Imagine for a moment the creation and mass distribution of a device that could perfectly replicate food, even the most elaborate meals, at no cost at all. You could insert any dish and rapidly produce perfect copies. It would be miraculous, wouldn't it? It would be the end of hunger across the globe. It would allow millions of people, people of every socio-economic station, to experience the joy of eating fine and varied food. What would we not give for such technology!
Now imagine the creation of a device that perfectly and rapidly replicates music, making it accessible to people everywhere at no cost. File sharing is miraculous isn't it... Yet this amazing technology is outlawed and our potentially free exchange of culture and music is branded copyright infringement. It makes me sad to see the monetary interests of the few, predominantly the middlemen in the recording industry, come before all the potential joy and cultural growth which might stem from free copying of digital media.
(further thoughts after review of my original 2am posting...)
Certainly we should find some way to compensate the artists for their work, but the current state of the law egrigiously overshoots the necessary scope of economic incentives to encourage creative efforts.
Long ago, the US rejected copyright protection in perpetuity, an enduring absolute right of control for the author stemming from natural rights philosophy and the position of several European nations. But the current 75 year monopoly is still clearly too long - especially when the underlying motivation for the the most recent extension of copyright protection was a Disney lobbying effort because Micky Mouse was about to fall into the public domain.
When the copyright clause was added to the constitution, it was casually referred to as "an act for the encouragement of learning." Today, however, the overly broad scope of intellectual property rights are interfering with learning, thus slowing both the rate of technological expansion and creative expression by providing unecessarily strong monopoly rights. Intellectual property today is defeating its own initial purpose.
These protections were premised on encouraging learning, but by forbidding derivative works, and ignoring the fact that human knowledge and culture must build upon their own shoulders in order to progress, we hinder learning instead.
Long before Justice Breyer became your and my "honor," he composed one of the first scholarly criticisms of broad copyright protection based on economic incentives. He pointed out that laborers in almost every other industry are allowed no expectation of enduring rights to control the products of their labor. A wage is sufficient economic incentive for the corporate inventor to invent. And a one time fee was historically sufficient to inspire and author to write and subsequently sell his or her work to the publisher (who was the original benefactor of IP protection.) It is time for us to realize that IP rights mark the delicate boudary between public benefit and private reward.
For far too long, this private reward has been far too great - and it has been at the expense of public access to art, literature, and music. Through the civil disobediance made so very easy by the internet, our culture must challenge this archaic system and assert the strength of our semiotic democracy. The time for *mostly* free information and reform is long overdue.