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As a producer of copyrighted works, both as an academic and a computer programmer, it seems fair to me that I should have some say over those works. It would be tempting to add something about "especially as my livelihood depends on it", but I realize such an argument is flawed. Society has no more obligation to make it possible for me to earn my living as an academic or a programmer than it had to all the trappers, blacksmiths, farm hands, and carriage builders who historically had to find a new line of work. Indeed, protection of these careers would have been to society's detriment, greatly impeding the agricultural and industrial revolutions.
Why then do we protect certain careers through a law like copyright? The reason espoused in the United States Constitution is "[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." The creative process does not require copyright. Hobby programmers and garage bands continue to produce without any expectation of reward. However, society feels we are better served by providing additional encouragement for work through granting limited exclusive rights. To truly serve society as well as the creators though, these rights need to be reasonable.
We thus see the true idea of copyright is not some inalienable right, but rather an attempt to balance the creation of works with their dissemination. While it may be difficult to do given the power of lobby groups and a vocal public, it is under this light that copyright law must viewed. It raises some very poignant questions. I would like to explore a series of questions related to the public's access to copyrighted works with respect to the term of copyright and digital rights managment (DRM) schemes and anti-circumvention clauses.
Why is it that the copyright term was expanded to the author's life plus fifty years? Surely, if a work is going to be successful, it will have been long before this time and society will have reimbursed its creator handsomely. Have the Beatles not made sufficient money from their existing works that, if invested properly, it would allow them to spend the rest of their lives pursuing whatever creative endeavours they may so desire? Why should society ensure descendants are able to continue to live off the avails of their parents long beyond their childhood years? If this was the desire of the parents, could they not have invested and endowed monies already earned the same as everyone else?
Does Microsoft really need the copyright on Windows 3.1 to persist for several more decades? Will there even be a computer capable of running Windows 3.1 when it comes out of copyright? This is an important point. While copyright amendments have been extending the term, technology obsolescence has been reducing the lifespan of modern media. For example, in just a few short decades, NASA was reduced to having only one machine capable of still extracting the data on the historic Apollo master tapes, and that machine was only saved by the dogged persistence of some retired employees.
Even faster than device obsolescence, however, is format obsolescence, especially the various proprietary formats designed to implement DRM schemes. If not for a significant outcry, consumers of Microsoft's MSN Music, Yahoo's Music Unlimited, and WalMart's online music store would have found themselves losing access to the content they paid for when the companies decided to discontinue their license servers. This problem is only exacerbated by proposed anti-circumvention clauses that make the act of extracting, or providing hardware or software to extract, data from such formats illegal no matter what the circumstances. How will I be able to obtain a license key for a new computer for my purchased copy of QuickTax 2008 in a few years time if the company goes insolvent in the meantime?
Clearly the digital age poses at least as many important questions for society's continued access to its content as it does for the encouragement of content production by granting creator-limited exclusive rights. Especially threatening to the former are blanket clauses like anti-circumvention, which has implications far beyond just the restriction of copying. Unfortunately, there are no well-funded lobby groups pushing these issues. The government will have to be careful not to fall into the trap it did in 1988 when it hurriedly amended the copyright law to address producers' concerns all the while promising to address consumer concerns in a series of later amendments. We are still waiting for those.
I think this question is asking about the copyright rules themselves standing the test of time. Unless I've misunderstood, that is not the best question to ask with respect to copyright and time. A more important issue is how does copyright affect Canadian values and interest over time? To which, I think copyright has to ensure the apprehension and contribution of intellectual manifestations to Canadian society now and continuously.
Rules that prevent the apprehension or distribution of any intellectual manifestation exposed within our social milieu are hostile to the test of time. For example, rules that confer rights for the reproduction of books to individuals or companies beyond the author's lifetime serve more to destroy that piece of our shared culture than to keep it living. Such rules severely narrow the possibility that people will be able to apprehend the book because its distribution is maintained by a single source of control that frequently does not have our common social well-being as its driving focus, but rather the increase in profit is the driving focus.
Generating wealth by means of controlling access to a book works because the book can be made scarce (when it might otherwise be freely copied). This is problematic for a number of reasons but one main reason is that preventing apprehension of the book implies the removal of a part of the living loop that is our society. It's ultimately a hostile attack against the well-being of our society. In other words it goes contrary to our longetivity, it's a practice that fails the test-of-time. If we want to ensure that our intellectual manifestations do stand the test of time, we must ensure the well-being of our society's living loop.
To answer the test-of-time question as originally stated, based on Canadian values and interests, which certainly seek self-continuation (since I don't believe all Canadian's share a suicide wish), copyright changes should be made so that they do not result in causing our society to have many instances of individuals or companies holding rights over those of our social commons. If we someday end up with so much of our culture bottled by a few companies for apprehension by those that can pay, then we self-destruct, at which point we will be forced through extremes to re-evaluate the madness of an over-restrictive copyright policy, and thus the policy itself would be poorly adapted for the test of time.
If copyright policy introduces excessive punitive damages, the online community will push for all data transfers to be encrypted. This will seriously limit the government's ability to intercept any communications.
Currently, most internet traffic passes unencrypted from point to point. Technology has progressed to the point where the computational cost of encrypting and decrypting data is negligible. Additionally, traffic can be routed within a network without logging, where the original source and intended destination of the traffic is known only to the originator. The frameworks for Internet anonymity are well developed and user-friendly, is the world prepared for unconfinable speech to become commonplace?
Virtual Private Networks allow users to encrypt their data until it reaches the node where their data is released to the internet. In a properly anonymized VPN, not even the operator of the network knows who a communication originated from. Subpoenas are of little buse in such cases, compounded by the fact that the network can connect to computers in any country. These services are increasing in popularity, and it is possible for them to be set up in a peer-to-peer manner with no service fees.
Undesirable elements of society such as child abusers and organised criminals already use anonymity services. If file sharers popularise these techniques it will dilute encrypted traffic to the point where it is impossible to separate legitimate and illegitimate traffic.
The lasting legacy of restrictive copyright policy may very well be the loss of control over the spread of information. Is this a reasonable exchange for the protection of Hollywood's copyrights?
The Internet was designed to withstand thermonuclear attack. The net views censorship as damage and routes around it.
IPredator, Xerobank and Tor are already successful. The next generation of anonymity networks will apply more advanced techniques, with better user interfaces.