“The Letter” Is Still The Best Story To Explain Why Copyright Monopoly Must Be Reduced

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People are still getting distracted by the silly question of "how somebody will get paid" if the copyright monopoly is reduced. It's irrelevant, it's a red herring. What this debate is about is bringing vital civil liberties along from the analog environment into the digital - and that requires allowing file-sharing all out.

copyright-brandedAs I travel the world and speak to people from all professions and walks of life about the copyright monopoly, “the letter” is still the story that causes the most pennies to drop about why the copyright monopoly must be reduced. It’s by far the angle that makes the message come across to the most people.

“How will the artists make money” is basically just a distraction from the real and important issues at hand, and this story helps bring them there.

The story of “the letter” deals with just how big and vital civil liberties have been sacrificed in the transition from analog to digital at the tenacious insistence of the copyright industry for the sake of their bottom line. The analog letter was the message sent the way our parents sent them: written onto a physical piece of paper, put into an envelope, postaged with an old-fashioned stamp and put into a mailbox for physical delivery to the intended recipient.

That letter had four important characteristics that each embodied vital civil liberties.

That letter, first of all, was anonymous. Everybody had the right to send an anonymous message to somebody. You could identify yourself on the inside of the message, for only the recipient to know, on the envelope, for the postal services to know, or not at all. Or you could write a totally bogus name, organization, and address as the sender of your message, and that was okay, too. Not just okay, it was even fairly common.

Second, it was secret in transit. When we talk of letters being opened and inspected routinely, the thoughts go to scenes of the East German Stasi – the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, the East German National Security Agency (yes, that’s how Stasi’s name translates). Letters being opened and inspected? Seriously? You had to be the primary suspect of an extremely grave crime for that to take place.

Third, the mailman was never ever held responsible for the contents of the letters being carried. The thought was ridiculous. They were not allowed to look at the messages in the first place, so it was unthinkable that they’d be held accountable for what they dutifully delivered.

Fourth, the letter was untracked. Nobody had the means – nor indeed the capability – to map who was communicating with whom.

All of these characteristics, which all embed vital civil liberties, have been lost in the transition to digital at the insistence of the copyright industry – so that they, as a third-party, can prevent people from sending letters with a content they just don’t like to see sent, for business reasons of theirs.

The question of “how will somebody make money” is entirely irrelevant. The job of any entrepreneur is to make money given the current constraints of society and technology.

No industry gets to dismantle civil liberties with the poor excuse that they can’t make money otherwise. They have the simple choice of doing something else or go out of business. And yet, that’s exactly what we have allowed the copyright industry to do: dismantle vital civil liberties. Dismantle the very concept of the private letter. And they’re continuing to do so under pretty but deceptive words.

When I explain the situation like this, the penny drops for an astounding amount of people and they stop asking the learned, but silly, question about how somebody is to get paid if we have the rights we’ve always had – to send anything to anybody anonymously.

That’s the Analog Equivalent Right. To be able send anything to anybody anonymously. And that’s what we need to bring to the digital environment, even if an obsolete industry doesn’t like it because it may or may not hurt the bottom line. That’s completely irrelevant.

Try telling this story and watch the penny drop, almost every single time. It’s remarkable.

About The Author

Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. He is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at falkvinge.net focuses on information policy.

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