The Mess We Call Copyright

Yet another rant about copyright, piracy and why we should embrace free culture, where we pay for creation, not for copies and where information is for everyone.

This morning I opened the Saturday issue of Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant. In it, I found a rather large issue about "the war against piracy". Anti-piracy firm Brein was going to systematically target "illegal downloaders" by forcing compliance from internet providers, and send them warning messages and finally fines. They even charged fansub organizations, groups of people that provide Dutch subtitles for international films. The illustrations, by the way, were pictures of a skeleton wearing a hoody, sitting in a dark room in front of a laptop. Empty cans of energy drinks on the desk. Is that our image of piracy?

When I started playing with computers, I was wasting my time clicking around in Windows, finding new configuration screens, seeing what options I could change in the graphical interfaces (sometimes even with regedit, woo). There was no general awareness of GNU or anything like that around the parts where I lived or spent my time online. There was only Windows and there were only those graphical options. I mean, there was OS X but that was just pricey stuff no one should use anyway.

Then, my older cousin introduced me to piracy. There was this tool called ╬╝Torrent which you could use to magically pull all sorts of weird stuff from websites like The Pirate Bay and isoHunt. He showed me how to download the game called Morrowind, which I, as a young kid, on an old computer, could never hope to play and understand (not to mention that my only English was what I had learned by playing simple games and browsing the web). My Firefox 3 obviously wasn't running an ad blocker yet, so you can imagine the impact of visiting TPB for the first time. Piracy changed my life forever.

I started wondering how all this could work, and the new websites I was visiting showed me sides of computing I had never seen before. The "happy simple customer" bubble exploded completely over the course of the next year. Things I downloaded made me realize what sorts of amazing things could be achieved on a computer. I started trying a bit of programming, I came across this weird Linux thing everyone was talking about and a convenient computer crash taught me that a) Windows always crashes and b) you can do all sorts of crazy things with a Linux distribution.

I experienced culture in a way I would've never had without piracy. I jumped from movie to movie, from game to game and whatever came after that. I didn't have the money to buy all those things, and if I had, I'm sure my parents wouldn't have let me buy half of what I consumed back then (I was that young). Piracy was liberating, it was like you were able to see what was going on in the world. Users weren't tied down by the wishes of creators, creators were tied down by wishes of the user. And that's how it should be.

If I pirated something, and I really liked it, I would buy it (if I had the funds) or at least tell my friends about it. If I didn't like it, or I thought the price was way too high, I did nothing. Good creators flourished under the influence of piracy, and I believe they still do today. If you make something good, word will spread. And you will receive money, because we want to see more of you. In a world without piracy, making money off creating stuff is about selling a product: how do I get people to buy this?. The product can be terrible, the consumer just has to notice after buying it.

In a world with free culture, making money out of creating stuff is about creating something good. If you make something great, you won't have to do much marketing. The internet will spread the word for you like Hermes on a hurricane, and you will receive loads of backing for your effort. Piracy has been doing this for us for years, but now we're killing it like it's some thoughtless and unethical act.

In our current world, copying data is practically free. Making data is what takes effort. So why do we still pay for copying, instead of for creating? Crowdfunding is the future, data should be free to redistribute. Only then people will be able to see which creators are good, and they will reward them.

Yes, right now, piracy is illegal. The problem isn't piracy though, the problem is the law. Copying data should have never been illegal. The world is at war, our planet is getting real hot and in years we will have an insane food shortage. Maybe if we'd start sharing our knowledge we might actually get something done.

Stop shooting pirates. Start shooting the huge companies that are trying to maintain copyright for solely their own benefit. The companies that make a living not by creating stuff, but by maintaining the copyright of real creators. Start paying for creation instead of for free copies. Let's create a world where information is for everyone.