Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Which came first, Copyright or Creativity?

So there was an article on Slashdot today that got me very excited.

There is a big discussion going on, as usual with these issues, with a full range of opinions on this.

In this discussion the question came up of which came first, creativity or copyright with the argument presented:
1. creativity
2. printing press
3. mass distribution
4. copyright
5. the Internet
6. the RIAA

pretty simplo IMO.

This was a comment by Tharos.

It was the "Pretty Simple" I could not ignore. This was my response, disagreeing that organizations like the RIAA are something only of the present that came about AFTER the Internet:

Interesting perspective on history. But if many people think this is the way that it happened, no wonder we are in the mess we are in today, IMHO.

Survival has always been about advantage. Even in interspecies interaction, the winner most always the one that knows something the other does not. Where food is, where predators are not, deceptions in numbers, camouflage, and other things. Ultimately, nature and human history have shown that knowledge is power. Further, in competition, it is about having more power, even if by simply ensuring less knowledge by potential adversaries.

It may not have been called copyright in the century leading up to the Statute of Anne, but the control over the flow of information, and special armies to protect such information from falling into the "wrong hands" has been around as long as there has been written language. In some places, there were even were secret spoken languages meant only for the elite that were forbidden to be learned by commoners by threat of death. Even Caesar used encryption algorithms to pass secret messages to troops (Still known today as the Caesar shift). Scribes were required to take oaths not to reveal the secrets shared with them, and master texts were bound by shackle to the most trusted members, not in ways necessarily to keep the book from harm, but to keep the text away from unauthorized eyes.

All this is copy protection because every time we see an image or read a text, or see a sound, our brains make a copy... albeit some better than others.

So in many ways, copyright, the protection and control over knowledge came first, and with the birth of creativity and free thinking immediately came with it along side was methods of copy protection.

Wit the invention of the printing press in 1439, copyright was thrown into chaos. The distribution of knowledge was able to fight copyright in new ways never before conceived. Governments quickly responded with copyright police that hunted down book publishers, rounding them up for public hangings and beheading for their crimes to serve as an example of how they would deal with pirates; stealing work from scribes and writers. It was a problem the elite argued would destroy knowledge, creativity, and progress as there would be no longer any motivation for thinkers to think, scientists to study, or writers to write.

Well, they were right in part. The scribes guild vanished over a period of time. Knowledge as it was known, held in secret by a powerful few, had been destroyed.

But... someone and for some reason people did keep writing books, and all the tales of the end of the world of creativity never quite came about. Some argue it was actually the other way around, that a revolution took place and a generation of thinkers were born, but whose to say what really happened, right?

But then came a new battle. The scribes were gone, and book publishing had taken over. People had been enlightened, and there was a new thirst for knowledge, this time in masses, and printed books had been legalized. This time, the control was in the hands of the book publishers. But as the elite scribes had known, power isn't just control, but exclusive power. Book publishers wanted exclusive rights to publish books. The printers guild aka Stationer's Company, were granted exclusive right to print the books, so long as royalties were paid to the Queen. Books were 'bought' by the queen, and she would give the texts to book publishers that would get exclusive printing rights indefinitely. No royalties were ever paid to writers, and writers were banned from self publishing or seeking an independent press. Queen Mary I of Great Britain was the first MPAA / RIAA of its kind. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

By 1709, Shakespeare had been dead nearly 100 years. The independent publishers fought even harder for a more free copyright law, as opposed to the indefinitely perpetual copyright law in place. Shakespeare is a part of our culture and can not be owned by anyone. Stories are a part of who we are, not to be owned by individuals. Knowledge should be spread by any means necessary, and we are here to meet that demand.

A settlement was reached in the British courts in 1709 with the Statute of Anne, looking to balance the rights of people who would write stories contributing to culture, science, and "useful arts", and the rights of the people whom were members of that culture, both as readers, thinkers, and writers that draw upon that culture. Copyright would hence forth be limited to a period of fourteen years for new works, with requirements that copies be placed in all the libraries of Britain, and free for Stationer's Company to reproduce.

The founding fathers of the United States Constitution recognized this important protection and balance between culture, progress, and control, and thus included in the powers granted to congress the power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"... Which with the powerful lobbyists of today have taken from "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries" to "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries", but that is skipping ahead...

Quickly, Fox, Kodak, and Disney take a whole bunch of stuff, without any regard to copyrighted books and movies to patented film types and projectors, moving to California to form Hollywood because it was far enough from Washington DC to avoid the law, not to mention inventors seeking patent royalties for their inventions. skipping ahead, Disney becomes super power, tries to expand copyright but fails until people are distracted by WWII. Threatened by radio, congress grants freedom to radio despite major opposition. Disney / MPAA greatly threatened by Cable Companies saying it is going to "destroy creativity" just like radio as these companies run their pirate cables, just as scribes had claimed in 1400's. Congress grants statutory royalties. VCR comes out. BIG freak out, blah blah blah, more copy right statutes. broadcast flag, blah blah blah, CD, DVD MAJOR FREAK OUT... again, as usual as the dominent power of information / culture distribution was threatened. Internet, same thing so on and so forth.

