IP is Dead, Long Live Media!
The Internet is a wonderful thing. It has enabled communication in a way no other invention since the telephone has. It has also enabled the sharing and reproduction of all kinds of media, from print, to audio and video. The only comparable revolution was the Printing press. Before the printing press, a copy of a manuscript was only possible through long hours of manually copying each page. While this resulted in beautiful works of art which are still cherished today, it also drastically limited the audience for those books. With the advent of the Printing Press, a book could be completely reproduced in the time it once took to copy a few pages. Data became less scarce, only as scarce as the resources required to print a book.
Now, with the Internet, that same book can be reproduced in the time it once took to set the type for a single page, or even faster, if you don’t need a hard copy. This is a nightmare for content producers, much as the Printing press was. Worse, since the reproduction of the book does not require the expenditure of physical resources. The Internet, as Cory Doctorow has said, is a gigantic copy machine. It is based on making copies.
As you read this article, you’re not reading the original. The original is still on my computer. You’re not even reading the copy I Emailed to email@example.com, since that copy is still in the inbox. You’re not even reading the copy that was uploaded to the server. That copy is still there, for others to access. You’re actually reading a copy stored locally in a temporary directory. By Conventional copyright law, You, the site, and gods know how many servers along the way, have already committed violations, by copying and storing my work.
Data on the Internet is no longer scarce at all, it is abundant. Just as no-one can own the air, because it is abundant, No-one can own Internet-resident Data. If you keep the data off the Internet and on a piece of paper, You can own the piece of paper that the Data is written on, and if you prevent the Data from being copied (Thus keeping it scarce), you can own that data, But the moment you make it accessible on the Internet, it becomes abundant, and out of your control.
What’s worse, Modifying information has never been easier, either. Before the printing press, you were required to scrape the vellum and re-write what you wanted to change. After the printing press, you had to print another page, or, eventually, use white-out or another correction method. Now, modifying a book is easy as a few keystrokes. Images can be altered with a few mouse movements. Music can be remixed almost as easily. My work, this article, can be easily edited… Once it’s out of my control. All of those copies out there are out of my control. Obviously, trying to control what is done with those copies is almost as absurd as trying to stop them from being created.
That’s OK, though… Because I have no claim on those copies. They’re not mine. I made the article available on the Internet, and thus abundant. The copy on your hard drive is your property now, since the data which comprises it resides on your property (Your hard drive). Were I to lay claim on them, I would be laying claim to part of your property, claiming that I can tell you how to use your property (Your hard drive). I don’t think any reader of The Libertarian Enterprise would appreciate that. Since it’s your property, you can do whatever you want with that copy of the article. You can save it, delete it, print it, even edit it. Though, if you do edit it, I would appreciate if you would not attempt to pass off the resultant work as being wholly mine, or wholly yours. You can, of course, if you want… But I can always prove you wrong by producing the original.
But… How to make a buck when my work can so easily be copied, or even altered? There are many ways to profit from a good you cannot control the access to. By far, the easiest is to simply *ask*. The donation model has a long history of working very well. Ad-supported works well, too… It’s the model the Internet was built on. Many content producers do well by using the Internet as a method to promote their traditional media works. Giving away your content is a great way to get an audience.
On podiobooks.com, you will find several authors whose for-pay works have gotten their start by giving it away. The Solar Clipper series, by Nathan Lowell, is currently ranked on Amazon with the likes of R. A. Heinlein. Scott Sigler parlayed his free audiobook into a contract with Crown books (A division of Random House) J. C. Hutchins’ wildly successful audio-book podcast was recently optioned by Warner Brothers. In addition, he’s also got a deal with Discovery to help promote the second season of The Colony, as well as a book published by St. Martin’s Press. Cory Doctorow, who gives away all his books online for free, does a booming business on his dead-tree format books. Jonathan Coulton calls the Internet his “Money pooping cow”, which he feeds music, and out comes money.
Maybe you’ve never heard of any of those people. Maybe some more mainstream Examples would help? Radiohead released their 2007 album “In Rainbows” on the web only, and asked only that downloaders pay “whatever they want”. Nine inch Nails Released “Ghosts I-IV” online, offering the first 9 tracks for free, in DRM-free MP3s. They sold out of their $300 limited edition package. Not “mainstream”, but certainly more likely to be known in these circles, J, Neil Schulman’s “Alongside Night” outsells all his other works on Amazon… And he gives that one away free online.
Content producers have found ways to still do what they love, and make a living doing it, even considering the Internet’s destruction of the notion that you can control what other people do with their copies of your works. Whether or not you think IP is a viable concept for a Libertarian society, you have to acknowledge that it’s an unenforceable and unnecessary one in the Internet age.