Let’s face facts, when it comes to digital files, copyright is dead. Not because the idea that a creator of a work doesn’t have a right to control use of that work, in any way they choose doesn’t have merit, but because it is impossible, despite thousands of RIAA lawsuits to the contrary, to enforce copyright laws in a digital world.
The lines of conflict between those who believe digital works exist for the taking, and those (like me) who believe that creators of any form of intellectual property have the inherent right to control the use of their work, are well and clearly established.
To one camp, the rampant downloading of music is not just copyright infringement, but it is also a blatant form of theft. To the other side, they believe it is their right to copy whatever they want under the notion that information “wants to be free.” Unfortunately, there is no hope of any softening of either position. Those who feel they were mugged will not absolve the muggers of their actions, and those who ‘share’ will insist on their right to share.
The accusation that copyright infringement is “theft” is met with extremely logical debates centred on existing legal and dictionary definitions. The basic premise is that nothing physical was removed, since the owner still has their “copy,” so no theft occurred. If these arguments were not so frustrating, they would be humorous. By definition, they are correct. According to existing definitions, copyright infringement isn’t theft. End of subject. They win the debate.
But this only means the definitions are outdated; they were created before the magical world of exact digital duplicates. The definitions don’t take into account aspects of value inherent in all creations, whether they are physical or virtual in nature. Like it or not, the value of a virtual object is diminished when the object is copied. When that copy is made without permission, “value” is removed, therefore value has been “stolen”.
Scarcity creates and instils value. For examples of this Law of the Marketplace we need only look at the price flexibility of any item in high demand. From kids’ toys at Christmas to automobiles, availability affects value. What is the ‘value’ of a new version of the iPad on the day of a limited launch? It is worth a LOT more at the back of the line, than at the front.
We understand that scarcity creates value, and abundance reduces it. Music is no longer scarce. Perhaps it never should have been scarce in the first place, but it was, and therefore had inflated value. Today I access the Internet and hear music whenever I wish. It is no longer something I need purchase from a limited number of suppliers.
Many of us have music on our PCs, which we listen to frequently, but have never paid for. The argument about whether or not we would have purchased this music is a straw man. The fact is, we’ve not paid for the music, we’ve copied it and we’re enjoying it. The fact that we invested the time to find and download it, to listen to it, means it does have value, value we’ve not returned in kind.
One could argue, and it is the argument made in Canada, that since the government has tagged a copyright tax/surcharge onto recordable media, that we have paid for our music downloads in some way. That argument falls apart when you realize that nobody knows which artists I’ve downloaded, and therefore the government has no possible way of compensating the artist whose work I’m listening to.
The proponents of “music sharing” insist that nothing is stolen, but they cannot in all honesty claim, if they listen to the music more than once, that they have received no value. And that is the crux of the whole IP debate. The creator of a work has the right to profit in some way from his/her effort in exchange for the value/pleasure their work brings to others. If that is not the right of the creators, they cannot devote their life efforts, and creative talents solely to the act of creating. The best they can do is make their talent a part-time hobby, while they find some other, more mundane way to make a living. That reduction of their artistic output generates a loss; not just for the artist, but for society.
Recording companies are already dead, except that they haven’t had the common decency to bury the corpses. There is no longer any need to physically distribute what we can distribute electronically. They are as obsolete as home ice delivery of the early 1900s. What is not obsolete is the need to fairly compensate artists for their work. What is needed is an easy to use micro-payment (MP) capability. This has been discussed for several decades, but the ability to easily and securely pay a few pennies to download a song, read an article, watch a movie et al still doesn’t exist. While there are some solutions such as Paypal and Neteller, neither of these are global in reach.
An easy to use MP capability would not stop those who are determined to ste@l (a new word for the 21st century I’ve just defined. It means, “To take something of value electronically, without giving something of value in return”) but it would allow those who believe in the philosophy of QPQ (see the title) to say thanks, in a meaningful way, to the artist whose work they are enjoying.
Cloud computing won't quell this debate, if at all, it will throw fuel on fire. If I can access all my music via the cloud, it's easy for me to give you access to my part of the cloud. I no longer even have to copy to share. I just need to give you access to my copy. It’s like allowing you into my home to look at the art on my wall. If there are solutions, they exist in a change of heart. A sense of fairness in trade. Value in exchange for value (I’m not holding my breath).