(2 STARS out of 5)
Mark Helprin is such a nasty, mean windbag in his book Digital Barbarism. As a tattooed woman (2 strikes against me), I’m apparently just one of the millions of riffraff he loathes. However, although it KILLS me to admit it, he does raise a couple of interesting questions about Intellectual Property. So, 2 stars.
But ultimately Helprin is still wrong. The evil that he imagines himself to be fighting when he attacks Creative Commons is a cartoonish villain: a radical, frothing-at-the-mouth, fanatical, nihilist communist. Kind of a foil to Helprin himself, who fancies himself a hero: a rational, noble, courageous, moralist capitalist. The problem is that Helprin gets the Creative Commons movement all wrong.
Although I’m sure a blogger or two has, indeed, argued for the abolition of copyright, I’m also sure that a blogger or two has argued for just about anything you can think of. That’s the beauty of blogs — everyone has a voice in the public forum (not just Mark Helprin). The copyright reform movement as a whole, however, is much more moderate. In fact, Creative Commons actually seeks to slow down and dial-back a radical movement that would see copyright abolished.
As the transfer of information and ideas has become more fluid in a digital environment connected by the internet, the policy mechanisms to control IP have also gotten much more restrictive and chilling. This is because the industries that profit from licensing IP panicked and lobbied for stricter controls to protect their investments. The reward for their lobbying was copyright extension and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It is now no longer safe, even in the context of fair use, to critique and respond to Intellectual Property without fears of unreasonable legal fees and prosecution.
So yes, people responded to these strict new controls by becoming pirates and thieves. But Creative Commons seeks to correct that, to be the moderate solution in-between that gives producers the option still to license their intellectual property, but more fluidly. I think this is probably in line with what the framers actually had in mind when they established a “limited term” for copyright, so that, as rugged individualists, innovators and capitalists, we could still profit from our ideas — but that these ideas would then eventually be “freed” for public use and progress. The framers made this weird exception for ownership of Intellectual Property, as opposed to other sorts of property, because they recognized a special quality in ideas that allows us all to benefit when they are free.
I admit that Digital Barbarism did force me to critique my own views on Intellectual Property licensing, which had drifted pretty far to the left. For that I appreciate it. That’s why it got 2 stars instead of 1.