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Yet another Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post, this time prompted by a letter by Stan Burstein, former proprietor of a CD store. Written 2002 Sep 24.
Dear Editor--
Stan Bernstein ("Burned by CD Burners", 2002 Sep 24) complains that CD burners destroyed his store. While his argument against the infringement of legitimate copyrigft bears some merit, it is hard to feel sympathy for someone who has discovered he can no longer count on the outrageous practices of the recording industry to guarantee his profit stream.
Mr. Bernstein worries that "If people continue to pretend that copyright laws don't exist, I believe we are witnessing the death of 'intellectual property' as a viable concept." To which I can only say: Let's hope so. "Intellectual property" is not a time-honored, sacred and inviolable precept of law. It is in fact a relatively recent invention by the Content Cartel, a justification of draconian control and oligarchic practice.
Until recently, copyright was understood as a bargain between the creator of the work and the public at large. Eminent judicial minds, such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, understood that one could never own ideas, by their very nature: They are infinitely copyable; transmission to a new person does not require loss by the original person. To help encourage creative work, Congress was empowered to carve out temporary artificial monopolies -- but always with the end goal of promoting "Science and the Useful Arts". The Content Cartel -- with its hankering for access control, elimination of Fair Use, and indefinite extension of copyright temrs -- no longer desires that bargain. It wants absolute perpetual control. Naturally enough, then, it has launched a consistent campaign to replace the copyright bargain with illusory notions of intellectual "property".
Mr. Berstein pleads, "Let's call illegal "file-sharing" what it really is". Good idea. What is a good name for the sharing of digital files that violates a legitimate copyright? Well, how about "copyright infringement"? But that is not good enough for Mr. Bernstein and the recording industry. Despite asking for "a more accurate description," he offers instead "piracy", as if the college kids downloading music wore eyepatches and cried "Arrgh! Avast!" At least "file-sharing" is a technically correct term, since that is precisely what happens from a networking point of view. On the other hand, by no stretch of the imagination can one equate "infringing a copyright" with "raping and pillaging on the high seas". If anyone has yielded the linguistic high ground, it is Mr. Bernstein and the Content Cartel.
I regret that Mr. Bernstein suffered a financial reversal. But nobody wept for the buggy-whip makers. Intellectual "property" is to property as fool's gold is to gold... It's time we jettison this ill-conceived concept.
With respect,
With respect,
-=-Bernard HP Gilroy
Burned by Changing Business Models.