“Never give an order you can’t enforce.” -- old Army maxim
- Until Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable type printing press in Europe (Bi Sheng beat him to the punch by about 500 years in China) nobody made money as a creator of content. Books were given away by their authors in the hopes of landing lucrative teaching or political gigs, art was commissioned by religious or political leaders or vain wealthy clients, musicians were paid for their performances and not the music itself.
- When content was copied in the pre-Gutenberg world, the only person compensated was the copier, not the creator. This was because content was difficult to copy, requiring either intense memory work or laborious hand labor. One could either hire a scribe to transcribe a written work or do it oneself.
- Starting with Gutenberg and continuing with other mechanical forms of reproduction, it has become cheaper and cheaper to reproduce copies of content. This has made the copies themselves, not the actual intellectual content, a form of mass market commodity.
- Content creators, wanting to share in the lucrative content copying, began demanding payment from the copiers. The copiers, in turn, began seeking means of controlling the distribution of their copied work.
- Both content creators and content copiers/distributors (hence known as “publishers” though record companies, broadcast networks, and movie studios also fit this description) deliberately seek to jack up their prices by first creating an artificial demand and then an equally artificial scarcity of the commodity in question (i.e., the physical media in which the content is carried). They are, in effect, like drug pushers who peddle narcotics in a particular neighborhood, bribing the police to keep rival gangs out while allowing their activities to continue, thus driving up the price of their drugs.
- Digital media has reduced the cost of copying content to virtually nil. There is no rational reason to charge other than the most nominal of fees to copy and distribute modern media. This means fractions of cents, not tens of dollars.
- The job of all addicts is to find more of whatever they are addicted to. To create a public demand then systematically deny it in order to profit personally is immoral, unethical, and destructive to consumers (viz. the recent sub-prime mortgage mess). Drug peddlers are not protected by law if their illegal merchandise is appropriated by addicts they have introduced to their drugs.
- Publishers charge users for content they do not consume by cross collateralizing the copies of content they sell. If Book (or Movie or CD) Alpha makes a profit but Books/Movies/CDs Beta through Gamma do not, publishers will find ways of taking money from the Book/Movie/CD Alpha pile and putting it into the other piles. If a consumer subscribes to a cable provider, they are in effect paying for dozens, sometimes hundreds of channels they will not watch.*
- No matter how far reaching, comprehensive, and detailed copyright law is, nothing stops the free spread of ideas; copyright is as effective in stopping piracy as prohibition was in stopping the consumption of alcohol. It is pointless to have laws which are unenforceable and unsupported by the people most directly affected (i.e., the consumers).
- Currently laws provide for specific genetic modifications to food crops and animals to be protected by patents, yet the moment such crops and animals are removed from strictly controlled laboratory settings they will begin interacting with the natural world it a manner wholly contrary to copyright, trademark, and patent laws. Further, any such laws are wholly unenforceable; it’s like trying to legislate sunshine.
- Ideas -- memes, if you will -- are no less organic and natural than genetic codes, and no matter how thoroughly an idea is tweaked, it remains impossible to effectively prevent it from being used, copied, re-tweaked, or re-applied by others. Just as it is possible to physically own a food crop with a specific genetic modification, one may own a physical copy of the expression of an idea; just as the moment a specific genetic code is introduced to the natural world it is impossible to control or recall, so too is intellectual content impossible to legally control or protect once it has been made public.
- The swiftest, safest, surest way of protecting content creators and content consumers is by eliminating the publishers, who serve only as roadblocks and gatekeepers to content, not facilitators. Instead, a combination of subscription and micro-payments should be used: Out of everyone’s IP service fee, a small percentage is sliced off for every download. Digital files can be embedded with code that tracks content even if that content is used in the creation of new content; for example, an instrument track can be coded to provide micro-payments to the instrumentalist composer/musician even though a vocalist uses that content to back a new vocal track.
- Such a system removes the “get rich quick with minimum effort” motive that drives virtually all publishers.
- Such a system encourages content creation by creators who love the content. It further spurs additional creative work by facilitating the cross-pollination of ideas and concepts: Original creators are protected and rewarded for their effort, later creators are spared unnecessary time and development cost, and the original content is never lost but remains available for all to enjoy and other creators to use.
* They have the ability to watch those channels, but it’s the rare person who will find all channels on their local cable provider of equal interest. Internet providers are even worse in this regard; there is no way any individual could possibly hope to keep up with more than the merest fraction of Internet content. And don’t get me started on book stores…