Opposition to copyright

The symbol of Kopimi, an anti-copyright initiative developed by the Piratbyrå, a Swedish organisation actively opposing modern copyright law and practices, and the previous operators of BitTorrent tracker The Pirate Bay, before it was spun off as an independent organisation.

Opposition to copyright or anti-copyright refers to a movement dissenting the nature of current copyright law, often focusing on perceived negative philosophical, economical or social effects of such laws. Adherents advocate for complete or partial change or remission of current legislation.

Normally copyright is enforced within a framework of the Berne Convention, instituted by Victor Hugo and first enacted in 1886. Numerous international copyright treaties have since been passed, but copyright law is different in all countries.

A central anti-copyright argument is that copyright is not and has never been of net benefit to society and instead serves to enrich a few at the expense of creativity and widespread accessibility of works. The classic argument for copyright is that granting creators temporary monopolies over works—giving them an income will encourage producing future works as well.

In the context of the Internet and new technological advances, it can be argued that copyright law needs to be adapted to modern information technology.

Organisations and scholars

Groups advocating the abolition of copyright

Main article: Copyright abolition
Demonstration in Sweden in support of file sharing, 2006.

Pirate Cinema and groups like The League of Noble Peers advance more radical arguments, opposing copyright per se. A number of anti-copyright groups have recently emerged in the argument over peer-to-peer file sharing, digital freedom, and freedom of information; these include the Association des audionautes[1][2] and the Kopimism Church of New Zealand.[3][4]

In 2003, Eben Moglen, a professor of Law at Columbia University, published the dotCommunist Manifesto, which re-interpreted the Communist Manifesto by Marx in the light of the development of computer technology and the internet; much of the re-interpreted content discussed copyright law and privilege in Marxist terms.[5]

Recent developments related to BitTorrent and peer-to-peer file-sharing have been termed by media commentators as "copyright wars", with The Pirate Bay being referred to as "the most visible member of a burgeoning international anti-copyright—or pro-piracy—movement".[6][7] One well-publicised instance of electronic civil disobedience (ECD) in the form of large scale intentional copyright infringement occurred on February 24, 2004, in an event called Grey Tuesday. Activists intentionally violated EMI's copyright of The White Album by distributing MP3 files of a mashup album called The Grey Album, in an attempt to draw public attention to copyright reform issues and anti-copyright ideals. Reportedly over 400 sites participated including 170 that hosted the album with some protesters stating that The Grey Album illustrates a need for revisions in copyright law to allow sampling under fair use of copyrighted material, or proposing a system of fair compensation to allow for sampling.[8][9]

Groups advocating changes to copyright law

French group Association des audionautes is not anti-copyright per se, but proposes a reformed system for copyright enforcement and compensation. Aziz Ridouan, co-founder of the group, proposes for France to legalise peer-to-peer file sharing and to compensate artists through a surcharge on Internet service provider fees (i.e. an alternative compensation system). Reportedly, major music companies have equated Ridouan's proposal with legitimising piracy.[1] In January 2008, seven Swedish members of parliament from the Moderate Party (part of the governing coalition), authored a piece in a Swedish tabloid calling for the complete decriminalisation of filesharing; they wrote that "Decriminalising all non-commercial file sharing and forcing the market to adapt is not just the best solution. It's the only solution, unless we want an ever more extensive control of what citizens do on the Internet."[10]

In June 2015 a WIPO article named "Remix Culture and Amateur Creativity: A Copyright Dilemma"[11] acknowledged the "age of remixing" and the need for a copyright reform while referring to recent law interpretations in Lenz v. Universal Music Corp and Canada's Copyright Modernization Act.

Groups advocating using existing copyright law

Groups that argue for using existing copyright legal framework with special licences to achieve their goals, include the copyleft movement[12] and Creative Commons.[13] Creative Commons is not anti-copyright per se, but argues for use of more flexible and open copyright licences within existing copyright law.[14] Creative Commons takes the position that there is an unmet demand for flexibility that allows the copyright owner to release work with only "some rights reserved" or even "no rights reserved." According to Creative Commons many people do not regard default copyright as helping them in gaining the exposure and widespread distribution they want. Creative Commons argue that their licences allow entrepreneurs and artists to employ innovative business models rather than all-out copyright to secure a return on their creative investment.[15]

Scholars and commentators

Scholars and commentators in this field include Lawrence Liang,[16] Jorge Cortell,[17] Rasmus Fleischer,[18] Stephan Kinsella, and Siva Vaidhyanathan.

