The Internet has become the site of a giant record store, one in which nearly any recently produced music, records and photography are available. Whether the creators of these works like it or not, actually. And everything is always on sale: For free!“ And official businesses can’t compete because it would be too burdensome to get the copyright for every single thing,” Paul Keller said Thursday in Amsterdam at the European Bloggers’ Lab.
“No real record store could have the necessary permission… So it’s pretty easy to get access to pirated material and fairly difficult to find a source for legal access to music.” And what’s great about the endless record bin that is the Internet, Keller noted, is that there’s a diminished need to ask anyone’s permission to visit or purchase anything. “If someone has to ask permission to use something, they probably won’t use it,” he continued.
We are not in a permission-based culture anymore, though. The current digital culture, rather, encourages the free sharing information and creative works. The revolution of the Internet, said Keller, a German copyright expert living in the Netherlands, is that it enables all of us to access the same distribution platforms available to governments, corporations or other big “official” sources of information. And actually, its the “unofficial” users of these platforms who are most successful at mastering the technology behind them. Gone are the days of student activists bandying about with badly copied papers handed out at a demonstration, Keller said. Anyone who wants to participate in civil society can now do so - and do so well.
But, when it comes to distribution, everybody has to deal with copyright law - which has evolved into such a complex, ineffective system, one that it is no longer useful. Copyright law, after all, was never meant for ordinary people, but rather trained lawyers. Creative Commons, for which Keller is working in conjunction with other projects at Knowledgeland, offers a solution which builds on top of copyright law. It allows creators of various works to label their work with permission for various kinds of reuse.
By Keller’s count, more than 250 million items are license under CC online. A quick search for items liscenced under Creative Commons on Flickr yields a virtual stock photography shop. Keller offered an overview of the principles behind basic copyright law during his keynote presentation Thursday. He pointed out that every work created with sufficient originality is automatically under copyright, belonging to the original author (as long as another arrangement does not exist). This is true on the Internet as well. But what’s different about the Internet is that its viral nature has itself become a motivation for the creation of creative works.
“You put something on the Internet and it gets copied right away - and that’s the intention,” Keller said. This is a phenomenon not seen offline. Newspapers which offer today the content of yesterday’s newspaper - but for a cheaper price! - will not sell. “You wouldn’t buy that even if it is cheaper. The point is not access to the information, but the access to exactly the relevant information you want, the specific selection.” This is a major shift away from traditional thinking, which presupposes that copyright itself - and the monetary rewards it promises - is the foremost motivation for the creation of works. Obviously, this has changed. “Most of the people here at PICNIC, their problem is that their work is not watched or listened to enough,” he said.
A study of various mediums offers copyright scholars dynamic insight. Keller considered the business model of radio stations. It would be impossible for radios to arrange copyright agreements with each artist and with each work. So instead, artists instead give the rights to their music to royalty societies, which in turn distribute songs to be played over the airwaves. Artists then collect royalties, tailored to how many plays their song god, from the societies. Keller said some scholars think such a model could be applied to the Internet: Paying EUR 5 extra to Internet Service Providers would grant users the right to download as many works as desired. “But it’s not well thought-out yet,” he added. Privacy implications arise over the necessary record-keeping. Concerns about how to distribute fairly also arise, among other logistical concerns.