Guest post by Gary Fung, founder of isoHunt.com.
Since I’ve been sued by both the MPAA (Hollywood) and the CRIA (Canadian recording industry), I’ve talked about what’s been happening with our cases. Our CRIA case has also recently received mainstream press attention by the Canadian Press and Globe & Mail. But the question is why? Why do they insist on suing their own customers? Why do they sue search engines like us, who make the Internet more useful for everyone?
The problem lies in something fundamentally broken with the copyright system. A choice quote from Cory Doctorow’s article on the “copyfight”:
So the natural inclination of anyone who is struck by a piece of creative work is to share it. And since “sharing” on the Internet is the same as “copying,” this puts you square in copyright’s crosshairs. Everyone copies. Dan Glickman, the ex-Congressman who now heads up the Motion Picture Association of America (as pure a copyright maximalist as you could hope to meet) admitted to copying Kirby Dick’s documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated (a scorching critique of the MPAA’s rating system) but excused it because the copy was “in [his] vault.” To pretend that you do not copy is to adopt the twisted hypocrisy of the Victorians who swore that they never, ever masturbated. Everyone knows that they themselves are lying, and a large number of us know that everyone else is lying too.
When the head of the MPAA has to admit to copying the film that criticizes the very industry he represents, an industry group of lobbyists and litigators against such copying, it highlights an important fact beyond the obvious hypocrisy. The Internet has completely changed the economics of sharing. When sharing equals copying on the Internet and the direct cost of that sharing is effectively $0 (it doesn’t cost you anything to share videos on Youtube or BitTorrent), it makes copyright infringement so easy that even Dan Glickman can do it. So easy that a mom like Stephanie Lenz can do it when she posted a video of her 13-month-old son dancing to Prince’s music. And I mean no disrespect to them.
This is an age of rampant sharing and remixing, and if you can make the connection between sharing and culture as Doctorow has, you will see this war between rightsholders and consumers will never end and the rightsholders will never win. The band Girl Talk, Lessig , James Boyle, Terry McBride of Nettwerk and isoHunt all echo a common point: Remixing and sharing is good for culture, suing consumers and technologists that enables sharing is destructive for everyone.
The Internet is a more efficient information machine than the printing press or VCR ever was, and also a whole different animal. It’s time for the content industries to learn to put it to better use as well, by discarding past notions of how business is done based on an economy of scarcity. In Star Trek, currency becomes irrelevant with virtually unlimited “copying” of physical objects with the Replicator. The Internet is the Replicator of information. When a 13-month-old dances to Prince’s music, copyright infringement is nowhere near his consciousness. It’s an endorsement that he likes it, pure and simple.
I’ve said a number of times that I’m not against copyright, but copyright needs significant reform in the Internet age. If all this rampant copying on BitTorrent and the Internet has not made a dent in Hollywood’s record earnings, why can’t we all just get along without rabid lawsuits? Why can’t they see that sharing and remixing is a human urge for culture, and when we share and remix art, it’s not a liability but an endorsement for the artist or author or producer?
When the majority of society has no ethical conviction of wrongdoing when they violate copyright law, it’s not society that’s wrong, it’s the law. Because no one can really own ideas. Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” It’s how the arts and sciences work. We share, we inspire and we remix. For more on Copyfight and where the word came from, go here.