Traditional anarchists, such as Leo Tolstoy, expressed their refusal to accept copyright.[19]

Economic arguments against copyright


Main article: Artificial scarcity

There is an argument that copyright is invalid because, unlike physical property, intellectual property is not scarce and is a legal fiction created by the state. That is, infringing on copyright, unlike theft, does not deprive the victim of the original item, and so enforcement of copyright law constitutes aggression on the part of the state.[20]

Historical comparison

It is entirely unclear that copyright laws are economically useful, even for the majority of authors. Thus Höffner compared the economic effects copyright law had on authors and publishing in the United Kingdom to those in Germany in the first part of the nineteenth century when in Germany such laws had not been instituted, and found that more books were printed and read in Germany where authors, in general, also made more money.[21]

Information technology related concerns

One of the founders of Piratbyrån, Rasmus Fleischer, argues that copyright law simply seems unable to cope with the Internet, and hence is obsolete. He argues that the Internet, and particularly Web 2.0 have brought about the uncertain status of the very idea of "stealing" itself. He argues that in an attempt to rein in Web 2.0, copyright law in the 21st century is increasingly concerned with criminalising entire technologies, leading to recent attacks on different kinds of search engines, solely because they provide links to files which may be copyrighted. Fleischer points out that Google, while still largely uncontested, operates in a gray zone of copyright (e.g. the business model of Google Books is to display millions of pages of copyrighted and uncopyrighted books as part of a business plan drawing its revenue from advertising). In contrast, others have pointed out that Google Books blocks-out large sections of those same books, which motivates purchases, and supports the legitimate interests of rightsholders.

Fleischer's central argument is that copyright has become obsolete with regards to the Internet, that the cost of trying to enforce it is unreasonable, and that instead business models need to adapt to the reality of the darknet.[22]

Cultural arguments

Freedom of knowledge

"Free Beer" demonstrator supporting the "freedom of knowledge" idea: "Copyright is preventing access to knowledge" (2007).

Groups such as Hipatia advance anti-copyright arguments in the name of "freedom of knowledge" and argue that knowledge should be "shared in solidarity". Such groups may perceive "freedom of knowledge" as a right, and/or as fundamental in realising the right to education, which is an internationally recognised human right, as well as the right to a free culture and the right to free communication. They argue that current copyright law hinders the realisation of these rights in today's knowledge societies relying on new technological means of communication.[23]

Such groups see copyright law as preventing or slowing human progress. They argue that the current copyright system needs to be brought into line with reality and the needs of society. Hipatia argues that this would "provide the ethical principles which allow the individual to spread his/her knowledge, to help him/herself, to help his/her community and the whole world, with the aim of making society ever more free, more equal, more sustainable, and with greater solidarity."[23]

Authorship and creativity

Lawrence Liang, founder of the Alternative Law Forum, argues that current copyright is based on a too narrow definition of "author", which is assumed to be clear and undisputed. Liang observes that the concept of "the author" is assumed to make universal sense across cultures and across time. Instead, Liang argues that the notion of the author as a unique and transcendent being, possessing originality of spirit, was constructed in Europe after the industrial revolution, to distinguish the personality of the author from the expanding realm of mass-produced goods. Hence works created by "authors" were deemed original, and merges with the doctrine of property prevalent at the time.[24]

Liang argues that the concept of "author" is tied to the notion of copyright and emerged to define a new social relationship — the way society perceives the ownership of knowledge. The concept of "author" thus naturalised a particular process of knowledge production where the emphasis on individual contribution and individual ownership takes precedence over the concept of "community knowledge".[24] Relying on the concept of the author, copyright is based on the assumption that without an intellectual property rights regime, authors would have no incentive to further create, and that artists cannot produce new works without an economic incentive. Liang challenges this logic, arguing that "many authors who have little hope of ever finding a market for their publications, and whose copyright is, as a result, virtually worthless, have in the past, and even in the present, continued to write."[24] Liang points out that people produce works purely for personal satisfaction, or even for respect and recognition from peers. Liang argues that the 19th Century saw the prolific authorship of literary works in the absence of meaningful copyright that benefited the author. In fact, Liang argues, copyright protection usually benefited the publisher, and rarely the author.[24]

Ethical issues

The institution of copyright brings up several ethical issues. Selmer Bringsjord argues that all forms of copying are morally permissible (without commercial use), because some forms of copying are permissible and there is not a logical distinction between various forms of copying.[25]

Edwin Hettinger argues that natural rights arguments for intellectual property are weak and the philosophical tradition justifying property can not guide us in thinking about intellectual property.[26][27]

