Merry Holidays and all that noise. I wanna talk about copyright today. Everyone and their Mom is talking about copyright and piracy recently, so I thought I’d join the fun. Keep in mind, these musings are long (as all my musings tend to be), so please bear with me.
We begin personally, as all my musings begin. I believe that the individual viewpoint is how we all see the world first, so it’s a comfortable and easy place to begin. So let’s start by talking about how I came to this in the first place.
It’s hard for me, as a content producer (sure, maybe the content is bad, but I’m still producing it) and also a content consumer, to understand how I feel about copyright and piracy (also called file sharing). I’ve thought about it a lot, because I am the guy who releases content I spend hours (months) on to people on the internet for free. I’m also the guy who will read/watch things that are legally available for free (Doctorow’s fiction, Hulu content) and sometimes pay if I like it and sometimes not. I’m also the guy who would someday like to be compensated for my work, at least to a level that I could scrape by an income and do it full time.
So…mix all those things together and you’ll soon realize that the ideas don’t jive with any logical consistency, not without some creative and double-sided accounting. I’m on the verge of releasing a new novel for free on the internet, a work that took me the better part of 18 months, and before I do that I feel like I should get my head on straight about copyright and file sharing. I wanna know how I feel about it so I can stick to my guns and also not feel like I wasted my time or limited my options in a way I’m uncomfortable with.
The real issue goes beyond digital piracy to copyright itself. Now, I don’t believe that digital file sharing, even of copyrighted materials, is theft. That’s probably a generational thing, but we’re gonna do our best to suss out as much meaning as possible. Keep in mind, this entry is a fluid conversation, so comment if you wanna participate.
So, theft seems to me like it is inherently defined by defined by the taking of something from someone else, depriving them of it. Theft is a physical concept, based on a starvation economy, that there is a finite amount of resources to go around, and possessing resources means someone else will not possess them.
Information used to be like that, too, since information was passed on via physical items. The price of a book was determined by two things: the cost of production and the cost of the information. The starvation economy also played into this, because there were only so many copies of the book. Stealing a book from a shop meant that the shop owner no longer had a copy to sell.
But the thing is, a starvation economy does not apply in a digital age. Or, at the very least, the costs are so absurdly low that the profit margins are absurdly high in monetized digital distribution. We exist in a world where time is monetized, and that’s the only cost for me to release a book. The fifty bucks a year hosting costs I pay to the website company are nothing. So all it costs me to put a book out on the internet is time, the time to write the book, edit it, and format it for distribution. Putting a copy of my book on someone else’s hard drive costs nothing and does not take the book from my possession. I’ve made a copy at no cost.
Read the rest of the post (it’s very lengthy, and there’s a great deal more thought-provoking stuff in it), and check out the debate going on in the comments section as well, on Luke T. Bergeron‘s mispeled site.