Copyright law has its flaws but it doesn’t control your life. This despite a blog post that’s been making the rounds on social media. I’m not going to link it because I’m trying to combat the fear-mongering–one more verified kill and I earn my Hysteria Killer badge!–but you may see it out there getting some shares. I make it a rule that once four of my friends shares one of these blatantly wrong articles I need to blog about it. Fourth one was shared this morning, so here we go.
First off, if you ever see a blog post saying that something is controlling you, be skeptical. Especially if it is something you knew existed but didn’t give it a second thought until this tantalizing headline appears across your feed. “This is trying to control me?” your freedom loving mind will think, “I DO NOT WANT TO BE CONTROLLED! YOU DON’T KNOW ME ANONYMOUS ISSUE I DID NOT CARE ABOUT FIVE MINUTES AGO!”
Our latest culprit? Copyright law. It’s trying to control you and run your life and make you watch Gilmore Girls reruns. And only that last thing is good.
As a skeptic, the number one thing to look for is the source. In this case the article is coming just from one book–it’s essentially a book report. Single source articles trying to present a comprehensive look at an issue should set off a mild alarm. Single source articles trying to just tell you about that source–that’s fine. Like a movie review or an interview with someone. But when it’s trying to tackle something as big as copyright law, you should expect more. Like, I dunno, two sources. Or more.
If you have the time to search for the single source’s credentials you are typically going to find they are very different from what the article suggests. Like in this case where the article suggests that the book’s author is just an innocent copyright researcher who has some thoughts on the issue. Instead, the author is a proud proponent of killing a part of copyright law and seeks out every opportunity to advance his cause. He’s about as impartial a jury member as the prosecutor.
So what is copyright law being accused of this time? Only these four horrible things.
1. Copyright is all about locks.
This is coming from the guy who hates these locks. Despises them. Thinks they are worse than the Star Wars prequels. The truth is far less evil. Copyright law does care about locks around content, but it isn’t all about them. Not even the majority of copyright law is about these locks–directly or indirectly. Copyright law is about authors and trying to figure out a way to reward them for their creative efforts. Efforts which are easily stolen. It’s a difficult challenge in today’s age of incredibly simple copying and as we face new ways of consuming and creating content. Copyright law does need to change, but to say it’s all about the locks is like saying your car is all about the seat belt.
2. Copyright law is privacy law.
This one is bizarre since it’s talking about US law, a country with the least amount of privacy laws in the western (and a good chunk of the rest) world. The US is extremely corporate-friendly when it comes to privacy, especially when compared to Europe which is very consumer friendly. In the European Union they have a documented and acknowledged fundamental human right to privacy. In the United States the same government agency that oversees privacy also regulates those tags on your mattress that can’t be removed under penalty of law.
Suggesting copyright law is privacy law is a strange statement. Stranger still is the support for this argument–that when Viacom sued Google they wanted to be able to look at private videos to see if they were infringing. Yes, Viacom made an outrageous argument in an outrageous lawsuit that went on for years and where Viacom lost almost every step of the way. Eventually they settled for no money, which is as close to saying “Whoops, my bad!” as a giant media conglomerate is going to come these days. Taking one bad argument from a really bad lawsuit and turning it into a scare tactic is pretty cheap.
3. Copyright law weakens security.
The argument here is that you use computers a lot and computers like to patch themselves without telling you and that’s really insecure because you don’t know what they’re doing. That’s an interesting theory except that but for a handful of people in the world NOBODY KNOWS EVERYTHING YOUR COMPUTER CAN DO. Seriously, even computer engineers at Microsoft working on Windows will know their own piece but ask them about another section of the operating system and they’ll shrug, admit they don’t know, and blame them for some bug that impacts their world. That’s how computers have operated for decades yet–if you want to know every moving piece of how the machine works then get yourself an abacus, stop driving your car, and pitch your smartphone into a lake. Modern technology builds on the work of more people than you’ve ever known–if that new functionality somehow translates to less security then you just have a crazy definition of security.
4. Copyright law is surveillance and censorship law.
Oh holy hell. Copyright is considered surveillance because…Snowden? Seriously, that’s as cohesive an argument they can make. They toss in Edward Snowden’s name and suddenly it’s about surveillance. Hey, know what? Edward Snowden loves frozen yogurt. Loves it. So frozen yogurt must be about surveillance too. Delicious, delicious surveillance.
The censorship take is about organizations abusing the process to issue take down threats. This is a somewhat fair criticism. The law does provide for organizations to request content to be removed from web sites and the web sites must comply in order to be shielded from really ugly lawsuits. Some organizations may abuse this process to claim copyright for material that has no copyright protection, they just don’t like it. Definitely abuse. Clearly abuse. Also not allowed under the law, but it may take a company some work to weed out those requests from the legitimate ones. Copyright law is not about censorship just because someone is abusing it and for a while can get away with it. Quite the opposite, in fact.
I am not saying copyright law is perfect. It does need to change for new technologies, a new collaborative economy and creative environment that technology has created, and better limits between the public interest and corporate ownership. But just as copyright law is not perfect neither is any other law. It’s something that impacts us every day whether we realize it or not, from reading articles online to sharing links on Facebook to creating funny memes to watching shows on Netflix. We live in an incredibly rich world of content and copyright is important.
But it doesn’t control your life and anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to sell you something.