roh_wyn: (gotohell)
[personal profile] roh_wyn
From [ profile] wildeagain, via @neilhimself on Twitter:

If someone steals your writing, remember to be grateful!

I can't even begin to explain the stoopid.

But on reflection, I think I've narrowed the problem to two basic points, which I think apply equally to all forms of plagiarism and copyright violation on the internet, and also to all the wankery that accompanies plagiarism of fanfiction.

If you follow the link above, you'll discover that the editor of the magazine that lifted the [ profile] illadore's material admitted it was plagiarism, but also suggested that the writer didn't have any right to compensation, because the everything on the web is in the public domain.

Obviously, this person is having a serious *headdesk* moment, but this notion that the internet is public domain and that content on the internet is freely available to everyone is common and sadly, widespread.

The problem is two-fold, and has to do with our views on (a) property ownership and (b) cost.

(a) All our ideas about property ownership come from the laws made in the Middle Ages (and still good today) with respect to real property. The central aspect of private ownership of property is the right to exclude others. If I have a large parcel of land and I build a fence around it, everyone understands exactly what that means, You would not bat an eyelid if I expected some sort of compensation (monetary or otherwise) in exchange for my agreement to let you use the parcel of land in some limited way. Basically, I license you to use my land.

Now if the land is a big meadow and I don't bother to put a fence around it, you might be within your rights believing it to be public property. But then, just as you're planning your big outdoor cocktail party, you notice a tiny sign at the other end of the meadow that reads "Private Property. No Trespassing." Again, everyone knows exactly what this means. You now have options: you can ignore the sign, pretend it's public property, and risk breaking the law, you can take your party elsewhere, or you can get me to give you a license to use the place.

I liken content that's published and made freely available on the internet to that meadow. Yes, it's open, it's awesome, it's very tempting. But someone still owns it, and you can't just use the content without permission.

(b) When we have to pay for the right to use something, we're more likely to recognize ownership. This is a slightly more esoteric concept, but it works like this. Back in the Dark Ages, when the only way to acquire quality music was to buy a CD, almost everyone appreciated the cost associated with producing the content. Someone had to manufacture the CD, someone had to record music on it, someone had to design the cover art, and a fourth person had to print and package it. Everyone who bought a CD knew also that a big fraction of the price of the CD was the "copyright fee", for lack of a better word. That is, the music belonged to someone else, and the price you paid was for the license to be able to listen to it whenever you wanted, as often as you wanted.

Now consider that instead of putting out a CD in a store, a musician makes the track available to you for download on the internet, for absolutely no charge. You can listen to it whenever you want, as often as you want. Only this time, there's no cost associated with it. Does everyone still appreciate that the music actually belongs to someone else, and that your download was just a license to listen to the music? I think no, because when the cost of acquiring the license drops down to zero, the link to ownership is lost. Everyone who downloads the track thinks they have the right to do whatever they want with the music, sample it, rework it, even distribute it, completely without the permission of the owner. It's still stealing, but nobody realizes it.

This is what's happening on the internet, everyday and everywhere. A magazine editor finds an interesting recipe online, and assumes that it's freely available for reprint, despite the fact that the "meadow" has a "no trespass" sign. The editor is then stunned to discover the owner of the "meadow" wants to be compensated.

The 12-year who downloads music illegally doesn't see it as stealing. It's out there, it's there for free, what do you mean I can't just take it?! Well, I can't just come into your house and steal your XBox, even though you left the door open and it was right there, can I?

*rolls eyes*

ETA: Now with added feedback and press from The Guardian. Internet firestorm FTW!

Predictably, the Guardian excerpt includes content from someone pointing out "the irony" of the newspaper "lifting" content from [ profile] illadore for the article. Except that excerpting with credit is not "lifting" and excerpting for the express purpose of reporting and offering commentary is NOT copyright infringement. FAIL!
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