Copyright’s future will indeed be crazy

26 Nov

“Come with me if you want to live… and watch movies in your head.”

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.


Posted by on November 26, 2012 in copyright


6 responses to “Copyright’s future will indeed be crazy

  1. Marc Venot

    November 26, 2012 at 2:58 am

    Maybe you can write an article about Final Cut Pro X from Apple since it has been released for some time now?
    About copyright it would be interesting to show how Steve Jobs moved (or not) the lines?

    • russellmcormond

      November 26, 2012 at 11:52 am

      Hard to have a non-emotional discussion about Steve Jobs impact on laws around exclusive rights. My impression has always been that he was a control freak, and used his Charisma to bamboozle politicians into granting technology companies like his even more control over the means of production and distribution in the digital age. If any single person can be blamed for “DRM” (Dishonest Relationship Misinformation) it would be Steve Jobs, even though he had a fair bit of help from other people. And don’t get me started on design patents, or information/mental process patents and the current mobile computing (cell phone) patent wars that Jobs started.

      Ironically, there are people who still believe he was part of the other side of the equation — giving “average people” access to technology that allowed them to create and compete with the big guys. These tend to be people not watching the lobbying of companies, with Apple being the most strict and extreme as far as wanting laws to disallow technology owners from controlling the keys to locks on their own property, etc.

      Different charismatic leaders will come forward in the future, and I hope the next generation won’t be anything like Jobs, Gates, or folks from that generation.

  2. Nick Saveski

    November 26, 2012 at 9:49 am

    One thing that gets me about Kurzweil’s assertions is that it seems to only recognize technical advancement of a Moore’s Law type. It doesn’t seem to address a will or knowledge to DO something with these advancements, or the general populace’s contentment with ‘good enough’ at some point.

    It’s entirely possible that for a while at least, things may not change a lot with regards to art and copyright just because the use of the tech isn’t keeping up with the tech itself. And if the use falls behind, maybe the tech will too, and we’ll end up stagnating until some new genius does something in a way not done before.

    For example, much tech right now (at least in entertainment) seems to be focussed on replacing old ways of doing things (more efficiently, more ‘realistically’, etc), rather than doing things in legitimately new or different ways.

    It’ll be an interesting thing to watch, either way!

    • petenowak2000

      November 26, 2012 at 10:39 am

      Good points Nick. If I could shamelessly self-promote for a second, that’s more or less exactly what my next book will be about.

      Your comments remind me of one company I visited in Israel, called Interlude. It was started by a bunch of musicians who felt that interactive online videos weren’t actually interactive at all, so they created a sort of choose-your-own adventure form of video. So far, they’re doing short-form stuff but they’re also in talks to do a movie. Check them out:

  3. George Geczy

    November 26, 2012 at 10:54 am

    One problem in doing things in “legitimately new or different ways” is that a lot of capital is tied up in “status quo” – and every kitchen sink is being thrown at keeping it that way.

    It’s interesting to remember that even though the home video revolution turned out to be a big win for pretty much everybody (studios, filmmakers, and electronics makers), the Supreme Court “Betamax” decision (Universal studios vs Sony) was a split decision, 5-4 I believe… and entertainment lobbyist are much more powerful now. New ways of interacting and consuming culture require foundation-changing new innovations (like the VCR), but at present everything in the media business is designed to resist and obstruct such innovations. Inflexibility in copyright, software and design patents, and lock-down of media are just some of the barriers.

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