Want to help promote better copyright reform? Fight copyright infringement!

One of the ways that lobbiests have been able to take control over copyright reform is by claiming massive amounts of copyright infringement by private citizens. Given this, I strongly believe that those who do not want to see draconian measures passed by governments should "clean up house" and not be part of those statistics.

When I speak to people who are willing to admit that they have infringed copyright, usually music or computer software, I have noticed that there are two common claims. The first claim is that they cannot afford to buy what they are using. The problem with this claim is that there is almost always royalty-free or otherwise alternative legal ways to receive equivalents. The second claim is that until I mentioned it to them they were entirely unaware of alternatives.

As mentioned in a [previous article | http://www.digital-copyright.ca/node/view/322], there are two conversations that happen in discussions around copyright reform: legacy content industries talking about how to collect more royalties for their existing works, and creators/audiences talking about alternative methods of creation and distribution of new works. I believe this second conversation is the one we should focus on if citizens (creators and their audiences) wish to take back control of copyright reform from the legacy intermediaries.

Lets look at a few examples.

When people buy a computer they sometimes claim that while they can afford the initial purchase price for the hardware and operating system, they can't afford the applications that they need to make the computer useful. Rather than becoming part of the statistics that are used to harm us, these people should be made aware of Free/Libre and Open Source Software ([FLOSS | http://www.flora.ca/floss.shtml]). This software has no royalty fee associated with it, so the incentive for private citizens to infringe copyright does not exist. In this form of software creation and distribution, so called "software piracy" is a concept of the past.

This software can be thought of as being pre-paid software. Whatever was required to motivate the developers to create the software already happened in the past, and you as user of the software do not need to pay royalties in order to pay for that development. If you are willing to pay you can receive as good (or often better) commercial support for this software, and if you want any type of support from training to feature enhancements you can go to a vendor-neutral competitive marketplace to hire these services.

It really is a win-win situation. The commercial support services (like my own company) can compete in a marketplace where there are no monopoly vendors trying to lock them out of the marketplace. It is a win for our consumers who only need to pay for the services that they need. If software users can support themselves, or find volunteer support, then they can use software that fits their budget while not infringing copyright.

Music is a much more visible aspect of our culture. There seems to be a cold war between music fans and the recording industry at the moment, with the industry trying to sue their best customers and those customers feeling less and less sympathy for the industry.

Like the case of software, there is an alternative. There is currently an open debate about whether non-commercial peer-to-peer (citizen-to-citizen, fan-to-fan) distribution of music is harmful or helpful to musicians. When the recording industry claims there is consensus that it is harmful, various informal and formal analysis disagree. (See the [Harvard University and the University of North Carolina study | http://news.com.com/2100-1027_3-5181562.html] as well as [my own analysis | http://www.flora.ca/creators/crean20040420.html#juno])

Some musicians have decided to take matters into their own hands. Earlier this year [Neil Layton | http://www.digital-copyright.ca/discuss/all?from=Neil+Leyton] of [Fading Ways Music | http://www.fadingwaysmusic.com/] announced that new CD releases from this independent label would be [licensed under a Creative Commons license | http://www.fadingwaysmusic.com/mission.html]. They are using the [Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike | http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/1.0/] license which not only authorizes non-commercial peer-to-peer distribution, but also authorizes people to make derivative works such as remixes as long as the derivative is distributed using the same license. Commercial distribution by CD stays the same as it was in the past, and the musicians from this label believe that CD sales will increase with the authorized royalty-free peer-to-peer distribution.

I am extremely excited that this alternative has become available. Since 2000 I have boycott the recording industry by not buying any of their products (See: [Piracy or Boycott: Can you see the difference? | http://weblog.flora.org/article.php3?story_id=120]). On May 8 I attended the CD launch for [Red Orkestra's | http://www.fadingwaysmusic.com/redOrkestra.html] "after the wars". It felt wonderful not only to be attending a concert which I have not done in a long time, but to also be buying a music CD "guilt free". Not only did I know that the musician would be getting the majority of the money I paid, but because of the Creative Commons license I know that this music will never be used against citizens by the recording industry.

While the Government continues to contemplate draconian measures to stop what they perceive to be a serious problem, I will continue to plead with citizens to consider alternatives to both copyright infringement and paying our political opponents. While the legacy content industry would like you to believe that the only alternative is to pay them, our best chance at a long term peace between creators and their fans is represented by that "second conversation": alternative methods of creation and distribution represented by FLOSS and the Creative Commons.

Additional links:

* [FLORA Community Consulting | http://www.flora.ca] - I "practice what I preach" and since 1995 have operated a FLOSS support business.
* [Creative Commons | http://creativecommons.org] - To see a small sampling of the growing amount of content under these licenses, click on "get content".
* [Canadian File-sharing Legal Information network | http://www.canfli.org] - coordinates the exchange of information among the public and a group of Canadian law students, lawyers and public interest organizations.
* [TheOpenCD.org | http://www.theopencd.org] - examples of some high quality FLOSS software that runs on Microsoft Windows.
* [OpenOffice.org office suite | http://www.openoffice.org] - alternative office suite, compatible with Microsoft Office and other office suites. See also: [OpenOffice.org Newsletter - Volume 01 - Issue 10 - 04/2004 | http://www.openoffice.org/servlets/ReadMsg?list=announce&msgNo=205] and [Ontario's school system gives StarOffice a shot | http://www.itbusiness.ca/index.asp?theaction=61&sid=55732] (Note: StarOffice is a derivative of OpenOffice.org that is supported by Sun Microsystems)