IP – Who gave you the rights?

by   Posted on 30/08/2011 in The Law is a Donkey. And other stories...

Cory Doctorow is a man preaching to this (me) choir on the subject of copyright. In a nutshell: the people who want it most will pay for it; the people who love it will respect it; copyright law hinges on respect and empathy. He doesn’t state it quite this way. He uses an anecdote about Neil Gaiman recognising that people who love to read will loan, borrow, download free versions of books in order to try them, *then* they will buy them if they like the books. I argue that it’s a respect thing underneath; we respect good authors for their work and we become loyal to them for their service. You know you’ve made it in the book business when your name is in larger type than the title on the cover.

Most Christians misinterpret Romans 13 when it comes to copyright. The crucial thing that is missed in the interpretation is that the rulers are there to preserve justice and that which is good. Our key question is whether or not current IP/copyright laws are indeed just and good. A typical coversation with someone who doesn’t ask this question goes something like this:

Lover Of Law: How do you live with yourself knowing that you’ve stolen someone’s work.

Me: Nothing’s been stolen, I’m not going to fork over many dollars in the hope that I might like this book/album/game. Does paying money make it more enjoyable?

LOL: No, but it makes it legal.

Me: The law is a stubborn equine beast.

LOL: The law is there to protect the artists from thieves like you!

Me: Uh, nobody has lost a sale here.

LOL: Yes, they have! You’ve gained property without paying for it! Why would you buy it now?

Me: Because I might really like the artists’ work, I might trust their ‘brand’ in the future and buy more than just this item. I might buy many additional things such as tickets, t-shirts or drinking vessels. People need to be able to test what they like, often it is only over an extended period of time (of testing) that respect builds for the artist because their art is shown to have sustained value (like a book that can be read multiple times with increasing or enhanced enjoyment).

LOL: But, you’re depriving the artist of income, the law is there to protect the artists from leeches like you!

Me: Actually, the law is there to protect middle-men in management companies from leeching off artists.

LOL: I don’t care, you’ve broken the law! Haven’t you read Romans 13?

<descend into theological debate>


Doctorow makes the fine point that artists require solutions to their problems of exposure and distribution. In times past, the distributors and publishers provided these in the form of advertising and printing networks. I remember being told by a Uni lecturer that Penguin had shut down (at least part of) its children’s literature division to pay for the 1mil advertising budget for Bryce Courtney’s latest novel. Simply put, they would make more money from Courtney’s novels than all the books released for the children. It was a lesson to me: the artists are the slaves to the companies.

Which brings me back to Romans 13. Just because the law says ‘x’ doesn’t mean Christians have to support the law. Anyone who says that we must obey the laws of a land simply out of obedience to the earthly rulers and statutes has a completely double-minded understanding of the Bible and is not following God’s law. A cursory examination of Jesus’ opposition to the laws of the Pharisees and the repeated legal non-observance of many Biblical heroes (see Daniel for an obvious example) makes the point even plainer. Furthermore, if laws were right simply because they were laws, then we would not seek to change them (that would be to admit that the law is *wrong*). Where do ‘rights’ come from? Uh, we *make* them. Sometimes the best way to change a law is to break it to the point where its flaws are held up for all to see.

While the examples are a touch on the elderly side, Janis Ian does an excellent number on the music industry and its foibles pre-iTunes. Eric Flint explains how the book industry could become a little more ‘free’ and it would only help authors.

I argue that it’s about respect. If people respect the art, they will pay for it one way or another. If we have a community that doesn’t respect each other… well, that’s far far worse than illegally downloading a song.

TLDR version:

Repect = good.

Respectful people buy stuff so that artists can eat.

Romans 13 is about accepting punishment for just laws.

Free stuff means people buy stuff (if they respect the artist).

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