Saturday, May 5, 2018

A few thoughts on copyright

Every once in a while, I'll come across a discussion where someone justifies pirating a movie or popular TV show with "nothing of value was lost." Basically, these people claim that it isn't really "stealing" if the content creator (HBO, Disney, etc) keeps the original copy.

It baffles me why people say this.

I think I get where they're coming from, just not their conclusions. I think these people don't like the US copyright system. And I certainly agree that there's a lot wrong with the current US copyright laws. The Copyright Term Extension Act, a.k.a. the Sonny Bono Act, or (sometimes) the Mickey Mouse Protection Act has extended copyright terms dramatically. And that's not good.

The original US copyright system was designed so that a content creator could control the rights to their creations for a certain term, then that creation would fall into the public domain. But the Copyright Term Extension Act continues to stretch that term. From Wikipedia:
Under this Act, works made in 1923 or afterwards that were still protected by copyright in 1998 will not enter the public domain until 2019 or later. Mickey Mouse specifically, having first appeared in 1928, will be in a public domain work in 2024 or afterward (depending on the date of the product) unless the owner of the copyright releases them into the public domain before then.
And yes, that sucks.

But whether you realize it or not, copyright protection works for more than just the Big Media companies (HBO, Disney, etc). Copyright works for Free software and open source software, too. In fact, the copyleft afforded by the GNU General Public License only works because of copyright protections.

Copyright gives you, the author (or maintainer or contributor) of a software project the right to say how people can copy it. In proprietary software, they are very strict to how you can copy their software (basically, you can't). In Free software licenses, it's very liberal (in most cases, you can give it away, as long as you make the source code available).

So to say "it was only a copy, nothing of value was lost" basically says "I don't care about Free software." If you ignore copyright because you don't like how Big Media profits from copyright terms, then what's to stop someone else from ignoring your copyright on your open source software project? Because if copyright doesn't exist, then there's nothing to stop Big Software companies like Microsoft from taking Free software and making it proprietary.

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