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Jay Currie

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3/29/2005

Copywrong Redux

Not content to wage a freindly comment war, Sean over at Polspy lets rip at what he sees as my happy willingness to nationalize his photography through my proposed broad media levy.

I've commented there but thought those of you interested in copyright might want to have a version here - I know I do.

The general point I'm making is that the proposed amendments to the Copyright Act are a complete waste of time because technology has made digital reproduction stupidly easy.

Copyright evolved in a world where you actually needed big honking presses and photolabs and all sorts of other chokepoints in order to make a copy of something. That was big time friction.

That is no longer the case and pretending that an enforcement model is going to work across millions of tiny infringements is simply silly.

Does that mean I want to abolish private property? Of course not. By proposing a broadly based media levy designed to capture some of the value of the reality of downloading I am trying to deal, realistically, with the change technology has created.

(In passing, nothing which I propose would prevent a photographer from suing the pants off a magazine or a website which used his images and did not pay him. At the macro level a photographer would have all the rights he has now. (There is no private use right for photography.) However, what about the situation where I go to your phtography site and download, strictly for my own pleasure, the material you have posted. Would you like to see a little money coming from that?)

The essential distinction you is between commercial use - where the standard copyright regime makes good sense - and non-commercial uses where that regime is worse than useless.

If anything, my modest proposal to extend the media levy to internet connections and mini-hard drives is designed to further protect creators' property rights by capturing revenues which it would be uneconomic to litigate over.

I agree creators should not have their incomes subject to the whims of some governmental apparatcik. A point underscored by the fact that the current media levy, as of about 2004,has never actually paid out most of the 50 million or so it has collected; but that has more to do with the remarkable incapacity of artists to really get serious about collecting what they are owed. And also, frankly, the relatively insignificant amounts that have been collected under the levy.

A broader levy would begin to pump out real dollars. There are around 6 million households in Canada with highspeed. Say $2.00 a month and you are looking at 144 million a year...Retail music sales in 1999 (and I am too lazy to dig for more recent figures) were 761 million so 144 million would be enough to interest the artists.

Now, by comparison, imagine if the Canadian Record industry sued the tradition 50 or so customers a month and they all sold their skateboards and CD collections and were able to settle every case at $3000.00 a piece. Assuming the music lawyers worked for free, that's a whopping 150k a month.

The essential problem with the enforcement model is that there is simply no way of reaching realistic levels of compensation even if the technology had not already made the low hanging fruit of open P2P swapping networks obsolete.

Time to ditch the industrial age thinking along with your enlarger and your process camera...world's going digital, baby! Time for the law to catch up.