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Why the very structure of the Internet will destroy copyright

By on August 12, 2010
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Regular readers of GAMESbrief will know that I think a lot about copyright. Recently, this quote from John Gilmore leaped out at me:

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

John is a founder of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation and a libertarian, but I’m not trying to make a political point. I’m trying to make a practical one.

I think that we all know that the Internet was originally conceived by the US military as a distributed network that could survive having nodes destroyed by Russian nukes (or whatever). This ability to route around damage was central to its concept.

And it’s that self-repairing element that is anathema to censorship. The hardware, the software and the human users are all conditioned to identify breaks in the communication and bypass them.

Can the Net tell the difference between censorship and copyright?

Censorship is government stopping citizens from spreading information and content amongst themselves. Copyright is corporations and individual creators (with the backing of law) stopping users spreading information and content amongst themselves.

Can the Net tell the difference?

I doubt it.

Just this week, EMI issue a take-down notice for Newport State of Mind, a parody vidoe of Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind. YouTube complied. You can currently see the video here, here and here on YouTube and here, here and here elsewhere on the web. (That last one is in Russia. Good luck, EMI legal eagles.)

My point is this: once something is on the web, IT’S ON THE WEB. The whole technology and infrastructure is designed to make sure that no-one – not Russian nukes, not Chinese spooks, not EMI’s lawyers – can break the information flow.

In that structure, the Net will view any attempt at preventing the spreading of information as bad. It will always find ways to route round restrictions, because it views them as damage.

Does anyone really think that copyright can survive this onslaught?

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • RobSa

    Creatives need to produce in their own time. They should not expect a handout because they thought of a good idea. That’s laziness. Good ideas stand on their own and any value placed on them by their creator is in-consequential to the merit of an idea. If you have a good idea, share it and let it stand or fail.

    “The fundamental problem is that copyright pretends that information is property.” – Ian Clarke

  • The Punctual Nord

    The internet has begun a cycle of growth that will inevitably result in the end of massive, consolidated corporations based on the traditional TV network model of providing financially backing, distribution, and advertising to creative enterprises. In exchange for your soul of course, or at least your intellectual property rights.

    Let’s take a look at how the internet provides.

    Distribution
    The first pillar of the house. Of what value are creative works if no one sees or hears them? Some purists might say something like “that doesn’t/shouldn’t affect their value at all.” but really the average artistic type craves recognition and appreciation as much as the next human (quite a lot). The ways the internet provides for this should be completely obvious to anyone reading this comment, free and cheap web space and data transfer. It’s incomparably cheaper to let people download your music, drawings, video, etc than to print physical copies and give them away on the street. It’s probably even cheaper than trying to sell them unless you’re incredibly talented in sales or the actual art part, especially if you consider the man hours invested in peddling your wares. Distribution is unbound from physical location on the net allowing you to reach a far more diverse audience. The demographic for your particular style may not match up with your physical or economic standing, on the internet that doesn’t matter.

    Advertising
    People can experience your content from almost anywhere in the world. A massive boon to word of mouth, especially when multiplied by the speed of communication across the internet. The internet is a force multiplier to the individual. Every user becomes potential advertiser, financier, and distributer. Anyone can link to your work, tell their friends about it, and even rehost it themselves. Often to the chagrin of the original creator. People use the term “viral video” a lot these days, so much so that it has lost its full meaning. A virus introduced to a fresh, unprepared environment spreads like wildfire. Each cell is host to more viruses and finally explodes in a wave of reproduction. A virus spreads exponentially. The other thing to note is that it is very difficult to stop its spread once it has started. Almost impossible in fact. Releasing something compatible with the culture of the internet is like releasing a caged wild animal. You’re relinquishing control and any attempt to get it back is generally futile.

    Finance
    This is the one area that the corporations are still ahead on, mainly due to momentum from the past several decades of capitalist blooming and the great heaping mountains of money collected in that time. They can pay you more than the internet can. The main ways to turn a profit from creativity on the internet are selling merchandise and selling advertising space. These can generate some profit and a livable income, but its not going to catapult you into a realm of excess like corporate money can. I think this is mostly a matter of marketshare, as the nebulous flowing electronic mass gains priority over corporations more of the pie will be lost by the corporate titans and thus available to us mere mortals.

    At one point the networks and publishers were the only choice to find a patron for your arts. Now the internet provides sort of a drawing pool for the networks to some degree a place for new talent to begin its life cycle and rise out of obscurity, but its already surpassed the corps in influence. It’s won’t be much longer until the distribution corps are obsolete or subsumed into the greater mass. This is the internet at its amoebic protoplasm will consume the outliers eventually. It is the success of capitalism and communism at once, both a dictatorship and a democracy at any given moment.

    Viva la revolucion.

  • ChrisBateman

    “Does anyone really think that copyright can survive this onslaught?”

    Principally the media corporations, who are haemorrhaging money as a result of a decision to fight the internet instead of profit from it. I've likened this situation to that of the Pony Express versus the telegraph… only the Pony Express had the good sense to close shop when the new technology appeared. 🙂