The international landscape is getting darker with the introduction of a bunch of copyright treaties and laws designed to protect obsolete business models and kill the freedom we all enjoyed on the internet, including freedom of speech and expression.
In response to recent developments i tried to think of what can be done in the favor of the masses, while preserving most of the capacity of the copyright holders to profit from their ideas.
The answer, partially envisioned by Marietje Schaake in this article, is that “If we want to serve consumers, artists and businesses well, we need to find a new balance in copyright”.
Here are some ideas on how this balance might be achieved in the future:
Defining what copyright really means
A. Shorter copyright life time
Because we live in 2012 and not the ice age, the length of the copyright must be shortened according to current communication means. In the ice age people relied on big mammals to carry with them stones containing messages. Back then it took a great amount of time to sell or promote any material and sometimes a whole lifetime was not enought to spread even an idea.
“In most of the world, the default length of copyright is the life of the author plus either 50 or 70 years.” (Wikipedia) is a outrageous copyright claim. Nowadays you can profit almost instantly from a song, movie or any other material that can be distributed using the internet because of the new channels internet has made available to copyright holders to sell their content. In respect with movies some make 90% of their revenues in the first few months after their release. So the general idea is that if a media product is of a good quality it will surely accumulate a great deal of income in the first year of it’s life. In other case, if the movie is crap, the song is shit and so on … it can take ages and never make any money. Nowadays the rate of wich a product go obsolete is faster than ever and is makes no sense other than making dinosaurs rich to enforce copyright for obsolete products.
As a result of this i believe that the length of the copyright for electronic books, media including movies, videos, songs, etc should be no longer than 2 years. The same can be applied to software and their versions. By limiting copyright lifetime on software to let’s say also 2 years we quickly realize that the software companies will be much more interested in coming with new versions of the same software rendering the old versions obsolete in a short time while also giving a much greater chance for new software to appear using ideas from the old software products. Humanity as a whole can only benefit from this situation.
B. Clear distinction between electronic products and real life products
There must be a clear distinction between tangible products and non tangible goods. In real world things move much slower than on the internet and because of that it takes more time for the copyright holder to profit from his idea and to sell his tangible product. It is slower because it involves transportation, manufacturing, design and many many other planning phases to get from idea to product. In this perspective i think tangible products should have an copyright lifetime of 5 years.
There are also some particular cases like for example a book that come to my mind now. In my opinion the book should be copyright protected for 5 years in the print version and for 2 years in the electronic version. Even the electronic version of the copyright expires the printed version should continue to be protected, thus allowing the same king of profit making in both the old and new markets.
What about the iPhone ? The iPhone hardware should be copyright protected for 5 years while it’s software should be copyright protected for 2 years, so you see it’s easy to see how this copyright distinction can take place without ambiguity.
C. Individual artists/inventors/copyright owners should be better protected
Individual artists/inventors/copyright owners should be better protected by the copyright laws than the corporations as they have limited means of enforcing or protecting their copyright and also less means of successfully promoting their work during a short period of time, so for example an individual persons should get a 2 year extension to their current copyright length allowance compared with a corporation and maybe given access to some sort of cheap or discounted legal representation.
How to enforce copyright rights
We must have a clear distinction between individual persons and other entities like companies.
1. Reasonable amount of time to allow voluntary take downs
The copyright owner must contact the copyright infringer and ask him to take down the infringing content in a timely manner ( 5 days prior to the official take down request );
2. Reliable communication channels between the copyright owner and the infringer
The service supplier must create a way in witch the copyright owner can contact the infringer in a reliable manner ( and possible protecting the privacy of the supposed infringer in the first stages ) ( for example forwarding emails to the user on behalf of copyright owner ). If the user fails to comply or give pertinent answers to copyright owners than they can continue with the current style take down requests.
3. Protecting innocent and by chance infringers
As with many other ‘crimes’ copyright infringement should not bear direct consequences to individual infringers if the infringer is at his first mistake. The first time an infringer is caught he should bear no other consequences than a mark on his ‘criminal’ record.
4. Capping the liabilities of individuals
In case of individual infringers the penalties for infringing must be set according to each infringer net worth ( assets ) and must not be greater than infringers net value + let’s say 10 medium salaries; Infringing penalties can’t add up for a period of less than 2 year for example so you must always take into consideration the highest penalty.
5. About possible prision time
As long as by imprisoning the ‘pirate’ you can effectively stop the pirating of that product or minimize it to a great extent i think is ok to send someone to prison for this reason. But sending an ‘MP3′ pirate to prison won’t effectively stop any pirating or even a small part of it so i see no reason for people to go to jail just because of pirating software or media. Prison time can be equal with the time the copyright upon witch he is imprisoned is still valid ( 2-5 years ).
These are just some of the measures that i believe are really needed in our current times. We don’t need ACTA, SOPA, PIPA and any other laws designed not only to protect copyright owners, but in fact designed to destroy initiative and creative thinking. And don’t tell me patents protect thinking and innovation. Nowadays the majority of patents only protect the big corporation money printing machines. But you simply can’t have an great idea today, patent it and stop everyone else from using it for the next 70 years. Long copyright protection lifetime is unacceptable and must STOP!
And one last message for governments that in secret sign ‘treaties’ that concern the entire population of their country without asking at least for some form of public input, ‘treaties’ written in the back of closed doors: You can’t do that anymore ! Those times are over !