Punditry Saturday: With Friends Like These…

The Web is loaded with copyright experts and organizations dealing with copyright reform. I’m not going to single any one blogger/group/site out because there are so many, but anyone who has researched copyright on the Web, especially regards to the DMCA or blogging, knows exactly who I’m talking about.

Most of these sites are run by lawyers and copyright experts that are obsessed with the word “freedom”. They go on long tirades against the DMCA and its supporters, they offer free legal services to those prosecuted under it and talk, in self-important articles, abut how they are protecting creativity on the Web.

But while I agree with them politically and think their work is noble, their notion of freedom fighting is severely limited. Simply put, they’ve left the unwashed masses to fend for themselves when their copyrights are infringed and leave it to people like me, amateur law students and scholars, to help others protect what is rightfully theirs.

Who’s Freedom is it Anyway?

Most of these pontificating elitists have no idea what it’s like to be on the front lines of the Internet copyright war.

They’ve never had to comfort a budding poet who is crying because her work is being plagiarized and commercialized all over the Web, they’ve never helped a handicapped woman who’s making a meager living selling instructions on Ebay only to find her hard work plagiarized and resold in competing auctions and they’ve never watched as their friend and literary idol tears down his entire site, a lifetime of work, due to rampant content theft.

If you get sued for trying to crack the copy protection scheme on a DVD, they’re there to defend you and will take your case as your own, but if your Creative Commons Licensed book or painting is ripped off and plagiarized, they offer nothing, just a cold shoulder when you have to use a DMCA notice to get the infringing work taken down.

They simply have no idea how personal or difficult this struggle is for the small copyright holder. The ones who have poured their heart and soul into their work but lack the legal background to protect it. They are the ones who make the Web what it is, the world largest repository of free content, and they are at least as important, if not more so, than any of the headline DMCA victims when it comes to preserving creativity on the Web.

After all, what’s to become of the Web when the small guys leave, sick and tired of watching their works becomes seed articles for synoymizers, fodder for sploggers and ripe content for anyone to steal?

Never Enough

In these circles, it doesn’t matter how liberal your copyright policy is, it’s never enough. Copyright guides that offer tomes on how to legally reuse content offer not a single word of advice on what to do when their work is stolen. If you want to reuse content legally, they’re there to help you, but when you want protect your work from misuse, they look down their nose out you.

They, for whatever reason, see copyright holders as the enemy. Every word they write is about how to legally get as much as possible from them, both working within the existing law and by reforming it. The rights of copyright holders never get mention unless it gets in the way of a desired right of reuse and, in those cases, the light is almost always negative.

What they fail to realize is that the bloggers and musicians they are giving birth to are not simply end users, but are the new copyright holders as well. It is not enough for them to simply know what they can and can not do with others work, they have to know what their copyrights are and what to do when others violate their CC licenses and take advantage of their good will.

Sadly, their notion of freedom only deals with the rights of the user and, even as their climate of sharing blurs the lines between user and copyright holder, they thumb their noses at people like me who seek to help your common webmaster protect their work from misuse.

Even though their notion of freedom can’t survive without copyright law and cooperation between creators and users, their work creates a hostile environment between the two, teaching and encouraging users how to push the envelope while failing to help even the little guys deal with the incidents where the envelope is broken.

Ignored

There’s a reason that this site is ignored in copyleft circles. No matter how many times I advocate the revoking of the DMCA and take up their familiar causes, they pass me over. It’s not because the information on this site is incorrect or that I’m advocating something they’re against, but because I also hold users to task and encourage copyright holders to stand up for the rights they reserve.

I believe that the free distribution of literature and the climate of sharing will only work if it is done with respect and courtesy. I don’t believe that plagiarism encourages sharing, but rather, discourages it. Webmasters have no motivation to allow their works to be reused when the few rights they reserve are broken. It encourages copyright holders to restrict users rights as much as possible or, worse still, pack up and leave entirely.

So, while the copyleft elite have been teaching users how to push the boundaries, making their relationship with copyright holders more hostile than ever, I’ve been working to support organizations like the Creative Commons and, at the same time, teach webmasters what to do when others go too far.

My sincere hope is that both sides will grow to understand their rights and that copyright holders will realize that they have a greater obligation to society and allow reasonable reuse of the work and users, on the other hand, will have great respect for the few rights withheld.

That is my idea of a copyright utopia and I am working to achieve it. But I know that it can’t be done by just supporting the rights of the user and that, no matter how uncool or un-pc it is to consider the rights of copyright holders that they have to be taken into account as well.

In the end…

As trendy as these copyleft advocates might be and as much of folk heroes as they might be with the file sharing crowd, they aren’t doing any real work to bring about the utopia of sharing that they dream of.

Attacking the problem from one angle does no good and encourages nothing. Those of us who are in the trenches of the Internet copyright war are doing far more than the pundits ever could.

Because, if we’re going to win this war and bring about some real change, we have to work together. We’re fighting a war on two fronts and, though we all want the same thing, we have to stop shooting at each other before we can get it.

[tags]Plagiarism, Copyright Infringement, Copyright, Copyleft, Creative Commons[/tags]

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