Efforts to fight copying on the Internet were criticized in a presentation Thursday by blogger and author Cory Doctorow, a frequent critic of copyright regulations.
"We are in a state of giant social anxiety over copying," he said. But it is never going to get harder to copy material, only easier, Doctorow stressed.
Futurists in the 1960s and 1970s pondered the possibility of an information economy with the assumption that it would be about buying and selling information, said Doctorow. But if information can be copied without buying, that makes for a hard marketplace, he added.
DRM has emerged as an attempt to make it more difficult to copy, Doctorow said. "I call it anti-copying technology," Doctorow said. But he added he does not think DRM works. The software industry basically has abandoned it, Doctorow said.
Content use regulation is creeping into broadcast and communications policy as well as industrial regulation without regard to the actual information economy, Doctorow said.
Asked by an audience member about protecting intellectual property, Doctorow said the rights of publishers have always been contingent on technology, but content makers do need to be rewarded. Doctorow provided a brief history of copyright battles, beginning with sheet music makers fighting phonograph record makers to record makers fighting radio stations to subsequent disputes between broadcasters, cable companies, and VCR makers.
"The fact is, copyright is technology regulation, and that means by definition it’s out of step with reality because the technology changes faster than the law does," Doctorow said.
"It is important to find ways to reward rights holders for doing good stuff but that can't be to say that every act of copying requires a license," Doctorow said.
He proposed a bifurcated system where industrial activity requires licenses while cultural activity does not. Users could pay a fee to their ISPs, such as $3 or $5 a month, for the right to download. This would double or triple the profits of the recording industry and decriminalize the majority of Internet users, he said.
Doctorow recommended participation in Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is a non-profit group protecting digital rights, and Creative Commons, which offers licenses allowing for maintenance of copyrights while inviting certain uses of work. He also mentioned a student movement, FreeCulture, which seeks to decriminalize downloading and turn the Internet into a force for social good.
Doctorow emphasized how computers have reinvented how people communicate. Print-based communication has given way to electronic communication over the Internet.
"You might have noticed this, but geeks have remade the world in the last 15 years," he said.