In a fair world, everybody would be equal and have equal rights and opportunities. In a fair world, everybody would be owners, since it would be ‘fair’ of workers to expect their share of the profits made from their efforts. But we do not live in a fair world, nor anything close to it. The environment that society has modelled us into, that we have allowed ourselves get modelled into, understands to a certain extent the unfairness that exists around us, and therefore tries to address that in ways that often leading to the increase in unfairness. One such term for the condition we have brought ourselves into, is ‘Copyright’.
Like the very term itself means literally, it is a system to curb a person’s right to replication of data, and place the authority of the same with another person/organisation. This way, that one person/organisation can get to decide who gets to copy and who doesn’t, as also the obvious, how much do they need to pay to do the same. It is a system approved by society(I won’t say devised, because that it was not) whether actively or passively(like most of us who are guilty of not objecting to its existence) to enable few people to benefit by exploiting the majority of the population into surrendering their right to have a say in the democratic world that they were led to believe they lived in.
There have been a lot of things said about this issue by a lot of people more qualified than me to speak on the subject, from among which, I would like to bring to your notice the following two, What’s Wrong With Copy Protection and The Absurdity of Copyright. While these two articles between them cover almost everything I had wanted to say on the topic, there are a two points left out that I would like to highlight on(the first has already been covered in the article but not given much prominence).
The first problem with copyright is that it encourages inefficiency by encouraging persons/organisations that supposedly function in a free-market system, to subvert that very system, effectively making them socialists in a capital market. The first case in point being that copyright protects substandard works of creativity, since creative works of a high standard don’t require as much rigid protection as copyrighted works do. For example, if the formula to prepare Coca-Cola was known to everybody or was anyway easily decipherable, everybody would have their own soda-pop machines at home dishing out a cocktail nearly as good as, or even better than Coca-Cola. The fact that such a thing hasn’t happened goes to show the inherent security that the product itself bestows on the manufacturer. This means that Coca-Cola not only gets to have a headstart over the rest of the market, because it is the market, it creates the market, it also gets sufficient time to think of other new products to replace the possibility of this one product’s manufacturability becoming common knowledge.
If, for example instead, lots of people could come up with Coca-Cola clones, every restaurant and eatery would be selling their version of the drink, like the case is with pubs and beers. The point being that if the idea is so common that anybody could have thought of it, then it obviously doesn’t deserve the protection that is accorded to it merely because somebody got to the Copyright Office quicker, with a probably half-baked concept. There are thousands of pubs that brew their own beer, and they have co-existed for centuries with bigger breweries that churn out the same products on a much larger scale, simply because the beer breweries don’t have any insecurity against the thousands of pubs that dish out the same product. They are confident that with the measures they have taken, in terms of publicity, product reach, uniformity of product quality and pricing, they still have a particular section of the market for themselves. That is what is called thriving in a free-market. Coca-Cola knows that by sheer product superiority it can survive in the market, and so doesn’t actually need protection from the law. The problem begins with those whose products are not good enough to stand up on their own merits who demand and enforce protection provided by the law, meaning that if somebody had come up with a drink say, merely mixing water with lemon, it would be obvious that anybody else could replicate that since it is not rocket science in the first place. It is such a person who runs to the law seeking protection for a product that is not worthy of such a gross misinterpretation of the intentions of the law.
The second problem with copyright is that it subverts the free-market process and eliminates competition, often to the detriment of the general public. The fact that a company has released a product first, obviously implies the fact that they have got a headstart on the rest of the market, because in the first place they are the entire market until the next competitor comes in. Which itself is the reward for their efforts of coming into the market ahead of the rest. Where copyright fails is to take into account the fact that once a competitor steps in, it means that there are others who have also realised how to replicate the same process. From then on, competition is supposed to be about free-play of the market factors, namely, promotion, awareness, availability, price, quality, service etc. In the copyright era, all of that is eliminated because one person only is allowed to manufacture that product, irrespective of whether customers can get the same product from somebody else at a lower price, or at a better quality. That is only one part of the problems with granting copyright. The real problems begin after that. Even if during the tenure of the copyright, the holder takes no steps to improve upon it or rectify inherent defects in the product, the consumers cannot do anything about it, especially if the product/service has become an almost inseparable part of their lives. Even if during the tenure, other manufacturers develop a much more efficient product, or a more better-featured product, the general consumer is denied full benefit of the same.
In the first place, those who claim a copyright have themselves based their work on other forms of knowledge which is in the public domain. Even if they based their works on other copyrighted works whose permission/licence they have taken, those copyrighted source works can also have their origins traced to knowledge that has always been in the public domain, free for all. The entire concept can be represented with the example of a river. Some hitchhiker who happens to be thirsty after a long climb comes across the river, and wishes he had a way to take the water with him wherever he went instead of having to wait till he got to the river to quench his thirst. So he spends time, effort and money and invents what he calls a bottle. he pours the water into it, and presto, he has a product ready to sell. If that was all there was to the matter, it wouldn’t be of any concern to anybody, especially not to the general public. The trouble begins when he approaches the Copyright Office and gets a declaration in his favour stating nobody else could fill water into bottles and sell it, or worser still, nobody could fill water from the river into anything, nobody could use river water, nobody could look at the river without explicit prior written permission of His Highness the hitchhiker. That is what copyright does to the world of invention. Takes something from the public domain, develops a new concept based on it, then forbids anybody else from doing the same, or improving upon the same.
Although there are a lot more things bad about the copyright system, most of these have already been covered in the above-mentioned articles. However I am not the one to publicly criticise anything, whatever my personal private misgivings on the matter unless I have a reasonable alternative to the object of my criticism. The alternative to the copyright regime will be suggested in the next post which has received equal if not more prominence recently than copyright, namely, piracy. Since the two concepts are so inter-related, I believe the solution must also address piracy as a concern for copyright-holders, if any effective solution must be found. Hence you can look forward to my little contribution to this global debate over right and wrong, in the next post, “On Piracy”. Unlike most other debaters, I only ridicule the opposition when I have a reasonable replacement for the existing system, which I believe I may have in this case. So looking forward to a lot of criticism for this maniacal approach to creativity, as also to suggestions to improve the alternatives I suggest.