Future Copyright Developments

Ernest Adam’s The End Of Copyright on Gamasutra focuses on a very touchy subject. I don’t know if I agree that copyright will end completely, but I do like that Adam’s actually did what most people seem to be afraid to do: he looked at different possible business models. He also appreciates that copyright is not the inalienable right that some people make it out to be.

Obviously the traditional business model of selling a single copy to each player isn’t the only one that exists. MMO games, even before Everquest, show that subscriptions work just as well. Some people will pay for better features, improved items, or just faster servers. Some people would pay for the privilege of having a better quality experience. Imagine if a Mickey Mouse movie came out that wasn’t by Disney but was 100 times better than anything Disney ever produced? Sure, if there wasn’t any copyright, anyone could then redistribute it, but I’m sure you could make some decent money by charging for the privilege of seeing it when it is only released in a select few theaters that you control, right?

I don’t think copyright should go away, but even if it did, I don’t think it would be the end of innovation and science. People will still want to create. They will still want to design. They will still work. I really don’t see everyone falling on their knees and crying out “What do we do now without the protection of copyright?!?” Oh, I don’t know, you could just make money by being the sole provider of an original work?

Of course, without copyright you won’t even have open source software to blame for your inability to profit from your work. If people didn’t want to give away the source code, they could keep it a secret. People do so now, anyway, but without copyright there would be no legal recourse to get access to the source. Open source and proprietary software both benefit from copyright law, contrary to what some would report as fact.

Anyway, it is good that a big name is actually taking a look at the industry and saying, “Hey, you don’t HAVE to do things the way everyone else is!” The idea that the most popular business model isn’t necessary is still a “crazy” one to a lot of people.

2 comments to Future Copyright Developments

  • Fascinating article. I don’t know if Copyright will die – though it is going to have to adapt. Adams’ comments about dinosaurs versus mammals is right on the money. In the past, the middleman could demand a huge piece of the pie, because the technology needed to get a work from the artist(s) to the consumer was cost-prohibitive, and no reasonable alternatives exist.

    With the advent of fully digital media, where the transmission medium which used to be all-important and locked with the product itself is now disposable and replaceable, the middlemen don’t have that kind of power anymore, and it’s hurting them where it counts.

    But before this technology came into being, there WAS no good way to get the product to the consumers. We had the idea of patronage – I hire you to do some artistic work for me, and then I share it. But that’s really what we’ve got with the modern, late-20th-century-to-present system. The authors don’t own their works anymore – the publishers / music studios hire them to do a work, then take ownership of the rights, giving the artists a tiny piece of the profits as a reward for a job well done. It’s patronage revisited. But darker, as it’s only being done with profit in mind.

    I think people still feel – as a culture – that the creator of a work should be rewarded. It’s ingrained — there’s an assumption out there that if someone is famous because of their work, then they are also rich. That’s too often not the case, but we still feel that it should be.

    The problem is combining the ease of copying intangable products with the cultural belief that the creators of said products should be rewarded for their efforts. In some ways, I think the titanic media companies that have been the middlemen for so long are part of the problem — we don’t SEE our money going to the artists, we see it going to some executives smoking cigars on plush chairs staring at sales charts in some boardroom. If we could close that feedback loop – see with our own eyes that we’re rewarding the artist personally, and get a bit of gratitude and see that it results in more products that we enjoy – that could go a long way to helping rectify the cultural shift.

  • I think that people would have no problem shelling out money for whatever files they get if they knew that the money was going to the artist. I’d like to know that my purchase of used games, for instance, actually benefits the developer in some way. Of course, some people don’t think about such things, and so getting it visible would go a long way to getting it into the consciousness of the average potential customer.