Systems and Individuals–Whither the Thomas Case?

by on October 15, 2007 · 8 comments

Needing a critter fix, I hauled The Grub, now three, off to the National Wildlife Visitor’s Center this weekend for their festival. Actual wildlife was promised, and they had splendid owls and turtles, looking rather sleepy. On the whole, though, I find that the direction that such organizations has taken in their public presentations to be both uninteresting and depressing. I learned little about the behavior, habits, and lives of the critters being studied, and a great deal about their habitats and the destruction thereof.

There are good reasons for the focus on systems. Although the naturalists would not put it this way: The environment is a commons of sorts; as such, it is likely to be degraded, with no one properly internalizing the costs–it needs a fix at the systemic level. But I already knew this; I wanted to learn more about the critters. I like critters. Too much. I am an old school amateur naturalist of the sort that made such a disaster of federal forest management–putting out forest fires when they ought to be allowed to burn off the brush and bugs, because I am not willing to see a racoon’s toes be singed. But the result of decades of such a policy is a sick forest that ultimately burns so fiercely it cannot be controlled at all.

Copyright debates strike me as suffering from the opposite defect. We hear a great


deal about individuals–the single mom Ms. Thomas in Wisconsin being the most recent. But there is not a lot of thinking about the system as a whole, or how it relates to these individuals. As a result, we run the risk of judging policy and law solely by the standards of advocates for individuals. RIAA wears a black hat, the defendant a white one.

Is it very likely that the music industry as opposed to any other group is dominated by people who are as mean or silly as critics of the RIAA’s approach to lawsuits complain? Is it likely that the RIAA is happy about having to sue potential customers? That they think that bringing lawsuits is a new, profitable business model? It isn’t even remotely likely. But even if music execs were by some bizarre quirk of hiring policy systemically deluded…

Policy cannot be about personalities. It has to be about what works best at a systemic level. And at a systemic level, consumers and content producers and equipment makers and so on *all* have an interest in figuring out how to enforce copyright in a digital environment.Otherwise we are likely to shut down investment in content that we would rather have than not. The answer is not to bring a few token suits against sympathetic individuals–though that is the only thing that the RIAA has the power to do now. So what is the answer? How do we get to even-handed enforcement? Until we all start working together on what such a system looks like in a digital environment, there will be nothing but more name-calling. And unless the underlying principles that the advocates are putting forward make sense in the context of a larger system, their advocacy has less to do with justice and more to do with short-run convenience.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    Civil disobedience is clear outgrowth of ludicrous laws. The answer is that the laws underlying copyright have to be changed to be rationale and to reassert the underlying basis for copyright.

    The underlying purpose of copyright is to foster creativity by providing the copyright holder with a limited monopoly in terms of time. A rationale limited period of time is around five years. (It is common practice to depreciate an asset over a period of time. Even when the value of that asset is $0, it can still be used to make profits.)

    Additionally, copyright holders are currently asserting the possession of “rights” that they do not posses. The users of copyrighted material are entitled to maintain their rights. What this means is that copyright holders should not have the authority to restrict post-sale use of copyrighted material. (I acknowledge that the consumer does not have the right to make commercial use of the work without the authors permission.)

    Restoring copyright law to its original intent will foster investment and innovation. Additionally, just laws that are rationale do not create an upwelling of civil disobedience.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    Civil disobedience is clear outgrowth of ludicrous laws. The answer is that the laws underlying copyright have to be changed to be rationale and to reassert the underlying basis for copyright.

    The underlying purpose of copyright is to foster creativity by providing the copyright holder with a limited monopoly in terms of time. A rationale limited period of time is around five years. (It is common practice to depreciate an asset over a period of time. Even when the value of that asset is $0, it can still be used to make profits.)

    Additionally, copyright holders are currently asserting the possession of “rights” that they do not posses. The users of copyrighted material are entitled to maintain their rights. What this means is that copyright holders should not have the authority to restrict post-sale use of copyrighted material. (I acknowledge that the consumer does not have the right to make commercial use of the work without the authors permission.)

    Restoring copyright law to its original intent will foster investment and innovation. Additionally, just laws that are rationale do not create an upwelling of civil disobedience.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    It used to be common practice to turn pigs loose in the forest, to root out their own food until they got big enough to eat. Unfortunately, feral swine interfere with the other benefits of the forest, so the Forest Service doesn’t allow them today.

    Today, Internet and technology policy is a tool for encouraging the production of content in the same way that forest management policy is a tool for encouraging the production of pork. If you could run the forest in such a way to get the pork plus the other benefits of the technology “forest”, it would be fine, but when you balance it out, the pigs have to go.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    It used to be common practice to turn pigs loose in the forest, to root out their own food until they got big enough to eat. Unfortunately, feral swine interfere with the other benefits of the forest, so the Forest Service doesn’t allow them today.

    Today, Internet and technology policy is a tool for encouraging the production of content in the same way that forest management policy is a tool for encouraging the production of pork. If you could run the forest in such a way to get the pork plus the other benefits of the technology “forest”, it would be fine, but when you balance it out, the pigs have to go.

  • Doug Lay

    >> And at a systemic level, consumers and content producers and equipment makers and so on *all* have an interest in figuring out how to enforce copyright in a digital environment.

    I don’t think that’s quite true. We all have an interest in content creators getting paid, so they continue to create. I’m afraid, however, that COPYright, understood as control over the right to make copies, is becoming an increasingly untenable mechanism for ensuring that creators get paid, given the inexorable technological advances embodied by the Internet and digital storage.

    Insistence on COPYright enforcement (which means DRM and file-sharing lawsuits, more or less) isn’t likely to remind everyone of our common interests. More likely, it will line up the content industry against both consumers and technologists. And in the long run (even the not-so-long run) that’s a fight the content industry is going to lose.

  • Doug Lay

    >> And at a systemic level, consumers and content producers and equipment makers and so on *all* have an interest in figuring out how to enforce copyright in a digital environment.

    I don’t think that’s quite true. We all have an interest in content creators getting paid, so they continue to create. I’m afraid, however, that COPYright, understood as control over the right to make copies, is becoming an increasingly untenable mechanism for ensuring that creators get paid, given the inexorable technological advances embodied by the Internet and digital storage.

    Insistence on COPYright enforcement (which means DRM and file-sharing lawsuits, more or less) isn’t likely to remind everyone of our common interests. More likely, it will line up the content industry against both consumers and technologists. And in the long run (even the not-so-long run) that’s a fight the content industry is going to lose.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    And unless the underlying principles that the advocates are putting forward make sense in the context of a larger system, their advocacy has less to do with justice and more to do with short-run convenience.

    That is the issue, Justice vs. convenience. The injustice of a law like the DMCA for example, brought into existence for the short-run convenience of a business plan of a group of large well-connected corporations, really nothing more than corruption.

    The problem is this entire ‘larger system’ which you defend is at its heart deeply corrupt, and that is why it destroys freedom, wherever that system spreads.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    And unless the underlying principles that the advocates are putting forward make sense in the context of a larger system, their advocacy has less to do with justice and more to do with short-run convenience.

    That is the issue, Justice vs. convenience. The injustice of a law like the DMCA for example, brought into existence for the short-run convenience of a business plan of a group of large well-connected corporations, really nothing more than corruption.

    The problem is this entire ‘larger system’ which you defend is at its heart deeply corrupt, and that is why it destroys freedom, wherever that system spreads.

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