SOPA/ PIPA and the conundrum at the core of copyright, part 2

Continued from yesterday
– Is Copyright law okay they way it is now, or should it be changed?
– If changed, should it be more or less strict?
– How long should you get to own the monopoly on your creative work?
– How often do you violate copyright?

The answers tend to be that copyright law should be more strict, they should get to own their own work for their life or longer, and they violate copyright often and without much ethical compunction and hardly any legal fear.  I feel like the conundrum at the heart of these questions is what makes the Copyright question so interesting to discuss with students.

4. Some Provocations:
Cory Doctorow makes a connection in RIP! A Remix Manifesto between the Victorian attitude toward sex and the current attitude toward copyright.  We all, as he says, violate copyright at one time or another.  But we talk about it as if we don’t.  One of my students put it best one time when he said “My mom gets mad at me for downloading movies and music, but she always forgets about disliking piracy when it’s time for me to get her TurboTax each year.”

Larry Lessig’s phrase from his TED talk is perhaps the most crucial one for me: “Common sense revolts.”  I suspect as time goes on, the ideas that we all have about how art does and should circulate will change.  That change will be crucial, I think.

Adrian Hon’s Modest Proposal for eternal copyright makes a good mockery of the current ever-extending copyright term limits.  At what point does the benefit to the public become an issue in the face of potential corporate value.

A Remix Manifesto provides a solid set of easy-to-digest arguments for why we should work on changing the status quo in regards to copyright.

5. Solutions
I propose a number of considerations for how this issue should be discussed.  In the main, I’d like to see teachers take a much bigger role in educating students to think about copyright in different ways than history demanded.

First, teachers (professors, etc) need to decide for themselves what they think about how copyright should work and endeavor to practice what they preach.  I generally try for a very low copyright-violating number, but that doesn’t mean I go without violating the rules ever.  But I think it makes it easier for me to talk about the ethics of the situation if I’m confident about my own ethical place in the system.

Second, we need to work on complicating students’ notion of how copyright works.  Right now, very few students have thought about how artists should be compensated, and what it means to take what they want without paying for it.  In some ways, this means I’m discouraging students from copying as an ethical issue — they want protections that they’re unwilling to afford to others in their own practice.

Third, we must complicate how we, and students, understand the creative process.  While it never has been true that art springs fully formed and uninfluenced by the culture around it, we have given in to that idea very strongly in extending copyright on and on and on.  We must demand that the cultural aquifer from which all artists draw start being refilled; all artists draw from culture as they work, we must demand that they start giving back in a more practical way.

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