"Copywrong" is defined as the abuse of copyright law by corporations to stifle competition and maintain outdated business models.
Originally, copyright laws were built to prevent large businesses and investors from depriving the author of profit with exact copies of their work. Without any recourse against the bigger guy, the inventors would usually be discouraged from making any more innovations. To prevent this, governments instituted a 10 year copyright so inventors to gain enough support to build another invention, after which the plans were put back into the public domain for anyone to make.
As copyright laws were lengthened, this sentiment became less justifiable. Soon enough, authors found that they could make a single work and get millions. And due to the extended profit sources of copyright laws, the immediate need to build new inventions fell further by the wayside. The only thing that occured was another extension.
By 2012, copyright law has merely become a tool for corporations to prevent the creation of competing innovations, such as the internet or VHS. As these new distribution systems provide a better and more flexible product (albeit at lower margins), companies refused to adopt systems that would uproot their antiquated sources of profit, in DVDs and
Copywrong: by Richard Stallman
Record-company magnates don't like digital audio tape and other digital media that can make perfect copies of musical recordings, because they fear customers will copy music themselves and stop buying pre-recorded music.
Threatening lawsuits, record companies coerced the major manufacturers into supporting a new law recently passed by Congress that taxes each unit and each tape or recordable disc sold to consumers. The tax funds are handed out to various participants in the music industry. The law also requires manufacturers to cripple hardware so that consumers cannot make a copy of a copy of a pre-recorded piece.
The stated purpose of the law is to "compensate" musicians for home copying. But the law diverts 57 percent of the funds to record companies and music publishers, leaving less than half for the people who participate in the creative process. Most of the remaining funds will go to musical superstars and thus do little to encourage or assist musical creativity.
Meanwhile, users are denied the full power of digital technology: easier copying and changing of information.
Here is a proposal for a different system for taxing digital copying - one designed to support music rather than cater to vested interests:
- Make no restrictions on the functioning of digital copying equipment.
- Use a survey system to measure the extent of copying of each musical piece.
- Collect funds with a tax on machines and media, as the current law does.
- Distribute these funds entirely to the people who create music.
- Adjust each contributor's share so that it increases more slowly per copy as it gets larger. This allows the collected funds to be spread more widely to support a larger number of musicians.
What is the Purpose of Copyright?
The record industry presents its law as a way to "compensate" musicians, assuming that they are entitled to be paid for any copy made. As copyright owners, they pretend that copyright is an entitlement - a natural right to restrict the public use of information.
The US legal system fundamentally rejects this view.
The stated purpose of copyright, according to the Constitution, is to "promote the progress of science and the useful arts." Progress in music means new and varied music - a public good, not a private one. Copyright holders may benefit from copyright law, but that is not its purpose.
Yet laymen and politicians often believe that copyright is an entitlement. This idea, mistaking a means for an end, is easily abused by those with vested interests in extension of copyright or analogous measures.
Promoting progress in the arts does not inherently justify any particular sort of copyright, or even that copyright should exist at all. Copyright is justified only if it is an advantageous bargain for the public - if the benefit of additional progress exceeds the burden of the restrictions of copyright.
This cost-benefit comparison depends partly on facts (how a particular policy affects musical activity and music users) and partly on our society's value judgments about those facts.
Let's start with a general truth. The law of diminishing returns, a principle of economics, states that additional increments of efforts or funds spent on a given goal eventually produce smaller and smaller increments of results. When applied to the activities of musicians, the law of diminishing returns tells us that successive increases in the income of the music industry will diminish the amount of creativity in music.
Here's an analogy. Adding one lane to a congested road in a city might increase the average traffic speed by fifteen miles an hour. Adding another lane to the same road will not make an equal improvement; it may make no difference if the traffic jams are already gone. Yet each additional lane will cause greater disruption as more buildings must be torn down.
The diminishing returns principle is the first reason to reject the idea that any use of music "should" be covered by copyright. Extending copyright can only "promote progress" up to a certain point; further extensions are a pointless giveaway. There is no public interest in giving owners control of every possible aspect of the use of music or a financial stake in every possible aftermarket.
Once diminishing returns shows invalid the music industry's first position - that copyright "should" be extended as far as it can go - its members fall back on saying that copyright should be extended whenever that increases "incentives" even slightly. But this too is wrong, because copyright imposes costs and burdens on the public, as does any other government regulation. We must consider these costs when we judge issues in copying policy.
Government fills many important functions, but extending any of them too far becomes harmful. For example, governments build roads, and that is useful and necessary, but if they build roads that we don't really need, then our money has been wasted. The present music tax wastes our money while taking away our freedom.
Is Incentive Relevant?
Anyone whose first goal is to be wealthy will not become, or remain, a musician; it is too hard to become rich that way. Besides, psychological studies show that the desire for an extrinsic reward (such as profit) generally hampers creative activities. The people who make art usually make it for its own sake. What musicians do need is to make a living.
Who Should Get the Funds?
If the purpose of the music tax is to better support musicians and composers, then all the money collected should go to them - not just a fraction. They are the ones who truly make music. In principle, we could do without record companies entirely.
Record companies do provide one useful service: they distribute pre- recorded copies of music. This service is widely used and it is right that the purchasers of pre-recorded copies should pay for it. But listeners making copies for themselves or their friends do not consume this service; they use only the work of the musicians and composers.
What share of the tax revenues should each musician or composer get? The record-company law divides the money according to record sales. This is a bad policy, because this gives a large share to rich superstars, which is not efficient use of our money to support music.
We can promote music more effectively by making any one musician's share of the tax revenues taper off as copies increase. For example, we could calculate an "adjusted number of copies" beyond which revenue increases more slowly than the actual number, following a prescribed mathematical function.
The effect of tapering off will be to spread the money more widely, supporting more musicians at an adequate standard of living. This encourages diversity, as copyright was supposed to do.
Don't Interfere with Copying
The record-company law requires copying equipment to be crippled so that it cannot make a copy of a copy of pre-recorded music. This requirement is both obnoxious and unnecessary. The argument for it was based on the idea that home copying reduces the income of musicians. But now that home copying does contribute to their income, through the new tax, this argument is obsolete. The law should permit fully capable digital music copiers and encourage music lovers to make copies.
Measuring Music Use
Today, home copying represents a small fraction of total music use. This will probably be true for a long time, because it's often easier to find a particular piece of music or to browse a wide selection at a record store. For now, it works to estimate the audience of a given piece by counting sales.
Eventually, home copying may become so widespread that estimating its extent from sales figures may be unsatisfactory. This method is already unsatisfactory for musicians who distribute without the help of record companies; if any musicians need additional support, these are the ones. We may need another way to estimate usage of any given piece in order to distribute the tax funds.
We can make these estimates by survey. From time to time, survey staff would ask randomly chosen members of the public to recount what copies they have made. Answering will be voluntary, but since no penalty or guilt would be attached to making copies, most people will be glad to participate - fans will hope to be chosen so that they can contribute to the count for their favorite musicians.
The record companies have created an excellent scheme for subsidizing themselves at public expense, but this is not a legitimate function of government. Through due attention to the ends of copyright rather than past means, we can establish a system that supports musicians while giving citizens full freedom to copy music as they want.