So what I see? Culture was created and controlled by and elite few and distribution was difficult. Over the past millennium, there is always the attempt for "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." ~George Orwell (or Rage against the Machine for those that don't read books), or as Lawrence Lessig puts it, "1. Creativity and innovation always builds on the past. 2. The past always tries to control the creativity that builds on it. 3. Free Societies enable the future by limiting the past. 4. Ours is less and less a free society."

So I see it as, there is and always will be creativity. It can not be stopped. People with power and money from their success will fight to keep that control, and that power can potentially be limited by government. People will always fight for progress by any means necessary. Our government today is powerless to encourage progress due the many controls of the creators of the past.

The difference, as Sigmund freud put it, we are lucky to live in an age where people only burn our books and not us.

For a more complete version, read Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig, or watch any of his videos / lectures on youtube or opencinema, and a great film, Steal This Film Part II on the history of copyright, or part one on government coruption by the media, produced by The Pirate Bay.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Q25-S7jzgs "Larry Lessig: How Creativity is being strangled by the law"

Obligatory comment left by me on this video:

This is the most important issue of our day. Our government is controlled by the media because those that don't get the entertainment industries approval CAN NOT get elected for prohibition to exposure via vital media such as TV and radio. I don't want to call it a fix all, but the passiveness to this control by the media bleeds into many issues that have resulted in entertaining further bad policies by example of what we have had to endure from the media. Lessig, you NAILED IT! You are my hero.
I'd also like to mention that from this video, with regard to the revolution by our youth. Our youth rejects the law as a whole because of the major parts of it that are corrupt, even though parts of the law in principle have validity. These congressional monopolies were written into our constitution only in so far as to promote progress. There was a balance. Now that congress has become so one sided, youth rejects balance in revolt against the corrupt monopolies congress has been bullied to give out.

Jack Valenti called it his own terrorist war, him being on the side of the monopolies. Hmm... the only terrorist I see is the man determined to rewrite the constitution in his favor. They may not be on our soil, but today we have a great American patriot that is not looking for mediation or compromise but has set his mission to destroy this evil the only way he knows how. He has enlisted hundreds of millions in advertising to fuel a undefeatable black market for any piece of culture the demons of our time would try to lock away and strategically hand out like bread to starving children. He has given the world a Horn of Plenty, looting from the pirates that stole our culture and try to comodotize and control it. Our great American Patriot's are Gottfrid Svartholm, Fredrik Neij, and Peter Sunde. Long Live The Pirate Bay!

With this caveat:

When our society returns to progress and we live in a Free culture as promoted by Lessig, Patry, and other men I consider great American heroes (reserving patriot for those of Edward Abbey's definition. GREAT men, just different), there will be no place for the pirate bay. As it is a front line of defense against injustice, a free culture will not need (no offense) such a crude and unorganized site that is merely an index. Sites like Jamendo will dominate. The evidence I present to defend this is this: Look at the inclusions in the index. Look for public domain works. Look for creative Commons work. Try to find work people are trying to give away or share with the world. You won't find any. The great success of The Pirate Bay is fueled only as a counter to greed and corruption. This explains the hundreds of millions of dollars in "off-shore accounts" around the world. Freedom, and a love for cultural sharing where artists recognize the influence culture has had on them, and the opportunities for creativity it provides unilaterally, there is no place on the pirate bay. It is only a forum for patriots to band together against corruption. When the corruption is broken, the Pirate Bay will sail off into the sunset of our history, as it will have no place in the free world.

Let that be a reminder to would be cultural tyrants out there. This is a war YOU started, and the Pirate Bay will help end. The numbers say every Internet user is a soldier, and every dollar TPB makes should stand as a memorial to the intolerance of your ways.

And on a related note, notice the praises for the television stations that now share their content on the web? The business model of the future may not be complete, but you can easily see where it is going. I know there is a day where one studios artwork will disappear from the pirate bay, and all that money they had been getting will go to the studios, and that will be the first studio to start its own bit torrent tracker, or whatever they have to call it. Hopefully that will take place before the last movie achieves rot away on their not so permanent nitrate film.

The Pirate Bay will soar so long as it is profitable. Ye of so little faith that can't find a better business model, and must turn to the government to "fix" it for you, like fixing any other game.

Ooh, and to anyone that read the other news on slashdot, it appears our old friend Ted Stevens will be observing a series of cubes. Ha ha ha!

Please comment if you made it through my whole rant. It is appreciated.

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