December 24th, 2001


Copyright (and other rights)

We're in Kent, and it's all a bit quiet (the family stormfront hits us in about 2 hours), so Hugh decided to kill some time on the computer. Seeing as this is Dad's computer, it's lacking in k3wl games to play, so he popped onto Google to see if there was a demo version of Unreal Tournament to play.

Then we had a better idea - why not pop onto Morpheus and see if there were any complete copies to play? After all, we both have copies at home, it's only going on for a couple of days and anyway, who is it hurting? Of course, these are all justifications, and legally speaking we could both be in a fair amount of trouble for copyright theft.

This is why the music industry is in trouble. Because people don't think of copyright theft as real theft. After all, who am I depriving by making a copy of a game? I'm depriving the people who wrote the game in the first place aren't I? Nope, I haven't removed anything from them, they still have everything they had before. What they don't have is the income they felt they were due for all the hard work they put in. But are they due that? Should someone be able to stop me from arranging letters into a particular order just because they arranged them in that order first?

Which brings us, of course, to the point of what copyright is for. It's there to encourage people to create new products. Which is all well and good, but how much encouragement do they need? I don't have to pay to put on a Shakespeare play after all, why should I have to pay to put on one by Lloyd Weber? Obviously, one answer is that some protection is probably needed to ensure that it is worth producing new creative works. But how long is reasonable? Patents last 14 years, which is obviously considered long enough to encourage people to produce new inventions. If it's long enough for that, surely it's long enough for the marketers to get a decent return on their investment? I mean, if you're going to make money from a song/film/book/game the chances are that it's going to happen in that length of time.

And of course, there's the fact that you _cannot_ protect any digital media against copying. If you never want to let people listen/watch/read the contents, then your encryption can (maybe) stand the pace. But the second you allow anyone to unlock it, you allow that crack to open which hackers will instantly use to remove your content and spread it far and wide. You can try to stop it at the source, but as fast as you destroy networks new ones spring up. And with the rise of such things as freenet and their untracable networks the battle is well and truly lost (unless you're willing to crack down and turn your country into a police state, which seems a tad extreme for copying pop music). The only advantage that the music distributors have over the illegal networks is that they can provide a stable source of whatever music you want, carefully catalogued and available in a variety of different formats of different quality. Emusic has the right idea - £10 a month to download whatever you like in straight MP3 format. With just a little more selection I'd happily pay for that service.

Any which way it's going to be a difficult transition period and I'm looking forward to whatever unlikely compromise is worked out over the next 5 years...

Oh, and it downloaded very well, thankyou very much. 55 minutes in total to get one of the best games of all time. Then we grabbed Civ3 as well, just to make sure we had enough to last out the Christmas season. :->