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The "Copyright Black Hole" Swallowing Our Culture 278

Posted by Soulskill
from the sanity-optional dept.
An anonymous reader writes "James Boyle, professor at Duke Law School, has a piece in the Financial Times in which he argues that a 'copyright black hole is swallowing our culture.' He explains some of the issues surrounding Google Books, and makes the point that these issues wouldn't exist if we had a sane copyright law. Relatedly, in recent statements to the still-skeptical European Commission, Google has defended their book database by saying that it helps to make the Internet democratic. Others have noted that the database could negatively affect some researchers for whom a book's subject matter isn't always why they read it."
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The "Copyright Black Hole" Swallowing Our Culture

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  • Re:Democratic? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by linzeal (197905) on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:35PM (#29342663) Homepage Journal
    All of them? Seriously, in this day and age it is embarrassing we have not leveraged the power of the Internet to empower people to not only vote, and proclaim viewpoints but to be part of the legislative process itself. I would wager most people on this site know more about copyright than the average congress critter.
  • by ibsteve2u (1184603) on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:42PM (#29342723)

    ...so much so that places like /., which quite often provide original thinking upon a variety of subjects to anybody cunning enough to use a web crawler, should think about including "any derivative works originating from ideas or opinions expressed within the contents of this website constitute prior art and are covered by the GNU GPL" (or some such, while bearing in mind that IANAL).

    One of you geniuses may unknowingly and casually toss out a feasible idea. It would burn you, to see somebody turn that into a profit-making machine, wouldn't it?

    lollll....you'll know when you do it, though; a squad of lawyers will show up on your doorstep with a $1 bill, a quitclaim agreement, and a host of delightful comments upon the hazards of a lifetime spent in courtrooms - particularly when considered in light of your...unfortunate...financial circumstances and how the latter affects your ability to retain good legal representation...

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:42PM (#29342731)
    We have. Look at the Pirate Party in Europe. The difference is here in the USA we have a flawed system. A system that while it makes since with a small federal government and a small-ish state government, is fundamentally broken. A system that gives you two choices, either A or B, a system that is designed not to give you a third choice.

    When you are advocating a third choice in a system designed for only two choices, its very hard to get a third choice accepted.
  • Bad news.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:52PM (#29342825) Homepage Journal

    It's not "swallowing" our culture as much as fencing it off from all sorts of people.

    I'm convinced, though, that the more corporations try to limit the availability of "culture" by trying to create a false scarcity, the level of productivity among local and online artists who refuse to participate will increase, and more people will turn to them for their art, music, literature, journalism, etc.

    The only way to save our culture is to change the dynamic that exists between corporations and individuals. You might be surprised to learn that corporations did not always exist just to enslave the population. And I believe it will not always remain so.
    My fear though is that they will try to close those "loopholes" by making it harder for individuals to distribute their own music without a "license". There could also be technical limitations placed, such as making the popular media players only play "licensed" media. I could definitely see a company like Apple or Sony making their players only play files that come from the big corporate copyright holders. Hell, that's been their plan for a long time, but the homebrew and hacker communities kept defeating them. I don't believe they're ready to give up on the "gated community" view of culture, though.

  • by nns6561 (559085) on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:07PM (#29342953)
    Wait until fundamentalist religious groups realize how much culture they could remove simply by buying the copyrights to those works. Once a fundamentalist Christian, Jewish, or Muslim group realizes that by investing billions of dollars they could completely control all large media, the culture war will truly begin.
  • IP-based economy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:12PM (#29343001)
    The bizaro legal system is a natural consequence of our economic policy to promote IP-based economy.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:15PM (#29343023)
    I'm really sick of all these attempts to make Google look bad out of something from which they rather should be made heroes, which reminds me a not-too-old / story. The copyright law was completely fucked up by the current opponents to the settlement and their predecessors, and NO, a first grant of the sort doesn't imply monopoly (really, why are these morons talking about "exclusivity", "imperialist ambitions", "monopoly"?), and on the contrary it'll be a major shift for book avaibility and affordability. If Google was another Microsoft, we would be 10 years backward, Internet features-wise.

    Above all, why are these morons moaning about the "opt out" issue while they can just opt out ? Ohhh, maybe trying to protect the naive and uninformed, who does not care at all about his old works ?

    The critics about OCR and metadata generation quality should really look at what the concurrence does, i.e respectively similar quality and nothing at all.
    I've just read a Teleread comment which says he/she wants to bar Google from scanning books because of the OCR quality, we are in the total FUD non-sense here.
  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:17PM (#29343037)

    I made a really long-winded comment [slashdot.org] about it previously.

    To store 720p AND 1080p copies of every movie and tv-show listed on IMDB would probably take something like 10 PB. That would likely cover dubbed soundtracks and subtitles as well.

    And at Sun's prices, that'd be about 10 million dollars for a single copy (not including data center costs) stored in 21 racks.

    Add in all the books ever written, music and news papers published, what are we looking at? 50 PB for a full copy? Obviously you'd need redundant storage placed on various continents, and you'd expect to replace the hardware every once in a while, but what is our entire cultural history worth to us as a civilization? A billion dollars a year? Two? Keep in mind, it shouldn't just be the US or the EU funding this, it should be everyone.

    Make it a requirement for companies that if they want copyrights on their works, they have to submit it unencumbered to the storage facility. That way there can be no excuses from the companies, that they don't have $work in production any more, as it'd be easy to sell access to a particular work. And if they can't submit it for whatever reason? Copyright expires on that particular work. That'd certainly get their asses in gear to get their entire back catalogue digitized.

