Balanced Copyright

To dissect an old problem lets being with an old analogy. If a Canadian were to buy a car, that car would be there’s. They would be allowed to do whatever they wished with the car and modify the car in any way they would have liked. The argument goes that this should apply to every kind of property; if it applies to a car, it should apply to a CD.

This kind of argument relies on the assumption that their is very little difference between physical property and intellectual property. Intellectual property exists to protect ideas or content that can easily copied, a CD falls under intellectual property because it can be easily copied. The car does not need that kind of protection because if I buy a Toyota, I will not replicate another Toyota from that purchased Toyota. If I use that Toyota car and copy it’s design and manufacture a counterfeit via mass production, that would be a concern of intellectual property. But of course this is much harder than burning a CD from a friend.

The protection of intellectual property is ultimately an economic matter. Intellectual property exists to create economic incentive to create ideas and those ideas are protected by the government because it will allow the advancement of society. Economic incentive is not always the reason for creation, but certainly it is a major part of it. Any economist could point out examples of profit motive driving innovations. For instance the diseases get the most research are those which offer the greatest promise of profit. Movies only get made if their budget is justified by their expected returns.

The best kind of intellectual property laws then are those that prevent stagnation of society. This is the best rationalization from a social and a economic point of view. Intellectual property is rarely treated in this way because those who have the greatest say in the making of laws governing intellectual property, do not want to same thing out of intellectual property laws that consumers do. They want to create intellectual property laws that will allow the the maximum profits. The entertainment industry does not have our interest in heart.

What rights is given to a person who purchases a CD, and by extension digital music and movies? That’s what’s up for debate. I suggest three basic rights.

1. Replication for personal purposes: The content can be replicated in order to back-up it or be consumed. Companies obviously don’t want a person to be able to replicate content because the more limited you can make something, the more  power you have over consuming it. If a consumer has to purchase the same game for both his PC and PS3. Why wouldn’t the companies want to prevent this.

2. Free use: The content can be used in any way they choose. This includes showing the content to friends. Entertainment companies don’t want this because they want to charge for each new way something is consumed.  Another profit maximization scheme.

3. Right to modify or use in new material of non-commercial nature:  Culture is a combination of new and old ideas, it stagnates culture if these ideas can’t be reused.

4. The right to resell that media: You can sell a car, then you can sell a CD. Why is it that songs can’t be treated the same as commodities? It’s absurd to treat them any differently.

5. The right to own that product indefinitely. Once it’s bought, it belongs to you forever.

DRM can prevent all of these rights and it is in the companies interest to use DRM to prevent these rights because they prevent profit maximization. When a law is passed that prevents circumvention of DRM it essentially negates these rights.

The justification of DRM has always been it prevents piracy but it does much more then that. DRM allows companies to impose business schemes that otherwise not be feasible. Assume for a second that we can assume the lock on the IPhone as a kind of DRM lock. It allows for the IPhone to be locked to a certain network. By restricting this behavior, it allows for anti-competitive behavior and removes the choice from the consumer. DRM is not preventing piracy of the IPhone, it exists for Apple to make money. As a result Apple also has control over the kinds of apps that go on the IPhone, preventing certain applications from being used(the grooveshark application for instance). Even after you have bought the Iphone Apple is telling you how to use it.

DRM is not always fair to the consumer nor is it beneficial to anyone other than the people wanting these laws. DRM is trivial to get around if you have the expertise. One movie free of DRM is all that is needed for an item to be pirated. Only legitimate use is prevented.

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