Someone tells you a joke.
You think it’s funny.
You repeat it to some people a week later?
Is this theft?
Why not? Because spoken words are plentiful and abundant. There is no shortage of them.
Any shortage makes something valuable; and worth money. It’s all about the market.
All about supply and demand.
Pictures used to be valuable. Typed out words used to be valuable. Recorded music used to be valuable.
Why? They were difficult (and expensive) to reproduce. This made them scarce. Thus valuable. Supply and demand.
You wanted that new Pink Floyd LP in 1975 because there was no way to hear the music without buying the album. You did not have the means to stamp out “copy records” in your basement. And recording it to a reel-to-reel tape did not give you something that was handy to sell or give to others.
The market determines the value of things. Things that are plentiful (verbal jokes) are free. As is the air you breathe. Water is almost free.
Gold is scarce. Impossible to reproduce. Thus immensely valuable.
The internet is a gigantic copy machine. With mass use of social media, WordPress, and blogging, you can copy a song, a picture, or an essay with the click (or maybe two clicks) of a button.
Thus these things are no longer, by the laws of economics, valuable or expensive.
But wait! Artists want to maintain what they had before the internet; total control of the means of production. Their business partners owned the printing presses, the record stamping machines, and the ability to copy photos. The supply was naturally limited and the price was slightly steep–accordingly.
Within a few years, you will be able to print solid objects at home, and print a high quality book for less than a dollar’s cost in materials. This is good news, not bad news. If we could do the same for food and clothing, poverty would disappear.
Artists and writers got used to this. And feel entitled to be able to make a living from their creativity just as they used to. Even if their goods are no longer structurally scarce (they can only be made scarce by coercion and control).
The economics of creativity have changed. Structurally speaking, creative goods are rarely valuable anymore–most of them are approaching zero economic market price.
The only way to preserve the old way of making a living is to impose antiquated copyright mentality (based on a time when content reproduction was expensive and the prices of such goods was naturally high) with the government as a partner. The government, of course, has the monopoly authority to lock people up in iron cages and/or confiscate their wealth. Coercion.
Thus copyright law is outdated and, since the coercive monopoly (government) can enforce at will, can be used as a club to censor and to silence free speech. Why? Technically, you are at risk of a $150,000 government fine if you repeat something in writing or other media that someone has shared on the internet. And how many of any of our ideas are not just really “passed-along” or “borrowed/upgraded” ideas from someone else?
Censorship. If the government doesn’t like what you are saying about them, they can (with today’s technology) find the “ancestry” of your idea and then ruin your finances and/or lock you up for copyright infringement.
But isn’t owning your “intellectual property” just like owning a car or a ranch–if someone uses it without paying you, isn’t that stealing? Of course not. It was only intellectual property in the past because it was valuable. Now the value is approaching (if not already at) zero. Simply a matter of supply and demand. If you owned a Ferrari and someone could, with a click of a button, point a smart phone at it and create one just like it without taking away your “copy”….. Well, then, it would be his or hers, not yours.
In fact, in “influence” terms, you ideas are more (intellectually, not economically) valuable the MORE they get copied for free. It’s even been turned into a measurement called “Klout.” If you’re smart, you WANT people to copy your stuff and pass it on!
The maintenance of an old model by coercion (fines and jail), when it is clearly outdated, is like subsidizing blacksmiths in every town. Or insisting that everyone gets a copy of Britannica rather than using Wikipedia (Or else you put them in prison).
But won’t aggragate creativity be hurt if people don’t get paid for producing art? Quite the contrary; there is a global explosion of creativity in writing, photography (see Instagram) and music. And the quality is going up; not down.
There is also an explosion of political/social expression and free speech. No longer do three TV networks control what we see and think.
It’s a great time to be alive. The world is rapidly unfolding and opening up with information available to everyone, and there is no evidence that the removal of all copyrights would slow it down in the least. All evidence points to the opposite.
Technology and the free market have brought us to the point where you don’t own your published creativity any more than you own that joke you passed on last month…
PS: Everything on Life & Liberty is open source. Take it. Run with it. Improve it. Whatever. We are here to contribute to the “ideas culture” of the world….
Featured image by George Hodan. Public Domain.