Leiden Law Blog

Goodbye copyright, goodbye

Posted on by Robert-Jan de Vries in Private Law , 1
Goodbye copyright, goodbye

In about twenty years from now, copyright as we know it will be history. And there is no particular political activism needed to make that happen. Why? The answer is quite simple: in twenty years, the world's policy makers will have been replaced by a generation that grew up using the internet and therefore has a better understanding of our current information society.

Copyright has always been about protecting the economic interests of publishers and distributors. A quick look at this infographic confirms that only the "happy few" top selling authors can actually make a living from royalties. Thus the only ones truly benefiting from copyright protection are the publishers and distributors. With the emergence of large international publishers in the eighties and nineties, financially potent corporations emerged that had the leverage to influence policy makers. Acting in their own interest, the corporations clearly used their influence to dictate an expansion of their copyright monopoly. This culminated in the year 2000, when the music industry alone celebrated a whopping $ 36.9 billion in worldwide revenues for CDs, vinyl, cassettes and digital downloads.

Around the turn of the millennium however, the internet popped up and spoiled the publishers' party. Not because the internet facilitates illegal sharing of copyright protected material. That is merely a side effect of what the internet has brought us: a way for any two individuals to find each other anywhere on the globe and to connect one‑on­­­‑one. The effect this has had on the way we communicate and share information cannot be underestimated. For authors, it brings the opportunity of building a direct relationship with their fans. For consumers, it means being able to find new authors and having access to every piece of music, film or writing in existence. Additionally, the power to publish and distribute has raised the potential for every consumer to become an author. It is no longer the publisher that gets to decide what is published.

This could lead to the bold conclusion that publishers have been or will be made redundant. But there is more to it. Because every internet user is now a potential author, the relationship between an author and his creation has changed. This is partly because the social status that comes with authorship devaluates as the number of authors increases. Moreover, the offering of works is progressively fragmented due to the fact that there is no longer a central distribution network.

Consequently, authors will have a harder time finding an audience willing to "consume" their work. Combine this with the fact that consumers increasingly ignore information that is not easily accessible online, and we will see a growing number of authors sharing their creations publicly on the platform of their choice. This gives the author the opportunity to get in direct contact with his fans, thus building a loyal fan base of people sympathetic to his work and personality. These fans are likely to be willing to pay for live performances, lectures and (software) support, or even to contribute to the creation of new work. And so the relationship between the author and his work changes from being intellectual "property" in need of protection, to being a means to an end: to create a name and fame as an author and build a loyal fan base.

This process is already ongoing. We have seen such examples as Radiohead releasing their album on their own website for free and Prince giving away his album "Planet Earth" with an issue of a UK national newspaper. As more authors embrace this new way of looking at authorship, we can expect a tipping point, at which a critical mass of work is released in the public domain. When this happens, it will simply no longer be viable to rely on traditional business models.

This brings us back to why copyright is soon to be history. As stated above, this has everything to do with the current generation of policy and decision makers. The people that are now calling the shots did not grow up using the internet and are seemingly oblivious to the ongoing process that I have described above. It is going to take a new generation to rebalance copyright legislation with social and economic reality. This reality is that the need for copyright will be eliminated by authors themselves.

1 Comment

Ernst-Jan Louwers
Posted by Ernst-Jan Louwers on November 27, 2013 at 17:43

Copyright is here to stay but I fully agree that the concept of copyright will change dramatically in due course. Whilst the tendency is to even prolong the current duration of copyright protection beyond 70 years, new generations and day-to-day practice of openness and sharing seem to dictate the opposite.
Why not work towards a system where the basic copyright term is rather limited (say 15 years or so, in line with database protection) and optional protection can be obtained by registration up to a certain maximum term. This would also partly solve the problem of orphan works.
Also, it could be considered to introduce something similar to the American fair use concept.
Changes like these will take long and winding roads.
In the meantime innovative creators will have to use contractual systems like Creative Commons and Open Source licensing mechanisms enabling ease of sharing, co-creation and open innovation.

See blog on http://www.louwersadvocaten.nl/en/news/2010/origin-and-future-of-intellectual-property

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