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:
As a content creator myself, I say, bunkum.
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.