Copyright - 'a barrier, not a boon'
"Copyright is not the natural order of things. It was invented only some 300 years ago to protect printers - not writers. And it remains a means to protect the near-monopolistic rights of music companies, publishers and software houses. It distorts the market and is a barrier, not a boon, to creativity."
That's the view of Australian Sydney Morning Herald columnist Graeme Philipson in his September 23 Copyright distorts the market
"The record industry, the film industry and the software industry all cry foul when their products are copied," he says. "Piracy! Theft! They hide behind the spurious and increasingly implausible argument that they are protecting the rights and income streams of artists.
"This is utterly false, and demonstrably so. Shakespeare, Beethoven, and da Vinci never had the protection of copyright. Indeed, some of their best work came through copying and improving upon the works of others. Shakespeare himself was a noted plagiarist, and half of the classical music canon is extremely derivative.
Very few artists make money from royalties - "Most writers and musicians and painters - and software developers - are paid by the hour or by the project" - and he himself makes a good living writing, although he's never once received any payment beyond, "a dollar (cents, actually) word rate for a commissioned article".
In fact, Philipson continues, royalties paid to creators of successful works of art are very unevenly distributed. "A very few get obscenely rich, a few more make a bit, and the vast majority get nothing at all. And the middlemen, protected by the anachronistic system of copyright privilege, do very well.
"The system is not designed to reward talent, but to channel the money into a few greedy pockets.
"Of course, anybody who does well out of a particular system has a considerable vested interest in its maintenance. They will always cloak their objections to change in the most objective and disinterested terms, appealing to the common good and the welfare of the artistic community. Do not believe a word of it.
"They could once justify their position, at least partially, by their ability to distribute the material efficiently. With the internet, that argument has been swept into the dustbin of history, We don't need distributors any more. There are no advantages in the current regime of copyright, and many disadvantages.
"Just imagine, if you will, a world without copyright and intellectual property laws. Anybody could copy anything - music, films, software, books - at any time, for any reason, with no penalty and at no cost. What would such a world look like?
"People would still write, just as Goethe and Swift and Racine did when they lived in such a world. People would still paint. People would still write and perform music. We would still enjoy their output - though at lower cost. Payment for performance would become more important. Content would not change, just the business models based on them.
"But what of software? Many people say it is a special case. The software industry, unlike some other areas of creative activity, grew up in the era of copyright protection, and needs that protection for its survival.
"No, it does not. This argument, like all others in favour of the protection of so-called intellectual property - a pretty weird concept when you really think about it - is spurious, and not supported by facts or events.
"The whole open source software movement gives a lie to the arguments for software protection. So does the inevitable move towards the provision of software as a service - which is not so far from the idea of payment per performance."