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killing denouement blogs about if and how we make the distinction between copyleft and anti-copyright.  There’s a difference, at least in my mind, and I think the distinction is an important one to make — and the questions of whether these two models can coexist, and in what contexts they are most useful to creative types and intellectuals, are important to ask.  There is some level of agreement, at least amongst makers and thinkers I spend time with, reading, and reading about, about the fact that copyright has become unsuitable for the networked age, but also that copyright may be unsuitable for creative growth with or without ubiquitous digital networks.  I think it’s quite clear that, at the very least, contemporary copyright law is kind of a dinosaur, whether or not you like the idea of “intellectual property” or no.

Being anti-copyright, to me, means you don’t believe in any kind of checks or requirements for re-use or adaptation of someone else’s work.  Being all about copyleft, on the other hand, is more about liking progressive copyright law that allows individual makers and thinkers to place their own requirements on how others can re-use or adapt their work.  Anti-copyright is about a standard of free use for all; copyleft vests some power in the creator to say what happens next, but encourages progressive ways of dealing with information as opposed to forcing people to pay each other to use ideas.  At its core, anti-copyright versus copyleft asks a fundamental metaethical question: who gets privileges over stuff after that stuff has been produced?

On a very basic level I don’t think that knowledge should be bought or sold, but at the same time I do know that I continue to be forced to operate in a system where ideas professionals — intellectuals, artists, writers, programmers, or whoever else you might think of — still have to put food on the table.  I hate these kinds of compromises and they’re more symptomatic of larger-scale problems than who owns ideas, but they’re something that has to be taken into account.  Fortunately, just because this is the status quo doesn’t mean there are other ways to feed your family if you’re an ideas professional that don’t include draconian copyright over your “intellectual property.”  Just because your job doesn’t produce material stuff doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t benefit from producing — but then again, just because your job produces stuff doesn’t mean you own it.

I can see an argument based on the fact that completely free information is a public good, and that completely free information creates a better quality of life for more people.  The arguments for complete freedom of information are myriad: it has the potential to touch many people who might not have access in traditionally-controlled information environments; it’s more egalitarian; free information encourages creative innovation and collaboration; and it simply doesn’t make sense to try and regulate the exchange of information in a highly networked society.  I grant all this, but the question of who has privileges over what can be attributed to individual effort and labor still troubles me.

I think that people have a right to have some control over what they produce.  As a musician, for example, I think you have every right to say, “I don’t want you downloading my stuff from other fans.”  I might think you’re stupid for saying so, and even try and convince you that going after pirates isn’t the way to do business in the industry in this day and age, but I do want to afford you some control over the music you make.  I think it’s only fair: your effort and your creativity went into producing that music, it’s yours.  What you do with it is up to you, and it’s possible that you make the wrong choice in how you handle that right.

Which is a fundamental problem with copyright as we know it.  People’s choices are limited to: do nothing, let stuff propagate organically, or be draconian about your levels of control.  As far as I’m concerned that virtually isn’t even a choice. I think you should have even more choice over how things you produce get reproduced and distributed.

I do think being copyleft lets you make room for people who are stridently anti-copyright.  After all, if we let people make their own rules of use, some people might choose to let people take their ideas and run with them.  At the very least I think copyleft policy is useful because it creates an environment where people who are committed to progressive (or nonexistent) “intellectual property” rules can bend and customize as they see fit.  The main reason I consider myself a copyleftist and not anti-copyright is because I think if you make something, or have a part in making something, you have the right to some kind of control over it — and part of that control can be to decide that you no longer have control over it.


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