As discussed in Mike Masnick’s Techdirt post When We Copy, We Justify It; When Others Copy, We Vilify Them,
We’ve written multiple times about Kirby Ferguson’s excellent Everything is a Remix project that has produced three videos highlighting the problems and history of intellectual property and how copying and derivative works are a core element of culture and invention. He’s now released the fourth and final installment in the series, and it’s a great summary look at the general problems with intellectual property law today.
Everything is a Remix Part 4 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.
The key theme is that the theory (treating ideas, inventions, content, etc. as a form of “property” — in the minds of many copyright and patent system supporters) simply doesn’t match up with reality (where almost everything is a derivative work of some sort). What the video does nicely is highlight the hypocrisy of it all. As he notes brilliantly, when we copy (and everyone does copy), we justify it. When others copy, however, suddenly we attack them and vilify them. A perfect recent example of this, by the way, was former NYT executive editor Bill Keller’s bizarre defense of the NYT copying and posting a work covered by someone else’s copyright, just days after his own column came out in support of greater legal enforcement of copyrights.
As he notes, this is psychologically understandable. It’s all about “loss aversion.” People feel a sense that they “own” something which they really do not — and that’s often boosted by the concepts of intellectual property that really spread the idea that you can, in fact, own an idea (and, yes, technically neither copyright nor patents apply directly to “ideas,” but that’s a nuance that most people fail to grasp when they see how content and inventions are considered “owned” under the laws of today).
The video then talks about the continued expansion of copyright laws, and the more nefarious effort to continue to ratchet things up through trade agreements like ACTA and TPP. But he also points out that this is somewhat ironic, since in its early years, the US refused to sign similar trade agreements, and was a “pirate nation” that ignored copyrights from around the globe.
The video doesn’t just cover copyrights, but digs into patents as well — with specific attention paid to broad software patents that do little to contribute any knowledge to the world, but instead take broad concepts and seek to lock them up for the purpose of suing and trying to extract settlements from those actually creating and innovating.
From there he breaks out the original purpose of both copyrights and patents under the US system. In both cases, they were about benefiting the public: to encourage learning or to promote the progress of “useful” arts (inventions). But when the laws fail to do that, then we should see the system as broken and seek to remedy it.
All in all, Ferguson’s series is a great introduction to many of the issues we cover around here. I don’t fully agree with everything in all of the videos — and the latest one has a slight undertone suggesting that capitalism and markets in and of themselves are bad (which I think is conflating a few different issues). But overall the videos are fantastic — and in terms of production quality, it seems like each one in the series is better than the previous one. He keeps maturing as a video maker, which is cool to see. Ferguson is now moving on to a new project, called This is Not a Conspiracy Theory, for which he’s raising funds on Kickstarter, so check it out.
- TUAW on SOPA and PIPA: What they are and why we’re against them;
- New Video On How PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet;
- Your Start-Up Isn’t Unique, But That Doesn’t Matter;
- Everything is a Remix–Part 3
- Microsoft Co-Founder on Software “Borrowing”;
- Everything is a Remix;
- Nina Paley’s All Creative Work Is Derivative
- Masnick: Time To Remix Copyright Law: The Hip Hop Case Study