At first I was surprised to find that a major copyright holder, the New York Times, supported a reasonable approach to copyright law.

Then I realized this was a mishmash of opinion from across the web. These were bloggers’ opinions, not old line newspaper opinions. And, of course, that turn of events fits in perfectly with the the way we’re used to looking at things. Grandpa can’t figure out how to get his ipod to work, and baby boomer CEOs are still amazed by the shiny surfaces of CDs.

There is some truth to that way of looking at the world, but another explanation is that old line copyright holders won’t, rather than can’t, see what’s obvious to the rest of us. Yesterday, I linked to an article that culled the archives of google books that pointed out the 180 the music industry has done since they were deeply involved in the copyright act of 1909.

Their goal was to get a new provision (section g) which would give composers (and thus publishers) the right to charge a royalty for these sound recordings. In strong opposition was the recording industry — which violently denied that the copyright holders should gain any share of the new market that (as they saw it) had been created out of thin air by technological innovation. To give copyright holders a veto over technology, they argued, would be fatal to the progress the Copyright Clause was designed to promote.

Its probably possible to make the argument that the music industry of 1909 was filled with young turks who saw the times changing, and now its filled with old timers who still see the world as it was decades ago. But, its also possible that the music industry was simply on the other side of the eight ball. In 1909 the music industry had yet to take advantage of the opportunities that were out there. So they pushed for laws that would allow them to take advantage of opportunities. Now, however, the music industry is on the other side of the equation. It has taken advantage of opportunities and wants to close those opportunities to others in order to preserve their aging business model.

Now, that’s a lot of words to say something that seems rather obvious. However, virtually all of the music industry’s arguments are framed in terms of morality, but history shows us that this isn’t about morality, its about money. And just as the music industry argued in 1909 for laws that would allow it to make the most amount of money. Today they are doing the same.

The difference?

In 1909 their arguments resulted in laws that produced greater contributions to our culture. Today their arguments stifle contributions to culture.

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The kindle is a wonderful piece of technology. I don’t own one, but I’ve gotten the chance to marvel at one from time to time. The problem isn’t what the technology is able to do, but what its allowed to do.

From here:

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.
1984A screen shot from Amazon.com The MobileReference edition of the novel, “Nineteen Eighty-four,” by George Orwell that was deleted from Kindle e-book readers by Amazon.com.

But no, apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people’s Kindles and credited their accounts for the price.

And there’s the problem with the Kindle. You don’t actually own what you own. We already knew that you’re not allowed to resell “your” books or trade “your” books the way you can, well every other non-Kindle book you own. Now it looks like the books you bought and paid for aren’t yours if the publisher decides to change their mind.

The real punch line in all this? The two books in question are George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984.

Of course the real, revolutionary question that might better be asked is why are two books which have fundamentally shaped American culture, who’s author has been dead since 1950 are still under copyright?