As I’ve mentioned before, while I (mostly) support the demands of the striking Hollywood writers, I don’t regard those demands as representing pre-contractual IP rights (since I don’t believe in IP). Rather, in my view their demands are ones that can become rights only via contract; I just think the contractual rights they’re negotiating for are ones that are on the whole fairer than the media companies’ proposal.
Of course in our current culture of political confusion these distinct issues are bound to get muddled together. Hence I was interested to see this piece on AICN:
Mike Capobianco, president of the Science Fiction Writers of America (the organization that represents, well, I guess it’s self evident…) has released a solidarity statement endorsing the WGA’s strike against Big Media. But reading it over, am I the only one who noticed a very interesting subtext going on? See, this comes less than two weeks after the SFWA Copyright Exploratory Committee, which was hastily assembled following the disastrous cock-up that led to the dis-banding of the organization’s e-piracy committee, released its recommendations for dealing with digital rights management. As we recall, the misuse of the DMCA, not to mention the strong-arm tactics on behalf of even writers who had even released the material under creative commons license, ignited the blogosphere and had some people calling for the resignation of the SFWA’s leadership. (Which, granted, was a bit of an overkill.)
So when Capobianco talks about how “writers and other creators are having their work distributed digitally without seeing any benefit at all,” and how “these precedents will hurt creators as digital distribution [becomes] the predominant method for distributing and accessing content”, it almost feels like he’s not just talking about the WGA. Is he trying to lend a little bit of moral authority to SWFA’s anti-piracy actions by somehow tying it into the WGA’s struggle to keep the tradition of residuals alive in the information age? Is he maybe wagging the finger a little bit at the Scribds out there who are peer-to-peering SFWA members’ works without their approval? Probably not. I’m sure I’m just imagining.
Capobianco’s letter of support for the WGA is here. Material from the SFWA website relevant to the e-piracy flap is here, here, here, here, here, and here. For two opposing takes on the issue, see Cory Doctorow and Ursula LeGuin. (Am I the only one who finds it a bit ironic to see the author of The Dispossessed eager to restrict others’ freedom in the name of property rights?)
One interesting, perhaps non-coercive way to combat “piracy” is this one. It borders on fraud (representing inaccurate copies of copyrighted works as accurate), and I suspect it’s immoral, but if no consideration is exchanged it may not be unjust. What do you think?