The Future of Copyright

Cato Unbound published an interesting issue entitled The Future of Copyright back in June of 2008. The lead essay, written by Piratbyrån co-founder Rasmus Fleischer, offers insight into the consequences of increasingly severe copyright legislation:

Every broken regulation brings a cry for at least one new regulation even more sweepingly worded than the last. Copyright law in the 21st century tends to be less concerned about concrete cases of infringement, and more about criminalizing entire technologies because of their potential uses. This development undermines the freedom of choice that Creative Commons licenses are meant to realize. It will also have seriously chilling effects on innovation, as the legal status of new technologies will always be uncertain under ever more invasive rules.

Fleischer astutely remarks that “to use digital information is to copy it”. Everyday computer usage is inextricably linked to the ever-expanding reach of copyright law. The outcome seems virtually preordained, however; industry forces will fight for tighter restrictions on digital media, but the pace of technological development will always supersede that of legislation, and social patterns of media usage become increasingly entrenched each passing month. It seems highly probable that more people are violating intellectual property laws than are not! But if the future of copyright doesn’t involve artificial scarcity, DRM (digital rights management), or other forms of protection, what will ensure cultural productivity? Why produce if you cannot profit from your creation?

The file-sharing explosion beginning around the year 2000 marked not only the start of a falling trend in sales of recorded music, but also of a drastic rise in spending on live music experiences. Only ten years ago, live music was widely conceived of as merely a way to market recordings. Today that strange equation seems to have been turned on its head.

The live music experience offers something that an MP3 file cannot—and people are more than willing to pay for it. Fleischer references an excellent article while discussing this point: Better Than Free, by Wired editor Kevin Kelly, who defines several “uncopyable values” after making this succinct argument:

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable. When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.

This goes far beyond the argument that musicians will need to live from the proceeds of live gigs in a future without copyright. In fact, there are many more options for the forward-thinking creators and content providers out there. The opportunities, as I see it, are nearly endless—particularly in a niche subculture such as psytrance, where the leading innovators are not yet well-defined.

If this piques your interest, be sure to check out the original full-length essays referenced above: The Future of Copyright and Better Than Free.

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