Just this week with the #SOPA and #PIPA protests, we realized that Openness and Intellectual Property (IP) are often a difficult mix. It seems that something must be done to protect IP, but whatever we do should not be cutting the air supply of everything else.
Don´t kills the bees while trying to scare away the flies.
For an artist, I suppose that having access to more ideas matters more than having bullet-proof protection for her own creations. This principle of disproportional punishment serves not creators, but just distributors of content. Excused from all responsibilities except providing a medium for presentations, middlemen fence their zoos while neutering the entire wildlife on the outside. That´s a whole lot of ball chopping.
Roughly a year ago Donald Norman expressed some concern that the Internet was becoming a walled garden community of sorts. He got some fierce criticism for that (a lot of it very interesting), but I´m starting to think he had a point. While Openness is the consumer trend of the day,Control is the flavor of government in a lot of places.
Also in Portugal we are now amidst a discussion about Projecto de Lei 118 ( #PL118). This proposed change in legislation will consider any digital means of storing and reproducing protected content as tools of piracy. The solution? Create a new tax for photocopies around 0.02€, when current price per copy is 0.06€ to 0.08€ and taxing storage devices based on their capacity. This translates into 0.03€ per Gb (CD – R) all the way until 0.5€ per Gb (Multimedia player) . Consider how fast storage space has been increasing and is easy to tell that pretty soon this will be an astronomical price hike.
These two situations (SOPA/PIPA and PL118) are not the same, but they seem to have similar roots: lack of understanding on how technology and people work. Not that IP should not be protected, but it is clear that in both these cases, what you have is a impulsive reaction to the issue of piracy and IP infringement.
SOPA/PIPA makes no distinction between the different parts of a website (e.g. portfolio sites such as Behance would be entirely taken down if a single user was found violating).PL118 assumes that if you have storage and reproduction devices, you will use them to enjoy some pirated content. What if you use them to work, for backups and such? Doesn´t matter, pay up. And if you use them to store legal content? Well, you end up paying twice for the right of having such content.
It makes no sense to ramble endlessly on how disproportionate these laws are. While I do think they exist partially because of the lobbying of distributors, I also trust that often you should fight fire with fire.
These laws are being discussed because if passed, they mean an almost immediate surge in the funds collected by content distributors (or IP rights managers in Portugal). On the other hand, in the long run, they stifle the small guy and lead to a stale intellectual content landscape, dominated by the big boys. Most of the creative economy runs on the efforts of small companies. Companies that will be crippled, should these changes take effect.
Everybody keeps saying that the way for the Western world to retain some of its dominance is to invest on its not so easily transferable capabilities, namely a thriving cultural market and a professionalized creative class. Cut their heads and this capital disappears. In the long run, the air supply we would be cutting today leads to withering of the fruits of tomorrow.
To avert these polemic laws, besides the public rallying that is taking place, we should take the responsibility of suggesting our own solutions. If the lawmakers are blind to the realities technology and society today, we should make the step of clarifying them.
How can we convert a discourse of “acquired and unalienable rights” into a conversation about what benefits all? IP needs protection, but this protection should not equal selective IP euthanasia. I´m really interested in your feedback on this one, so please, go ahead and give me some pointers.