What You Should Know About Copyright

By SamuelRose, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 12 years 18 weeks ago.

[orginally posted at Social Synergy, via BoingBoing]

Why should you become literate about the way that copyright works? Think about the amount of media in the form of books, movies, music, video games, software products,  and television shows that you consume in a given month or week. Each one of these products has a license that lays out the way that it's creator says that we may re-use and share that product.

Cory Doctorow's recent article in Locus Magazine discusses the fact that most of us never abide by the many ridiculous conditions and terms of use that can be found in these commercial and end-user license schemes:

"...this is where copyright breaks: When copyright lawyers try to treat
readers and listeners and viewers as if they were (weak and unlucky)
corporations who could be strong-armed into license agreements you
wouldn't wish on a dog. There's no conceivable world in which people
are going to tiptoe around the property they've bought and paid for,
re-checking their licenses to make sure that they're abiding by the
terms of an agreement they doubtless never read. Why read something if
it's non-negotiable, anyway?

The answer is simple: treat your readers' property as property.
What readers do with their own equipment, as private, noncommercial
actors, is not a fit subject for copyright regulation or oversight. The
Securities Exchange Commission doesn't impose rules on you when you
loan a friend five bucks for lunch. Anti-gambling laws aren't triggered
when you bet your kids an ice-cream cone that you'll bicycle home
before them. Copyright shouldn't come between an end-user of a creative
work and her property.

Of course, this approach is made even simpler by the fact that practically every customer for copyrighted works already operates
on this assumption. Which is not to say that this might make some
business-models more difficult to pursue. Obviously, if there was some
way to ensure that a given publisher was the only source for a
copyrighted work, that publisher could hike up its prices, devote less
money to service, and still sell its wares. Having to compete with free
copies handed from user to user makes life harder — hasn't it always?"

So, how do consumers get content producers to be more realistic and less ridiculous about their terms of use and re-use? The fact is, as Cory Doctrow so eloquently explained in so many words, that most of us buy a book or a CD, or a service online, and don't even think twice about looking at the license, because we consider the unspoken contract to be that this thing we have bought is our "property", and we are free to use it personally (for non-commercial use) in anyway that we see fit.

The problem I see is that, since people don't tend to read these licenses, they don't have an easy way to know who is making realistic user licenses, and who isn't. One idea is that if there were some type of community effort to track this, and to give products a very easy to understand "realistic user-license" seal of approval, then people could more easily choose on-the-fly. This could then have the effect of the consumer community dictating what licenses are acceptable to them.

For instance, Amazon.com provides a "product wiki" for every product that they sell. So, this product wiki space could be used to link back to a site that rates the consumer friendliness of the product's license (no telling whether Amazon might put a stop to this, though). This rating could be done by a non-profit organization that invites a community of people to research the license or copyright terms of a product, and rate it according to a fair and neutral system. The rating system could then be represented by symbols that make it easy for consumers to choose a product that has a realistic license or copyright scheme.

Collective action like this could result in commercial product makers actually opting to voluntarily display these label/symbols, if it made a big enough difference on consumer choice.