Before the Internet, and in particular before the compact cassette, the copyright monopoly was something that only concerned hotshot lawyers at the biggest possible publishing houses.
Before the ordinary person had the ability to record anything, the barrier to entry to disseminate culture and knowledge was too high for everybody and their brother to contribute to culture.
Let’s take a look at what happened when the compact cassette arrived. It was sort of an analog removable hard drive with music, that you plugged into an analog music player – the new thing at the time being that you could also write to it. Cassette players popped up everywhere, in particular in a form called ghettoblasters, where you’d carry a rather large box with loudspeakers and two cassette slots around, not to mention quite a few batteries.
Note that I wrote two cassette slots. All of these players also advertised how good they were at copying cassette tapes. You’d pop in the source tape, put a blank tape in the recording slot, and hit a gigantic button named “copy”. This was a feature that was heavily advertised – the better the blasters were at copying, the more music its owner would be able to collect.
The record industry at the time went absolutely ballistic, and said “home taping is killing music” in a largely ridiculed campaign. The bands at the time gave them the finger and printed that logo with the text “home taping is killing record industry profits” instead, adding “we left the reverse side [of the tape] blank, so you can help”. Nevertheless, this was the start of the war against ordinary people copying, something that has only escalated to ridiculous levels today. (Can you imagine a two-slot DVD player being sold today that would have a huge red button marked COPY on it?)
Today, people’s homes are raided at dawn by police with drawn weapons for listening to music and watching movies from unauthorized sources. (Imagine punishing somebody for listening to the old-style radio because the radio station didn’t have a proper spectrum license? How would they know?) Activists’ voices are being silenced using the copyright monopoly as a censorship mechanism. Secondary and tertiary liability is introduced using extortionate methods, further removing any rights to due process for mere freedom of speech. All while people in general share knowledge and culture as they have always done.
Entrepreneurs are even fined for playing their own music, as in music they wrote and played themselves, in their own cafés and shops – because the copyright monopoly construct demands fees to the collecting societies when somebody plays music.
All in all, the copyright monopoly construct has turned from something arcane that people didn’t care about into a downright oppressive and abusive construct that affects everybody in a way they strongly disapprove of. Laws must have the consent of the governed to be respected; the copyright monopoly today enjoys considerably less respect than speed limits, and that’s in a country where speeding is considered a national sport.
(This doesn’t mean that speed limits would be abolished by the next-generation politicians, but that’s primarily because the police don’t raid your home at dawn and confiscate all your phones, computers, photos, work, and conversations if you’re suspected of planning to drive above the speed limit.)
This is not going to hold. The next generation, the teenagers today who have grown up in this abusive environment, will kill this monopoly construct the first chance they get. And they will do so to positively thunderous applause among their peers.
I’ve chosen to position myself halfway on the Overton window in a position that allows the ideas I present to appear as radical, yet possible, as presented in The Case For Copyright Reform. In this way, I have set out to eliminate the worst abuses of the monopoly, solving 95% of the problems by going 75% of the way. Reducing the monopoly to cover commercial activity only, reducing the terms, making DRM illegal, and a few more things would go a long way.
Otherwise, when today’s teenagers have grown up enough to be pulling the strings, do you really believe they’ll buy the fairytale stories of how the monopoly construct that all of them saw as plainly abusive, oppressive, and extortionate is needed “for the artists to get paid”? When all they saw – when all everybody saw – was a monopoly construct that silenced artists, silenced challenges to the establishment’s status quo, killed technological innovation, and made sure that rich multinational corporations could buy the power they wanted?
There’s not a chance they’ll buy the fairytale stories from the copyright industry. They’ll all remember their own firsthand experiences. And they’ll kill the monopoly entirely, to thunderous applause.
A radical copyright monopoly reform is the last chance for the copyright monopoly to survive at all. It needs to be reformed to a level where it’s not grossly and repulsively abusive, and that needs to happen yesterday. If that reform doesn’t happen, the monopoly construct will be killed altogether, and sooner than we think.
If you doubt it, look at the SOPA and ACTA protests of yesteryear.