‘Read only’, Should we farewell a Read Write culture? – Copyright, ownership structures, and industry control

Copyright is not a new notion. With convergent technology and media advances making sharing fantastically fast, easy and customisable, a plethora of new ideas and (re)creativity are emerging by the billions. So ‘preserving’ a pseudo-property that is founded on a person’s creative skill and labour seems like a lovely idea to restore all fairness in the media sphere, right?


Sure, extending back to 18th Century England, copyright was a legitimate and genuine set of laws established to ensure that ‘culturally important creative works were not the victims of monopolies and were free’, or as mandated in the U.S constitution, “to promote progress”. But, as Steve Collins so rightly puts it –

copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners.” Golden stuff here kids. 

Take media conglomerate AOL Time Warner’s copyrights to “Happy Birthday”. You know that song, that song whose omnipresence serves as but one reason, for the surprise received… when people discover that it is copyrighted and therefore protected by federal law. Haaaaaappy Birthday to yo – wait – you said what about royalties?!

To read a little more on how to have the unhappiest of birthday’s, Unhappy Birthday

It’s not all birthday party dampening stuff, though. Most regulating bodies recognise copyright limitations, allowing “fair” exceptions to the creator’s exclusivity of copyright. I.e fair use…

Fair Use

Or so long as the new work passes a vague battery of questions…

Fair Use 2


And now, as Lawrence Lessig suggests, there is a quasi chain of command that dictates the way in which the architecture of copyright law and the architecture of digital technology interact with one another and make using technology and abiding by the copyright standards almost impossible.

Consider it like this – Copyright at its core, regulates “copies” > An inescapable facet of the digital world is that every use of culture produces some sort of copy > every use of a copy requires permission > and without permission, you are taking what’s not yours.

Sure, for paperback books this is perfectly logical! But the problem with copyright today, is that it has no foundation in common sense. This participatory culture, where we are no longer consumers but rather prosumers, coupled with the flexibility of generated content, makes copyright some truly messy stuff.

Additional links;



http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/105 Steve Collins M/C Journal, Vol. 11, No. 6 (2008) – ‘recover

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Q25-S7jzgs Larry Lessig: Laws that choke creativity, TEDTalks, (Nov. 15 2007)

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