The Case for Copyright ReformChristian Engstrom and Rick Falkvinge have just released The Case for Copyright Reform, a 107-page eBook (PDF, ePub, mobi) outlining a vision for reconciling copyright protection with the reality of widespread digital sharing.

I’ve read over a dozen copyright-related books over the past 10+ years, some more than 500 pages in length, but never have I read a more compelling case for the need to reform copyright law as is presented in this relatively short book.

It starts out with the fact that today’s copyright legislation is completely out of  balance and out of tune with the current times.  It has turned an entire generation of young people into criminals in the eyes of the law, in a futile attempt at stopping technological development.  And yet… file sharing continues to grow exponentially.

The “bottom line” of the book:  It is impossible to enforce the ban against non-commercial file sharing without infringing on fundamental human rights.

The book provides an ample dose of copyright monopoly history and how it came about,  primarily instituted as a censorship mechanism back in the 1500’s.  Isn’t ironic that now, several hundred years during which the “censorship” portion was somewhat eliminated, the content industry is having such great success in passing laws in the US (and throughout the world) requiring “censorship” of the Internet?

In 1641, when England’s Parliament abolished the court for copyright cases & made violations of copyright a sentence-less crime (no punishment), creativity in Britain soared.  This only lasted a couple years before the Stationers (printing guild monopoly) reestablished harsh punishments.  In 1695 the Stationer’s monopoly expired and there was once again NO copyright.  Creativity AGAIN soared.  Unfortunately, the London Company of Stationers once again were able to get their monopoly reinstated.  It is noteworthy that authors did not ask for the copyright monopoly — only the printers & distributors did.

“What we see at this point in history is copyright in its unspun form:  a monopoly with heritage from censorship where artists and authors were not even considered, but where it was always for the publishers profit.”

Gee… that doesn’t at all sound like the MPAA & RIAA, does it?  (Nah…. that could never happen…)

Although copyright didn’t originate in the United States, our constitution was the first one to specify the REASON for copyrights (and patents) to be granted:

… to promote the progress of the sciences and useful arts…

Please note:  the purpose of the US-established copyright monopoly was NOT for any profession to make money — neither writer nor printer nor distributor.  The only justification for the monopoly is if it maximizes the culture and knowledge available to society.

The monopoly holders, while certainly being beneficiaries of the monopoly, are NOT legitimate stakeholders and should have NO say in its wording!

Uh… gee… uh… then why is the content industry allowed to take charge in writing bills and treaties in the US Government???  (i.e., SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, TPP, to name just a few).  Not to mention their success in getting the US Government’s own Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to act as the content industry’s copyright enforcers on the Internet.

In the late 1800s, the publishers’ ever-strengthening copyright monopoly had removed creators’ chances of making any revenue from their works.  Due to the copyright monopoly, all the money went to publishers and distributors, leaving creators starving.  Wow.  That’s not much different than the situation now.  Do you get it?  200+ years later and nothing has changed!

What is happening today with the “Copyright Industry vs. the People” is practically identical to what happened when the printing press was introduced and the Catholic Church declared war on self-educated people.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 4:

The printing press was a disruptive technology that threatened the control over information that the Catholic Church had enjoyed so far. When the old power structures saw the risk of their power slipping away or being eroded, they fought back in every way they could. And although technology won in the end, the former information monopolists managed to create quite a lot of collateral damage to society before they had to accept the inevitable defeat.

The Internet is a disruptive technology that threatens the control over information that the entertainment industry has enjoyed so far. When the old power structures see the risk of their power slipping away or being eroded, they fight back in every way they can. And although technology will win in the end, the former information monopolists are creating quite a lot of collateral damage to society right now.

Our job is to put an end to this damage as quickly as possible, so that society can take full advantage of the new opportunities that technology has opened up. The region of the world that is the first one to achieve this will be among the economic winners of this century.

As I mentioned above, I’ve read a lot of books on copyright history over the past decade or two, and this is by far the most precise & compact compilation of copyright monopoly history I’ve ever found in one book.  If reading this doesn’t alter your view on copyright and the danger of unlimited copyright monopolies, then we might as well give up now & go ahead and let them fully censor the Internet.  If we (the people) don’t stand up for our fundamental rights, we’re going to lose them.

File sharing has been rampant for over a decade now, and yet we have more music; more movies; and even more books being created than ever before.  Revenues have increased year by year for both the cultural sector as a whole, and for each individual segment (i.e., film, music, books, computer games).  The content industry’s bogus claim that file sharing is killing the creative industry is just that — BOGUS!  There is not (and never has been) any credible data to support ANY of their claims.  The only “losers” have been the gatekeepers, or middlemen (RIAA, MPAA), whose obsolete business models do not work anymore.  They’ve now aimed their sights at destroying what happens to be the latest disruptive technology – the Internet – with the firm assistance of the US Government, attempting to eliminate our right to private communication, due process, and proportionality in punishments.

Our policy makers & politicians have a responsibility for making sure that we have a society where culture can flourish and where creative people have a chance to make money from what they do — NOT protect old business models or invent new ones.   It is not easy to make a living as an artist, and never has been, but the Internet has opened up new opportunities for creative people who want to find an audience — WITHOUT selling their soul to the big companies who used to control all the distribution channels.

The Case for Copyright Reform is available in these formats: