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My friend Brad Rodriguez has a very nice piece on copyright and Aaron Swartz up on WendyMcElroy.com today:



Writing about Aaron Swartz from her highly-privleged position, Macleans columnist Barbara Amielreveals that her knowledge of “intellectual property” is stunted:

He and fellow activists banged on about government censorship of the Internet and while not all of it was a lie it was a half-truth. They seemed not to understand that copyright makes content–it’s the lifeblood of a creative and informative web and not just the blunt tool of media companies or an instrument of greed. Without copyright, no writer or creator could earn a living.

As a content creator myself, I say, bunkum.

Amiel desperately needs to cast her view wider than the modern North American publishing industry. For example, as recounted in Der Spiegel, German publishing thrived in the early 19th century, when — because! — there were no copyright laws:

[Economic historian Eckhard] Höffner has researched that early heyday of printed material in Germany and reached a surprising conclusion — unlike neighboring England and France, Germany experienced an unparalleled explosion of knowledge in the 19th century.German authors during this period wrote ceaselessly. Around 14,000 new publications appeared in a single year in 1843. Measured against population numbers at the time, this reaches nearly today’s level. And although novels were published as well, the majority of the works were academic papers.

Sticking to Amiel’s native language, Shakespeare wrote without copyright protection. George Bernard Shaw, no mean creator of content himself, famously observed “the cry for copyright is the cry of men who are not satisfied with being paid for their work once, but insist upon being paid twice, thrice, and a dozen times over.”

One need not look farther than the 20th Century to find examples. In the early days of the personal computer, software was in legal limbo — not clearly protected by copyright or patent laws. And yet there was an explosion of software being written and published, through users groups such as DECUS and CPMUG, and through new magazines such as Dr. Dobb’s Journal and Micro Cornucopia.

And after copyright protection was extended to software, the tradition continued, through the Open Source movement — arguably the biggest fount of software innovation and creation today. Copyright does not “make” this content. Copyright would lock away this content, if its producers allowed it; and the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of developers eagerly embracing this model refutes the notion that “no creator could earn a living” without copyright.

It is especially absurd that Amiel should try to make this point in the context of Aaron Swartz’ offense, which was to download academic papers — because academic journals do not pay their authors! Indeed, it is common for academic journals to make their authors pay “page charges” in order to be published. Academics publish for other reasons — prestige and career advancement — not any kind of royalties. (Indeed, many academics are required to assign their copyrights to the journals, which goes to show that it’s not the creators who crave copyright protection.)

How can the wealthy Ms. Amiel not understand this? Madam, answer this: did you write your column for Macleans just because of the paltry writer’s fee they paid you?

Copyright is an “instrument of greed,” and an abuse of state power…and “content” will do perfectly well without it.

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To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.