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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