Last week, my musings on a world without copyright proved quite popular, with the post being one of my most-read and retweeted ever. Comments on this blog, Twitter and Reddit covered a range of views, with lawyers predictably calling me names, abolitionists saying “hell yeah!” and people in the middle having great discussions about the future of copyright. To be clear, I’m not an abolitionist but I can see things going that way, so watching the discussion was fantastic.
If I were to chip my two cents in, I’d say that more imagination is needed, as well as a better understanding of history, since the two are linked, as in you can imagine the future based on what’s happened in the past.
For one thing, if you could go back in time 200 years and show someone a movie, you’d probably be arrested and burned as a witch. If you went back 100 years and showed someone a film that had sound, colour and was downloadable in a minute on your phone, they would have gone on the radio to announce that aliens had invaded.
The point is, the suggestion of a world without copyright is just as crazy-sounding to us now. It may or may not happen, but two things are certain: the future is going to seem as alien to us now as it did to people 100 or 200 years ago.
The other definite is that it’s not going to take a century or more to arrive. As futurist Ray Kurzweil is fond of saying, technology is evolving and improving exponentially. That means the future is arriving faster and faster. I’ll be exploring these effects in my upcoming book, Humans 3.0.
Laws are, of course, the seeming antithesis of technology, since they tend to evolve much very slowly. If there’s anything the current debate over copyright around the world has proven, it’s that the rules governing it are moving woefully slow in relation to the technology.
That notwithstanding, human creativity through artistic expression is going to look dramatically different a century from now, even 50 years from now. If John Connor were to come back and show us how movies are consumed in his time, we’d have him locked up in a loonie bin right next to his mother.
Despite the mammoth businesses they have become and are today, it is not a given that there will be entertainment industries in the future. With every individual armed with the tools of creation and means of distribution, we are in for a seismic change in how art is created and consumed. More and more people are creating photos, movies, music, books, games and so on than ever before, which is completely different than the relatively small sampling of people who have historically done so. With that kind of massive increase in supply, demand and consumption are both going to radically change.
This isn’t internet utopianism, it’s a reality of technological and human evolution.
Will people who make art still be paid for what they do? Maybe – I hope the good ones are – but who really knows? That wasn’t always the case and it may not be once again.
That was my whole point in suggesting that a creative Singularity is approaching; it’s an inflection point after which things will be difficult to imagine. What will be that figurative turning point? Again, who knows, but 3D printing might be a safe bet. If we thought the entertainment industry was bad in trying to prevent people from copying their stuff, wait till we’re all equipped with good, cheap devices that allow us to make anything. It’s a time that, by most estimates, is almost here.
Things will get really crazy then.