Thursday, August 17, 2006

Law, enforceability, pride

Wired has a recent article about the Swedish "Pirate Party," and the issue of copyrights in the digital age.

It is truly a very painful issue, because it does seem clear that long-term, business models are just plain going to have to change in order to cope with the implications of digital technology. Short of totalitarian measures such as embedding DRM (digital rights management) chips in humans, to analyze and throttle what our senses take in, it won't be feasible to enforce copyrights in the future, and it's already becoming close to impossible in practical terms.

And, while the laws stay as they are, we're in a situation where only those who police themselves will respect copyright law, putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage to those who do not, because paying current terms for copyrighted material is a significant economic (and time) drain, and slows down self-education, enjoyment, productivity, etc.

The only value obtained by those who obey the law is pride, self-respect, self-love. This is a huge and important value, which I personally hold close to the top of my hierarchy of values, but it is extremely dangerous (i.e., it's not historically sustainable) to put people in a position where they need to choose between a clear consciousness, peace of mind and self-respect on the one hand, and social competitiveness and prosperity on the other.

I sincerely hope that businesses will come along very soon that will economically beat existing business models while providing sustainable solutions to producers and consumers alike. For example, maybe Google-like ad systems will enable artists to remove most middlemen and directly receive micro-payments for each time someone listens to their works, perhaps even when excerpted and re-mixed, by using fingerprinting techniques to identify sources of material at a highly granular level. And, maybe digital technology will also create a renaissance of creativity and the satisfaction of more individualized tastes through "long tail" principles.


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