Shelly Warwick believes that copyright law as currently constituted does not appear to have a consistent ethical basis.[28]

Andrew T. Forcehimes argues that the way we think about copyrights is inconsistent, because every argument for (physical) public libraries is also an argument for stealing ebooks and every argument against stealing ebooks would also be an argument against libraries.[29]

Criticism of anti-copyright

See also


  1. 1 2 Rose, Frank (September 2006). "P2P Gets Legit – The new Ascap: Audionautes". Wired.
  2. Byfield, Bruce (May 2006). "FSF launches anti-DRM campaign outside WinHEC 2006". Linux.
  3. Rose, Frank (April 2012). "Challenging Copyright". Kopimism.
  4. Byfield, Bruce (May 2012). "The case for copyright reform". Kopimism.
  5. Moglen, Eben. "dotCommunist Manifesto".
  6. Sarno, David (April 2007). "The Internet sure loves its outlaws". Los Angeles Times.
  7. Mitchell, Dan (August 2006). "Pirate Take Sweden". The New York Times.
  8. Kim, Melanie. "The Mouse that Roared, Grey Tuesday". Tech Law Advisor. Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-25.
  9. Werde, Bill (February 2004). "Defiant Downloads Rise From Underground". The New York Times.
  10. Bangeman, Eric (January 2008). "Swedish prosecutors dump 4,000 legal docs on The Pirate Bay". Ars Technica.
  11. Rostama, Guilda (June 1, 2015). "Remix Culture and Amateur Creativity: A Copyright Dilemma". WIPO. Retrieved 2016-03-14. in 2013 a district court ruled that copyright owners do not have the right to simply take down content before undertaking a legal analysis to determine whether the remixed work could fall under fair use, a concept in US copyright law which permits limited use of copyrighted material without the need to obtain the right holder’s permission (US District Court, Stephanie Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., Universal Music Publishing Inc., and Universal Music Publishing Group, Case No. 5:07-cv-03783-JF, January 24, 2013).[...] Given the emergence of today’s “remix” culture, and the legal uncertainty surrounding remixes and mash-ups, the time would appear to be ripe for policy makers to take a new look at copyright law.
  12. "What is Copyleft?". Archived from the original on 29 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-29.
  13. "Frequently Asked Questions". Creative Commons. Archived from the original on 27 November 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-05.
  14. "FAQ — Is Creative Commons against copyright?". Creative Commons. Archived from the original on 27 November 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-05.
  15. "FAQ — What is Creative Commons?". Creative Commons. Archived from the original on 27 November 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-05.
  16. "How Does An Asian Commons Mean". Creative Commons. Archived from the original on 25 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  17. Jorge, Cortell (May 2005). "Lecturer censored in Spanish University (UPV) for defending P2P networks". Own Website.
  18. Fleischer, Rasmus (May 2006). ""Mechanical music" as a threat against public performance" (PDF). Institute of Contemporary History, Sodertorn University College.
  19. Leo Tolstoy, Letter to the Free Age Press, 1900
  20. Kinsella, Stephan Against Intellectual Property (2008) Ludwig von Mises Institute.
  21. Eckhard Höffner. "Copyright and structure of authors' earnings" (PDF). Retrieved February 11, 2012.
  22. Fleischer, Rasmus (June 2008). "The Future of Copyright". CATO Unbound.
  23. 1 2 "Second Manifesto". Hipatia. Retrieved 2008-07-25.
  24. 1 2 3 4 Liang, Lawrence (February 2005). "Copyright/Copyleft: Myths About Copyright". Infochangeindia.org.
  25. Selmer Bringsjord, "In Defence of Copying", Public Affairs Quarterly 3 (1989) 1-9.
  26. Alfino, Mark, "Intellectual Property and Copyright Ethics", Business and Professional Ethics Journal, 10.2 (1991): 85-109. Reprinted in Robert A. Larmer (Ed.), Ethics in the Workplace, Minneapolis, MN: West Publishing Company, 1996, 278-293.
  27. Edwin Hettinger, "Justifying Intellectual Property", Philosophy and Public Affairs, 18 (1989) 31-52.
  28. Warwick, Shelly. "Is Copyright Ethical? An Examination of the Theories, Laws, and Practices Regarding the Private Ownership of the Intellectual Work of the United States.", Readings in Cyberethics. 2nd ed. Ed. Richard A. Spinello and Herman T. Tavani. Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2004: 305-321.
  29. Forcehimes, Andrew T, "Download This Essay: A Defence of Stealing Ebooks", Think, Volume 12, Issue 34, June 2013, pp 109–115

External links

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