Whose right is copyright?

I ran into a post last night, about the “Pirate 2 Pirate Kopimi Station” (via “MAKE: Blog“).  It is great that folks at Make are covering this emergent phenomenon.  But then they went ahead and made the following wimpy statement, which got me all riled up:

“Obviously this is not something we are encourage [sic] folks to do …”

In response I’d like to pose an open question: why not? Make supposedly is all about a certain grassroot DIY ethos.  Is that only going to go so far (to the extent of  for content owners who *do* want to share their works,) and stop short at certain things?  Like the concept of a public library, and the laws that make or break it. That, it is clear to me, is exactly what is being re-invented by the likes of Piratbyrån (wikipedia entry).   Is that degree of DIY outside the limits of the maker movement?  The idea of the public library must evolve into the 21st century. We can’t let Mickey Mouse tell us what the public library is.

There is the whole “content owner” thing.  But who decides where that begins and where that ends? The “who” and the “what,” and the “how long?” If it is the public that gets to decide, then the public has spoken. The amount of file trading that happens is proof enough that the public is okay with “piracy,” by and large. On the other hand, if it is the profiteer oligarch that gets to decide, who is often not even the content producer but “their agent,” and incidentally gets to keep bulk of the loot (just think of the “Life + 70 years” rule in that light), then I claim myself the agent of the ancient Greeks, Arabs, Indians, Phoenicians, Egyptians etc. Would all of current western civilization pay me 1000 years worth of copyright fees please? I am going to pass some of it on to the descendants of the producers, I promise!

There is a story about the ancient library of Alexandria, where king Ptolemy decreed that all visitors had to surrender books in their possession to be copied for the library to keep. There is nothing inherently universal about the right of copy ownership, the way it is commonly perceived today even by those contravening it.  So if I get to pick which law is better, Ptolemy’s law, anarchically instituted and executed, sounds like good copyright law to me. It is true that the “owners” will make less money. But what makes it my business to concern myself with their profit interest, instead of the public enlightenment interest?

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