Copyright, Part III

But Courtney, someone somewhere is saying, you are an author.  You make money on intellectual property.  Don’t you favor strong intellectual property regimes?  Don’t you know that intellectual property is in crisis?

Yeah, piracy sucks.  And like I said, pirates are assholes.  But . . . if I live the average life expectancy, I will get eleventy-one more years of copyright protection for my book.  So heftier protections–a larger scope of copyright protection, or a longer term of copyright–is not really going to help with the main problem.  Pirates exist because people are assholes.  If people are assholes, in violation of the law, it’s hard to come up with a law that stops them from being assholes.  Not unless you want to go way draconian, and writing books and publishing should be fun, not a second invention of the Spanish inquisition.

We don’t need stronger copyright laws.  We need stronger social norms against being an asshole–and that means that you can’t go grabbing everything you can get.

Let’s go back to my playground analogy.  People are more likely to respect your claim to have a soccer ball at recess if your claim is reasonable: say, for ten minutes, or for half of recess, or maybe if you are playing with a large group, for all of recess.  But if you say, “Anyone who gets the soccer ball gets it for a month,” the social norm of respecting the first possessor of the ball as the putative owner for some duration is going to fade real fast.

If you don’t want people to be assholes, you shouldn’t be an asshole yourself.  And I think that pushing for more and more copyright protection–long past the point of commercial value for 99% of the copyrights out there–is a purely asshole move.  Don’t want people to be assholes?  Don’t be an asshole yourself.

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