Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The End of Copyright?

I need to preface this post with a note that the title article comes from a video game centric blog. Parts of this post will respond directly to that article but will also scope over a broader range of the concept. I also apologize for a long post.

I don't agree with this article simply because it falls a little far down the slippery slope. Looking at this in a vacuum without any pragmatic background, the author makes an interestingly abstract point. The advent of new technology does, on some level, diminish individual property rights in intellectual property. Weakened rights stem from the diminished control of intellectual property once its left the producer hands. Digital music is a good example. Consumption of digital music exploded with the birth of internet giants like Napster, and the "owner's" of digital material were unable to control the profit scheme for mass market consumption. Recently, a new approach to digital content has sprung up around this digital debacle. Sony's rootkit mess is a good example. On a tangential note, controlling use in the digital age is futile due to the ability of the users to alter content and the method of consumption. I don't think, however, will not amount to the end of copyright or intellectual property rights as the article hypothecates.

Some material, like console games, will be easier to control since they are reliant on a specific kind of hardware or software for use. Music, movies, and books, lack this dependence, but each presents its own problems. E-Books are easy to transport, but hard to read since LCDs cause excessive eye-strain. As a result, books will always be in production, and the control of distribution remains with the producers. Music and movies are a special case since they are not dependent on anything, and readily transferable into several different consumable forms. This modular use should not cause the industries to worry and jump on any technology band-wagon that is hostile to consumers. The industry needs to figure out how to control sharing, and the United States Supreme Court decision in Grokster was a step in the right direction. An analysis of the case reveals that the Court did enforce intangible property rights by providing a cause of action against those who distribute protected material. This will not likely push the file share "industry" into open source because "the" open source program, namely bittorrent, already has terms of service restrictions on sharing protected material. The demise of Grokster and the rise of iTunes should provide some substance to alleviate the fears in the industries. Regardless, this does not point to an end of copyright. Rather, this points to a necessary shift in the administration of these rights through the legal system. Industry v. Consumer action will likely spell the end of the industry. Distribution models and laws benefiting both the individual and the industry are necessary. How about restructuring business models and criminalizing distribution rather than changes in formatting for personal use, like with VCRs in the 1980's?

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