How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Copy

After years of reading intellectual property law blogs from some of the greatest legal minds, I’m finally ready to admit that I was wrong. The fight against illegal copying is one that cannot be won. I can no longer deny the simple truth that it is ultimately futile to try to create artificial scarcities in what would otherwise be non-scarce goods.

The above is an introduction from an article written by James Gannon, a lawyer based in Toronto. Gannon graduated with distinction from the University of Waterloo, with an honours degree in System Design Engineering in 2005. He received his degree in law in 2008 and now covers intellectual property, technology and Internet law issues at McCarthy Tétrault.

This law firm might ring a bell or two with readers. The Canadian Recording Industry Association’s Graham Henderson began his career there, going on to become a partner in 1992. It’s no secret that McCarthy Tétrault works with the CRIA and that James Gannon has been accused of being linked to them and their lobbyists.

In addition to his regular work, Gannon has been writing some file-sharing related articles on his blog in recent times. One in particular caught our eye this week. We could have simply quoted the most interesting parts of How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Copy and then offered some analysis. But we decided against it.

We thought that you, our readers, might like to do that instead. He’s previously locked horns with Michael Geist, now it’s your turn……

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Copy

After years of reading intellectual property law blogs from some of the greatest legal minds, I’m finally ready to admit that I was wrong. The fight against illegal copying is one that cannot be won. I can no longer deny the simple truth that it is ultimately futile to try to create artificial scarcities in what would otherwise be non-scarce goods. The digital revolution has allowed us to copy and share media for free and we should not let our antiquated laws stop us from enjoying these incredible technologies. It is time to fully embrace the digital revolution.

To be clear, I’m not talking about using P2P programs, cyber-lockers, illegal streaming or any other file-sharing technology.

I’m going to start printing my own money.

Gutenberg did not invent the printing press so that it would be controlled in the hands a few rich and powerful central bankers who desperately cling to outdated business models. With the advent of digital technologies, everyone can and should be free to copy their own money.

New Business Models

Don’t get me wrong. I love the bank notes that are created by the Bank of Canada (BoC). In fact, I consider myself to be one of their biggest fans. Even though the BoC will try to stop me if I try to make my own copies of their bills, they should really be flattered.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and I only want to share their work with my friends and family. By allowing me to make copies of their works, my friends might become fans of their currency too. Everyone knows the value of a currency is based on its demand so why not try to get as many fans as possible?

It’s really the BoC’s fault for failing to adapt to the digital age and come up with new business models for their currency. It’s completely unrealistic of them to expect all of their fans to keep getting only BoC copies of Canadian bills when the technology to make our own copies is found in everyone’s living room. The big central banks need to adapt to the digital age and find new ways to monetize their monetary expertise. The era of monetary monopolies is over.

Why can’t they just go on tour and give lectures on monetary policy? Or they could start selling Mark Carney t-shirts – I know I’d buy one. The point is that they shouldn’t stop people from making their own copies of their works and just think of it as promotion for their tour or other revenue model. If they let fans copy their existing bills, they will all rush out to get the new ones when they come out with new designs anyway. This would encourage central banks to keep innovating and coming up with newer, more modern bills.

Personal Use

I completely understand why the government would want to shut down large-scale currency counterfeiters. If everyone is using counterfeit money and nobody is trying to actually earn the original anymore, the Canadian dollar would probably hyperinflate since everyone would just be printing money instead of providing any goods or services. That’s not at all what I’m talking about.

When I start making my own copies of Canadian bills, it’s going to be strictly for my own personal use. Buying gas and groceries, paying bills, a nice restaurant or two maybe. Perhaps I’d share the bills with a few friends or family, but I definitely wouldn’t be producing counterfeit bills on a commercial scale with the intent of re-selling them. That would be wrong and hurtful to the economy, and that’s what anti-counterfeit officers should really focus their efforts on. I find it appalling that the government would want to go after poor university students who are just making personal copies of currency in their dorms to share with their friends.

If the Canadian government is thinking of reforming our counterfeiting laws, they need to understand that private counterfeiting is a victimless crime. It doesn’t hurt the original creators in any way if I make my own personal copies of their bills. If I can’t print for myself $1 million in Canadian $20’s, it’s not like I would have actually gone out and earned that money otherwise. This notion the big bankers have that every illegally printed dollar represents an economic loss is completely unrealistic. Plus, there are so many terrible foreign currencies out there these days, it’s only right that I should be able to try them out before I buy them.

Banker Are Already Millionaires

Whenever the big central banks try to convince us not to make copies of their bills, we always hear these stories about the starving economists that are losing jobs because of this counterfeiting. I understand that printing quality money can be hard and that a lot of economists and bankers work hard to balance our economy against recession and inflation. But these stories of starving bureaucrats are completely exaggerated.

Last year, Mark Carney made over $400,000 dollars, it’s on the public record. He also flies around all over the world to attend fancy G7 and G20 summits – all paid for by the BoC. So, do I really feel bad for Carney when I decide to make copies of BoC bills? Absolutely not, and neither should you.

Let’s also be honest here – the whole idea of a “central bank” is really outdated in the digital age. All a person needs is a colour scanner and printer and they can easily make their own money that’s just as good quality as the BoC stuff. In fact, when I go to stores and use my homemade Canadian money, I’ve yet to have anyone tell the difference. I really think the whole currency printing industry is going through a big democratization phase where every amateur monetarist can just make his own high-quality currency with a very basic setup. Getting rid of these dinosaur central banks is really just the natural evolution of the currency industry.

Copy Protections Simply Don’t Work

A lot of people don’t know this but for many yeas the BoC has been embedding technologies in its bills designed to prevent people from making illegal copies. Some of these anti-counterfeiting measures include things like holograms or using special polymer materials. I’m strongly opposed to this practice and I think it only harms the consumer when banks use these technologies. What about the consumer protection implications of having a central bank place these technologies on bills that consumers have legally earned? Banks have no right to try to control our use of bills that we legally acquired.

Did you know that it’s even illegal to own the tools to bypass these anti-counterfeiting measures? Even if you don’t intend to do any illegal printing, just having circumvention tools is against s.458 of the Criminal Code. What if I just want to make backups of my bills in case my wallet gets stolen?

Here’s another thing that might surprise you – even copying devices have technologies that prevent counterfeit bill printing! So not only are there protection technologies on the media itself, but programs like Adobe Photoshop contain technological protections at the device level! Regardless of what you think of using protection measures on the bills themselves, I think we can all agree that device-level protections against counterfeit bills are completely unacceptable. What if I want to film a movie and need some fake money for a mob scene? As long as I can think of one legal example where I would want to copy bank bills, then there is no justification for the use of technological measures to stop me from doing so.

Michael Geist once said: “The truth is that you can compete with free if you provide value” and he’s absolutely right. Central banks need to start adapting right now to the Internet and digital age and give me one reason why I should earn their bills when I can easily make my own personal copies for free at home.

Original article here.

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