The Anti-Copyright Perspective

Or, ‘Why I Don’t Give A Fuck About You Being Able To Make A Living Doing What You Love’.

Firstly, the idea of intellectual property is completely incompatible with an anarchist or otherwise libertarian perspective. There’s even less argument for it than other forms of property, as it isn’t rooted in anything physical. If I give you a physical object, unless you decide to share it, I can no longer use it. If I tell you about an idea I have, or send you a copy of a photo I took, I haven’t lost anything. I can still do whatever I like with that idea/photo/song/etc. Most people’s primary motive for sharing these creations is that they feel they have something to offer the world. In that case, seeing it freely distributed as widely as possible should be the ultimate goal. Expecting the state to intervene to protect something that you, er, still have, and hasn’t been damaged in any way, is a bit fucked, no?

I know what the pro-copyright argument you’re probably thinking now is. When people have a source of income, they’re able to spend more time being creative, and so copyright encourages creativity. I apologise in advance, because I know this example is overused, but that’s because it epitomises the problem with that argument. ‘Tarnation’, an award-winning documentary directed by Jonathan Caouette, cost £124 to make. However, once rights had been paid for “music and video clips he used to illustrate a mood or era”, the total cost came to £230,000. Yeah. That’s almost 2000 times more than the film actually cost to produce. If someone would like to explain how this encouraged Caouette’s creativity, I’m all ears.

There’s also the fact that trying to enforce copyright in the age of the internet is impossible. Seriously, give up. When it comes to pirated content on the internet, where there’s a will, there’s a way. There’s software which can remove watermarks from photos. P2P filesharing networks are virtually unpreventable, and almost every major film can be downloaded for free from a torrent website before it’s out on DVD. Any video put up on YouTube can have the audio extracted to MP3, so all those glossy major label music videos…yeah. Getting people to pay for unlimited downloads, or lowering the price, is never going to work. There’s a generation who have grown up knowing we can get it all for free. Face it, you’ve lost, move on.

That’s not to say people won’t pay for anything, the music example being most obvious. It’s been found that people who illegally download music actually buy more than people who don’t. And nobody can pirate the experience of a live concert. The solution with music is far easier than with other aspects of culture. If people hear the music and like it, they’ll pay to see the band live, they might buy a t-shirt or something. And, if the CD/record is a nice object (gatefold, digipak, etc), people are more likely to buy it. There’s nothing stopping bands making money, it just requires rethinking. A fantastic example of how anti-copyright can work is the Riotfolk Collective (http://www.riotfolk.org/). All of their songs are anti-copyright, and available for free download on the site. They also sell CDs on a sliding scale, and all profits go back into the collective, allowing them to produce more, tour, and gain publicity. Some of them choose to make music a primary source of income, some don’t.

I know that there are lots of people going down the copyright route who aren’t that lucky. I know this sounds harsh, but I don’t care.  In my eyes, the idea that lots of producers of culture have that they should be able to make a living doing a job they love (see the title of this post..) is arrogant and conceited. Most people have to do shit jobs they hate to earn a living. Those people also have hobbies that they love, and would probably love to be able to do them full-time. For nearly every conventionally enjoyable activity, whether it be culture, sports, or something else, there’s a small minority who make money off it. The vast majority don’t. Whenever I hear people saying they ‘wouldn’t be able to do what they do’ if it wasn’t for copyright, it just makes me wonder what their motive for doing it in the first place is. If you love it, you’ll find time. If other people love what you’re doing, you might make money.

I don’t have a problem with people making their income from the creative industries, under capitalism we’ve all got to get by somehow. But there’s a view among people involved in said industries, that they have an inherent right to be able to make a living from it. I recognise people’s right to sell their time and labour, for example on commission. I can also understand people who want to be accredited where their work is used, as it often opens up opportunities for creativity and collaboration with others – in an ideal world everyone would do this. But fundamentally this is an issue of free information vs. information controlled by capital and enforced by the state, and free information has to come first. I could carry on ranting about this forever, but I’ll stop now. Happy piracy!

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3 responses to “The Anti-Copyright Perspective

  1. Ah, I remember Josh Woodward. All of his music is CC-BY, and he earns a living singing in a local cafe and selling his CDs (yes, even though it’s free, people like buying his CDs! He’s that good!)
    B.t.w., enjoy all of his music online:
    http://www.joshwoodward.com

  2. Wicked Blog entry, very well thought through argument, the beauty of DIY culture for me is that the fan base is willing to buy a product off the artist, knowing that they are supporting their own scene.
    A brilliant documentary on copyright/music/DIY culture is about the six second “Amen Break” check it out:

    Be interested to know what you think.

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