Jonathan Coulton, Internet censorship, and creativity as industry

January 24, 2012 In The News, Politics / Religion, Writing Comments (0) 150

I was blacked out last Wednesday [well, I wasn’t — my web site was] in web solidarity against internet censorship, so my three readers had to go elsewhere for their information on house centipedes [seriously, it drives like 90% of my search engine traffic]. You already know about SOPA and PIPA and why they must be stopped, so I won’t bore you by restating. How incredible to watch last Wednesday as public awareness skyrocketed, prompting cosponsors to drop off and kill a bill in what was essentially a few hours. I work in public interest and let me tell you, things don’t work that way most of the time. It was definitely one of those “Uh-oh, you woke up the Internet” moments.

As an author, and one who hopes to one day make writing my sole source of income, I have a vested interest in copyright law. I believe in copyright, and I recognize that the whole idea of a creative industry is reliant on intellectual property law. More than being illegal, I view piracy as morally wrong – at least, when it’s an artist trying to earn a living from whom you are pirating. However, to put large corporations in charge of deciding what is or is not a violation of copyright is just totally ludicrous.

Corporations cannot be trusted with IP decisions. Has everyone forgotten when Disney tried to trademark “Seal Team Six,” the name of a Navy Seal division? Marvel and DC Comics co-own a trademark on the term “Superhero.” Whole industries have sprung up around buying photo copyrights and suing unknowing bloggers. Corporations have no belief in education, parody, satire, critique, or any other fair use. Their only interest is in protecting their valuable property.

As much as I care about copyright, and the right of the artist to compensation, I also believe in maintaining an open forum for discussion and a free exchange of ideas. As an author, I recognize that readers are going to share my work around – whether lending books, or even in some cases reproducing them. Hell, I don’t just recognize it, I hope for it. Not only because it potentially creates more fans to purchase my products, but because I believe in a world where people can share things like art and music with friends, without having to treat that act as a financial transaction.

Which brings us to Jonathan Coulton, and his thoughts on both the SOPA/PIPA issue and the US Government’s ensuing shut-down of Megaupload. Coulton [whose work on Portal alone was enough to make me a fan] points out that, really, the business model we’re defending has been around a relatively short time, and there is no God-given right to make money from making art:

It so happens that technological and societal blahbity bloos have conspired to create a situation where selling songs about monkeys and robots is a viable business, but for most of human history people have NOT paid for art. I don’t want this to happen again, and I would be very sad if this came to pass, but it’s not up to me to decide.
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This is pretty on-the-nose, frankly. As sad as I would be to see my dreams of writing for a living go up in smoke [really, really sad – so keep that in mind before you pull the new Lady Gaga track down off Frostwire], it’s the nature of the business and the era we are all living through and shaping. I want to make a living doing what I love, but I don’t want it enough to justify a law that hamstrings free expression and the free exchange of ideas. Sony and Disney and Comcast might think their dollars are worth more than our collective minds. I just don’t happen to agree.

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