  • by Zombie Ryushu (803103) on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:29PM (#29343149)

    I wonder if it is the case that if the USA's IP regime gets so oppressive it starts violent demonstrations, I wonder what our violent dystopian wasteland could be?

    Will we have a future where the IP Exec's offices are stormed by mobs of angry young people wielding lethal force and murdering shareholders, board members and CEOs? What would such a future look like? Will we have the government executing citizens for IP related offenses? Will we go to war with countries over IP?

    Kinda a scary thought.

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ephemeriis (315124) on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:33PM (#29343189)

    When you are advocating a third choice in a system designed for only two choices, its very hard to get a third choice accepted.

    Actually, if you look at how the system was actually designed originally, there were no parties at all.

    The problem is that over the years our system has been corrupted and bastardized to the point where it really just doesn't work anymore.

    I suppose it's better than a straight-up dictatorship... But it's nearly impossible to affect any actual change at all in this system. As you said, it's impossible to get a viable third party going... And the existing two parties are just variations on a theme... And when election time rolls around it isn't even about who's the better (least-bad) candidate - but rather who runs the best commercials.

  • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:44PM (#29343293) Journal
    • The more matter that is added to it the larger the gravitational/financial attraction.
    • The laws governing each of them are so complex that nobody quite understands how either works.
    • When an object falls into a Black Hole you never see it cross the event horizon because time slows down the closer it gets to it. When an object falls under copyright you never quite see it leave copyright because as it nears the exit horizon the term gets extended.
    • A Black Hole is the corpse of a star that once shone brightly and warmed any planets that it supported. Copyright Law is the corpse of an idea that once warmed the culture that it created it.

    Wow, copyright law really is a Black Hole!

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Monday September 07, 2009 @04:45PM (#29343789) Homepage Journal

    When you get to the mega corps, that are run by lawyers, they are self perpetuating and the general public really no longer plays into it.

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Keen Anthony (762006) on Monday September 07, 2009 @04:45PM (#29343791)

    No. There's another reason why English in the lingua franca of the Internet. A major feature of the English language is its ability to incorporate foreign words and phrases in a useful way which colors, expands, and even conceptually improves the language. For example, this sentence is perfectly sensible English.

    Hey amigo, konichiwa! That was some serious schadenfreude Bob showed earlier when Kate's car broke down, n'est-ce pas?

    In this sentence, I used words from a total of five languages: English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish. It doesn't matter that two were Romance languages. I could have used "chombatta" instead of "amigo" and gone completely neo-African cyberpunk. Hell, if I spoke Klingon, I could have added some of that in. The German word, "Schadenfreude" adds a new word to English which explains a concept that doesn't exist in the language already. Notice also, that I could use the Saxon genitive to expression possession instead of the less efficient "the car of Kate".

    The result is that English can expand really fast. It's likely the most extensible and expansive language on earth. It is always easily expressible without reliance on numerous accent marks. Japanese requires more effort to express electronically. Japanese also isn't as extensible in written form as English is. Japanese is written using multiple forms: hiragana, katakana, kanji, and romaji. The Japanese pull it off well, but these are hacks - especially romaji. The Chinese have the same problem.

    English can grow to accommodate words from other cultures as they become trendy. If Brazil becomes an amazingly cool place culturally, and people outside Brazil start using Brazilian slang, English will better adapt to include Portuguese words than say German or Russian. If I were to bet on any language surviving another couple thousand years and still being structurally the same while still growing, I think it will be English. Sure, we probably not recognize it cause the first person singular pronoun will be "Wa" instead of "I", but a language like Chinese can only maintain its native structure by resisting multi-cultural extension.

  • by Reziac (43301) * on Monday September 07, 2009 @05:55PM (#29344349) Homepage Journal

    How much money is NOT being made by NOT publishing stuff that's still under copyright but that isn't profitable enough to pay royalties?? (And maybe isn't profitable enough to justify tracking down an absentee copyright holder.)

    Clearly there IS money in publishing old stuff, or most of the pre-1900 classics would be long since out of print, and such is not the case. They continue to be reprinted to this day.

    I would guess that over the long haul, long copyrights result in a net reduction of money to be made all along the chain -- remember it's NOT just the author and his agent and the first publishing rights, but also all the reprint houses, distributors, and bookstores. It occurs to me to wonder how much long copyright contributed to the demise of small local bookstores, and may now be contributing to libraries that are social hubs but no longer house vast numbers of books.

  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Monday September 07, 2009 @08:26PM (#29345371)

    The argument for copyright is that in exchange for that right, society will get the works as public domain at a later time.

    This is merely holding it in escrow. We are merely holding the items for safe keeping until such a time arises, that the copyright protections are no longer valid.

    The only reason to fight against an escrow that costs you nothing, is if you have anything but pure intentions.

  • by fulldecent (598482) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @10:17AM (#29350809) Homepage

    >> Add in all the books ever written, music and news papers published, what are we looking at? 50 PB for a full copy? Obviously you'd need redundant storage placed on various continents, and you'd expect to replace the hardware every once in a while, but what is our entire cultural history worth to us as a civilization? A billion dollars a year? Two? Keep in mind, it shouldn't just be the US or the EU funding this, it should be everyone.

    >> Make it a requirement for companies that if they want copyrights on their works, they have to submit it unencumbered to the storage facility. That way there can be no excuses from the companies, that they don't have $work in production any more, as it'd be easy to sell access to a particular work. And if they can't submit it for whatever reason? Copyright expires on that particular work. That'd certainly get their asses in gear to get their entire back catalogue digitized.

    I would argue that not all works are worth saving, in appeal to public benefit.

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