If I hadn’t at first (or second) glance thought that our nation’s copyright laws were broken, I surely do now. What sold me on this truth were a handful of very specific words laid out in our book The Social Media Reader. These words described us; the children who grew up in the newly found digital age. The words read:
“We can’t make our kids passive …. We can only make them ‘pirates.’ The question is, is that any good? Our kids live in an age of prohibition. All sorts of aspects of their life are against the law. They live their life against the law. That way of living is extraordinarily corrosive. It is extraordinarily corrupting of the rule of law and ultimately corrupting to the premise of a democracy.” (Mandiberg, p. 167)
After reading these words it seemed crazy how I had never given any thought to how ‘corrosive’ and ‘corrupting’ the current copyright laws truly are. I understand that their intent has great value, but as our country evolved into the digital age, copyright laws opted to stay the way they have always been. Lawrence Lessig argues throughout his entire chapter that, yes, copyright is important; however its inability to grow and change with the times has made itself into an archaic, destructive and compulsory force that ultimately damages our nations creativity.
Despite all of the problems with the current copyright laws there is still a valuable reason why they are in effect: to protect copyrighted works of art from being abused. Take for instance, something like peer-to-peer file sharing, which is absolutely illegal. Downloading and sharing movies, television, music, video games, etc., is something that we all know is illegal and is in no way a just practice, but guess what; most of us still do it. Lessig likens this situation to the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. He describes it as, “an extraordinary war against an obvious evil [….] a war inspired by progressive reform, and a war that was inspired by the thought that government could make us a better society” (Mandiberg, 156). However, what they soon realized, as is also the case today, was that their war was not working. In the 1920’s the United States saw a rise in organized crime and everything was still definitely drinking. Comparatively, today, the government tries to sew peer-to-peer filing sharing sites like The Pirate Bay, but just as many (if not more) people are using file sharing as they were before.
Lessig suggests that instead of trying to work within the confines of an aging copyright system, the law has to adapt and redefine itself. He says, “We need to find ways to chill control-obsessed individuals and corporations that believe the single objective of copyright law is to control use, rather than thinking about the objective of copyright law as to create incentives for creation” (Mandiberg, p.165). He attempts to diagnose the problem with many possible solutions; however I found his solutions to be vague at best. I don’t blame him; after all, he is trying to single handedly solve an issue that thousands of artists and lawyers haven’t been able to solve yet either. I too find myself scratching my head over a possible solution. How do you think copyright should be redefined? What rules and regulations should be abolished or added?
Mandiberg, M. 2012. The Social Media Reader. New York: New York University Press