Technophilia02: Doing it Doujinshi Style, pt. 2

The first Technophilia article will be up next Monday, with any luck, and barring any unfortunate incidents with the school paper’s server. Alas, I cannot help but feel that the version on this blog is vastly superior, even post edits. Not because the copyediting was flawed in any way – quite the opposite – but because we had to sacrifice whole paragraphs to get it to fit.

That’s another reason why online newswriting is preferable – you aren’t bound by the constraints of a paper’s set dimensions and ad spaces. But that’s a rant for another time, yeah? For now, the concluding article to the two-part opener of Technophilia.

Last week, we discussed the artistic boon seen in a culture where ideas and concepts are seen less as individual property and more a collective resource. But the issue isn’t just about whether or not letting ideas go free is good on an artistic merit – a more pressing issue would be whether or not the very concept of copyright can even stand up in the face of mounting technological change.

It is a very familiar credo to hackers, crackers, and tech geeks of all stripes and shapes: “information wants to be free.” While information is inarguably valuable – knowing the right thing in the right place can change lives, nations and cultures – the cost of getting information out has gotten lower and lower, to the point that the only thing allowing information to be retained at all is the secrecy of its originator.

From a less technical standpoint, information freeness is why musical piracy is such a big problem in the first place: it is magnitudes more expensive to keep access to music limited than it is to load up an MP3 to a Bittorrent site. Same with movies, textbooks, emails, and even state secrets. The moment something has been recorded onto even the most basic and fundamental of storage devices – the human brain – the potential for its duplication and/or replication becomes a nonzero probability. And when the information in question is highly desired, such as with a Grammy-winning album, that nonzero probability, aided by the technological advances of this era, becomes a near-certainty.

Our legal system gives us very few guidelines on how to fulfill our culture’s rocketing demand for more and more information without criminalizing millions under our current understanding of intellectual “property.” It is held as fact that there is such thing as Fair Use – that artistic merit allows the reinterpretation and replication of concepts, ideas and artistic works for personal use. But even the best copyright lawyers and the most respectable texts on this legal grounds are forced to admit that the concept of “fair use,” far from having a concrete standard, is almost entirely ad hoc in interpretation – especially in comparison to the clear and definite rights of the creator, and the consequences of breaching them.

The laws, as they stand, fail to even benefit the artists and creators they were designed to protect. Rather, the ones that benefit most from copyright laws are copyright lawyers, and the corporations they serve. Rather than encouraging the flourishing of innovation via the protection of innovators, we have seen instead a veritable quagmire of lawsuits and entire forests of cease and desist letters swarm every nook and cranny of the American noosphere. Rather than the nebulous and hazy grounds of fair use benefit the innovative spirit, those with the most money to throw at it are the best at utilizing its very ad hoc nature – and it certainly isn’t the artists.

The system is clearly broken. Rather than being an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” situation, we’re instead finding ourselves with a stone chisel when we need laser scalpels: we’re using outmoded ideologies set when a fast horse was the last word in communications to answer problems and concepts based upon the electron lightspeed paradigm. The idea that ideas are “property” is long since overdue a critical analysis at its most fundamental levels.


~ by Gonzo Mehum on May 2, 2009.

One Response to “Technophilia02: Doing it Doujinshi Style, pt. 2”

  1. This is why I have been a fan of the recordable media tax, at least as a stopgap – since artists are entitled to compensation for their work if someone downloads or uses it, it would be far easier to charge a blanket tax on anything that could be used to pirate music, and then find an equitable mechanic for those artists to be compensated from that pool. Maybe by doing some analytics on what’s being pirated the most. It’s a better solution for all instead of suing selected people for damages far beyond their ability to pay and well beyond what the price of their pirated material would cost.

    Eventually, it might become a truism that digital distribution is the thing – every artist has their material for sale directly, and CD pressing is something that could be more like P.O.D. or a premium package.

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