My FINAL Answer to Intellectual “Property” | Copyright Bites!
My name is Michael and I am from St. Joseph. I dislike copyright…
BUT upon further investigation I have found a handful of exceptions that justify the controlling of ideas. I don’t think intellectual “property” is the best umbrella term for these exceptions, but for the sake of simplicity I will refer to them as such for this discussion. Also, I have found ways in which the common understanding of the public domain does not exactly align with what I was trying to articulate in my videos last year. For this reason I will be moving all my future work away from immediate dedication to the public domain and to a different form of open licensing agreement, beginning with this video.
Now this may sound like I’m reneging on my promise made in previous videos and forsaking my beliefs. I’m a hypocrite! I’m a liar! Stick with me until the end and I’m sure you’ll see that this is not the case. In the meantime, why not like & subscribe while I help unravel one particular pervasive confusion infecting much of the internet and the world. What is the confusion? The idea that copying is the same as stealing.
In my first video I went over why copying is not the same as stealing. In my second video I explained why sharing does not correlate 1 to 1 with lost sales and why plagiarism is also not stealing. Plagiarism is lying, or, false attribution. Lying is not the same as stealing, but it’s still bad and should be condemned. What does this have to do with Intellectual Property? The main supporting argument I hear so often for IP is that copying someone else’s work for profit, or even for personal use, is theft. This argument only works if copying is synonymous with stealing, which it categorically, is not.
However, there are 3 exceptions I can think of that make a prohibition on reproduction justified:
If you have a valuable idea that has not been publicly revealed it would be wrong for anyone else to reveal your closely guarded secret and foil your success. Especially if there was a preexisting agreement forbidding this specific disclosure (reverse engineering or synchronicity of thought notwithstanding). This is, of course, assuming there is nothing nefarious about your secret. You could make the social argument that revealing such a secret could help better society or other such philanthropic platitudes, but I leave that to the discretion of the secret-holder and however generous they may be.
Safety, think of the children! In all seriousness, there are legitimate reasons to censor certain kinds of information. This may run afoul of the freedom-loving American spirit but if you have a tiny bit of legal background you’ll know that complete, radical free speech has never been permitted. Nor should it! Just because obtaining the schematics for a dangerous weapon is not stealing, it doesn’t mean this information should be freely circulated or that anyone and their mother should be allowed to make a weapons factory.
The third and final reason is probably the most unpalatable. It is simply, “because I said so.” Believe it or not the major incentive for a country to establish copyright laws had nothing to do with protecting creative inventive people from theft. It was to incentivize the creation of economic value by permitting monopolies on novel ideas. If a country produced more world-changing lucrative projects, giving a timed monopoly would be a small price to pay. Assuming, of course, other nations respect their monopolies in the form of treaties. You or I may not like this top-down authoritative exclusivity, but at least the logic is not based on a lie.
For me it is a difference of opinion. If I am to share my ideas with the world, I genuinely believe allowing people to use an idea to its fullest potential without nebulous government restrictions on reproduction is best for me and for you. Financially, socially, the whole nine yards. Open source software is an incredible attestation to this belief of mine and I hope to make the same strides in the creative world with support from lovely folks like you.
This leads me to the problems I have with the public domain. My furthered understanding of the public domain is it’s less of an invitation for sharing and more of a no-mans-land where ideas go after the creators are dead. This is a problem for me because, at present, I am still alive and I care about my work and what I do. It so happens that I also want to share my stories, writing, and whatever with everyone so they may be inspired without arbitrary legal shackles. The problem with leaving the door wide open is sometimes you let bad stuff in.
Such as, plagiarism. There is no form of legal retribution against liars who copy from the public domain. My criticisms of the copyright legal process, its expense, and general uselessness for independent creators still stand. But, the cynicism I had towards any form of legal rights or protections was an overreaction. What if the existing legal framework could, at the very least, be used to reinforce what already exists as a social good? Such as, honestly attributing a creative work to the actual creator.
Another problem with the public domain is that something from this no-mans-land can fairly easily be brought under strict, modern copyright protections. A clear example is Disney and Marvel functionally “owning” certain versions of pagan gods (Thor, Loki, etc.) Creating an even remotely distinct adaptation of an old idea means you are now free to forbid anyone else from using that same old idea so long as you’re rich and clever enough to convince the law any alleged infringer is copying your version.
This is very hypocritical because the basis of the idea was freely available and they chose to find whatever way possible to make it no longer free. It would be to my shame if I let someone so easily undermine my work and prevent others from using my ideas to their fullest potential. That isn’t to say I would never be open to working with other people who do not share my particular view on intellectual property. Especially because in collaborative work it ceases to just be my work and what I want and instead becomes our work and what we must do.
A major reason why I began with the public domain was precisely not to impose my beliefs on other people. I wanted to give a gentler form of motivation and lead by example. I also was not completely confident in my analysis of IP. Perhaps there was something I missed? Something I hadn’t considered? That turned out to be the case. In this reassessment I have a greater degree of confidence and one specific realization.
I am not, nor have I ever been, some sort of laissez-faire free market libertarian. I believe there is value in not only telling people what the right thing is, but also that people should do the right thing. As flawed as any one legal system may be, the greater purpose of the law should be to guide people to do the right thing. All of my thinking on this topic has come down to these few simple principles. Don’t be a thief. Don’t be a liar. Don’t be a hypocrite.
I am not one to grandstand or moralize but I think those are fairly uncontroversial imperatives. Where do I fit on this scale? I am not a thief because copying is not stealing. I am not a liar because I do not plagiarize and I am not attempting to rescind the stated license on my previous public work. I am not a hypocrite because I will tell others to share… alike.
The open license I eluded to earlier comes from the Creative Commons, an organization dedicated to providing clear, simple, understandable rules for sharing knowledge and creativity. As terrible as the deluge of End User License Agreements are and the constant restrictions that come with them, I have devised a license that actually gives something to you instead of taking it away.
Under CC BY-SA you are free to share, copy, and redistribute my work in any medium or format. You are free to adapt, remix, transform, and build upon my work for any purpose, even commercially. In keeping with everything I have discussed so far, everything I give comes with these two conditions:
Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests I endorse you or your use.
Share Alike — If you remix, transform, or build upon my work, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.
That’s it. Short, sweet, and consistent with everything I have presented up to this point. If you’re looking for more examples of copyright nonsense, story writing deep-dives, or updates on my work-in-progress fantasy novel make sure to stick around. While you’re here, why not visit my website michaelofstjoseph.com to read this script and much more. The link will be right below the like button.
Last but not least, don’t forget, to share.