In the final days of a failing model, old media made one last futile attempt to save its fading way of life by trying to expand copyright law to exclude fair use and linking.
Just this morning, my DaniWeb colleague, Sharon Fisher wrote a post called This Blog Post Could Be Illegal. Seems Richard Posner, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago has written a blog post of his own (note the irony here) that copyright should be expanded to bar access to any copyrighted material without the copyright holders express consent and to ban linking and even paraphrasing copyrighted material. Meanwhile Connie Shultz wrote a post on the Cleveland Plains Dealer web site also suggesting that tighter copyright laws could save newspapers (Do I dare link back to her article?).
Copyright is Not the Problem
If the Digital Millennium Copyright Act didn't save old media, it's hard to picture how further copyright expansion could help. John Blossom, president of Shore Communications, Inc. and author of the book Content Nation says attempting to juryrig the copyright laws is not an appropriate way to deal the problem. Blossom explains that copyright laws were first conceived to enable the then-fledgling publishing industry to be able to sustain the dissemination of ideas and information that would benefit society. "In essence," he says, "copyright is a temporary monopoly that enables a rights holder to benefit financially from content distribution technology to encourage continuing its dissemination of content for useful social benefits."
But he believes that today's content distribution system may actually eliminate the need for copyright as we know it. "Today's content distribution technologies are far more pervasive and affordable, so in many ways copyright laws are no longer necessary to ensure that there will be technology available to disseminate ideas and information," Blossom says. He adds, "Making copyright laws more restrictive will only reduce the efficiency of this distribution mechanism, which would take us further away from the original intent of copyright law."
Let's Fix the Problem
Blossom thinks that Posner and Shultz are looking at the problem in the wrong way. Instead of trying to use copyright to save the old model, publishers need to change their businesses to fit the new model. "Instead of making copyright law more restrictive, publishers should be concentrating on enabling revenues more efficiently from today's highly distributed system of content aggregation," Blossom says. He says that publishers, journalists and authors are not really concerned about copyright so much as revenues. "We live in an age in which publishing technology is vastly more efficient than it used to be, creating a vast amount of content that acts oftentimes as acceptable substitutes for traditional forms of media. Business models for publishers must adjust accordingly," Blossom explains
What it comes down to is should we use copyright law to create artificial supports for older publishing models. Blossom uses the analogy of what happened to blacksmiths around the turn of the 20th century when the automobile industry developed. "Smart blacksmiths became mechanics and, sometimes, automakers. Similarly, publishers must accept that they are no longer the masters of the technologies that people use to consume content and to adjust their business practices accordingly."
Blossom says that even if such a movement were to succeed people could use the Creative Commons license to get around restrictive copyright. Those who wanted to share would and the old publishing model would simply be isolated behind its walled gardens. "If anything, a more restrictive copyright law will only accelerate the collapse of traditional publishing," he says.
Yet old media, like some characters in a Gatsby novel, cling to their old way of life desperately hoping that they can hang on, not realizing that the world has passed them by.