Sunday, February 22, 2004

Copyright or Not

Every other article I read on digital goods and copyright proposes one of two extremes, either:

1) Keep copyright as it is and shore it up with more laws, lawsuits, controls, DRM, and anything else you can think of to reduce the efficiency of digital distribution. Roughly the course we are on now.

2) Or, abandon copyright completely, allow free access to all content for everyone, and reward artists from a central fund. Many have proposed solutions in this category and one of the latest being an article in the Register by Andrew Orlowski interviewing Jim Griffin. This course has some merits but also disadvantages – how to collect the money, who distributes it, who gets to register as artist, and how can you stop people gaming the system.

In the past, Jessica Litman has called for a complete rethink of copyright, "Most fundamentally, I would argue, we need to fasten on some measure of a copyright holders' rights other than the familiar reproduction." but she is now proposing a hybrid 'copyright / free distribution' model that I fear might inherit the disadvantages of both.

Why not a third way; a totally new model for dealing with intellectual property? Collective rights where, for starters, it establishes everyone's basic right of access to an intellectual product, goes on to give the author singular rights to trade the product commercially, and goes still further to allow others to take 'shares' in these rights to the product and so support it, promote it, share it, and use it as they wish. This approach allows distribution models from single item purchases, to subscription or levy systems (Griffin bundles), to free promotional offers, all without DRM or technological controls.

Not copyright, not nothing, but something new.

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