The Copyright Disconnect

The worst thing about online piracy is not that it harms musicians and game developers, but that it normalizes the act of breaking the law without any sense of guilt. We all know that it is illegal to download a copyright work without paying for it, and we all know that by taking this action we somehow harm the owner of that work one way or another, yet the majority of people nowadays will not think twice about downloading anything on the internet and they have no moral issues on a personal level with it. A lot of people consider it a ridiculous to pay for computer software at all now that you can download anything you want free of charge if you look in the right places and feel entitled to have it.

Society here cannot relate to authors of copyright works because the majority of people are consumers who never created any intellectual product of significant consumer value nor do they know anyone who personally has. People are not afraid of breaking the law, because they know they cannot ever get sued or caught.

It’s not the mere act of illegally downloading files on the internet that makes people pirates, but their absolute belief that the law is meaningless and is of no impact at all on their daily lives.

A part of this can be attributed to the lack of awareness of the impact piracy has on the development of any economy based on intellectual property and the continuation of our society as one that consumes without producing anything in return, but the situation is also attributed to the disconnect between copyright law and current social values. Copyright law was developed for old industries in which works can be properly consumed and shared while respecting the principles of the “copy”-right, but these principles cannot be properly applied in a new world where every single use of a digital work involves creating a copy on the system that attempts to play that work.

We need copyright law in order to provide an incentive for authors to produce new creative works, but the law must be updated to provide users with appropriate exemptions to consume copyright works in a realistic manner while providing sufficient incentives for the authors to continue to create. Such exemptions should be the right to shift the format of the work, the right to remix the work, and the right to create parodies of the work.

In order for society to start respecting copyright, owners of those copyright works would have to realize that old business models might not necessarily work in a new digital environment, and new models, which may or may not include providing a free ad-supported alternative of the service, can create better chances for supporting the artists.

It is not easy for any one country to update its copyright law primarily due to international obligations that require a minimum standard of protection for copyright works (such as those provided in the Berne Convention), but accepting that the law has a problem is the first step in the process for creating the solution.

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