I think we’re in the middle of a very bad convergence of cultural inhibitors. Most things that would fall under the purview of culture is copyrighted. Historically, we never had much trouble with this as individuals. However, now we’re seeing more and more problems with this. As I’ve discussed in the past, ICE is heavily involved, individuals like James O’Dwyer and Aaron Swartz are in the middle of two different kind of legal action and content owners are coming up with new ways to control their material.
What do I think is going on? I think that we could be seeing the end of our ability to freely use our culture. We are also seeing the US attempting to govern the world’s copyright law. For instance, the US is seeking to extradite O’Dwyer over a links page, something like Justin.TV, which in the UK isn’t illegal and no one is sure if it’s actually illegal in the US or not (See this ars technica article for more information). This isn’t the only case like this. ICE seized a website that was declared legal in Spain.
One of the best parts of the copyright law for consumers is the First sale provision. This allows a consumer that owns a book, but not the copyright, to sell this book to some one else. Or do with this book anything they want to after the first sale. However, we’re seeing this ability erode away. Autodesk, makers of AutoCad, are suing a guy that is trying to resell a two copies of AutoCad. They are claiming it violates their copyright and their End User Licence Agreement.
Digital Rights Management (DRM) is another manner in which content owners are exerting excess control over their content. If you bought a song from iTunes, that DRM is going to last longer than the copyright which it is absurd in my opinion.
Another case where DRM and content ownership is going to have a long term negative impact is in the PC gaming industry. There are a few major platforms for game digital game distribution. Steam being the largest, however all these games are put into a walled garden of “ownership” where you are able to play the game and use it, but you aren’t in control of the actual content. You have absolutely no ability to resell the game. In the past, if you didn’t like a game after you bought it, you had the ability to sell it for a loss to some place like Gamestop. With these online platforms you don’t have the ability to do that, as it would cannibalize sales from Steam itself.
Other services are starting to get into the act to prevent copyrighted materials from being sole without the owner’s consent. Today, PayPal has decided to ban payments to any website that is illegally selling copyrighted material (Torrent Freak article). This is pretty serious. As a company the have the right to do so, and I’m very sure that there will be some other service that will provide secure monetary transfers.
Based on these observations, I believe that our government and content owners are working to control and limit the freedom of usage of our own culture. It’s not a conspiracy, as the government is actively working with RIAA and MPAA to help regulate the material. ISPs have recently gotten involved in the game as well (EFF commentary). These groups are working to use copyright to gain more control over the material every day.
What can we do? Contact your government officials, get educated through EFF and Creative Commons, and other organizations like this.
Lawrence Lessig Code 2.0