have finally got their way.