September 23, 2002
10:57 AM   Subscribe

Is self-regulation a legitimate approach to protecting copyright on the internet? This question is being debated at Spiked online which has commissioned responses from a variety of sources and also welcomes comments from readers.
posted by anathema (5 comments total)
Self-regulation just. doesn't. work.

Corporations make money. They are not people, they are groups of people, and the goal of the group is money. As long as corporations are involved, (which they inevitably will be in any market, unless restricted from it,) self-regulation will never work.

I've heard the argument that good corporations will donate or self-regulate for good PR. What ends up happening is that they have a couple token donations or concessions to environmentalist groups that they harp on, but never enough to make much of a difference. Why? The token concessions are more economically advantageous.

Good corporations will not fear reasonable copyright laws, environmental laws, etc. because they are just that: good corporations. They know that their skills and business principles are sound, and can still succeed under new legislation. It is the scammers, the con-artists who fear change because they are making money by abusing loopholes, paying politicians to keep those loopholes in place, and laughing at the poor saps that want them to "self-regulate."
posted by zekinskia at 11:12 AM on September 23, 2002

The copyright laws as they presently exist do not work. Neither does self-regulation. What we need is a new outlook. The invention and proliferation of the Internet demands a new peerspective from corporations. What has worked in the past outside the Internet simply does not transfer to cyberspace.

"Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are based on matter, There is no matter here." - John Perry Barlow

I see the eventual solution akin to the concept of a library. Throughout the world, since the days of Alexandria, there have been locations where texts are collected, for the improvement and entertainment of the community and society. I'm sure at one time, book publishers were unhappy with the fact anyone could go to their local public library and borrow a copy of most any book for their own temporary use, so long as it was returned. This meant that several people could take advantage of the purchase of one book, theoretically taking money out of the hands of corporate interests and indeed the authors themselves. However, over time we have learned this benefits everyone when seen in a larger context.

Back in the 90s, I was impressed with the concept of Project Gutenberg, which at one time hoped to make available on the Internet all the world's wealth of knowledge. However, due to copyright restrictions, it's been forced to only make available public domain materials, which has seriously crippled its potential. Anything after 1929? If it's online it's probably not supposed to be. Legally speaking.

Some years ago there was, which was a fountain resource for lyrics to music of the 20th century. Again, copyright legislation restricted the free service, until it was completely shut down. It ran away from legislation at one point, moving its server to Sweden or somewhere. Though the URL still exists, it is less than a shadow of its former self. Today, one can still find lyric resources via fan pages, but it takes a little more digging, and the idea of having one place, one domain, where one could easily go to research lyrics is gone. Unless of course you want to pay.

And money does make the world go around. Server owners need money to keep their lights on. The days of a free internet are over. As we continue through these growing pains there may come a time when every page will ask for a farthing from the web surfers, like panhandlers on the streets of cyberspace. The public will perhaps tolerate that eventually, but will forever be looking for a deal, which is again where corporations will step in.

Were the book publishers or music publishers of the world to get together and find a way to accumulate their respective repertoire, and charge a nominal fee to the masses, I think eventually everyone would be happy. This will eventually be what happens. It's inevitable. However, it's gonna take several years before corporations learn that cooperation is the best ideal both for their efforts and those of the public.

Until then, we have these antiquated laws that, were they subjected to modern day libraries in the same way they've been subjected to the Internet, would cause the loss of a significant and important service that many take for granted.

I'm not saying we shouldn't have a way to protect owners of copyright from the scams and frauds of those who would seek to steal money at the author's expense. However, because of the sour apples in the tree, no one's gettin' any water from the trunk, y'know what I'm sayin'?
posted by ZachsMind at 12:16 PM on September 23, 2002

Corporations can not self-regulate themselves. Just look at the tobacco indstry. Philip Morris spends more on its advertising about how it loves charities and goodwill towards man than it does on actually giving the charities.
posted by benjh at 12:57 PM on September 23, 2002

What I find interesting is the way corporations are constantly referred to as if they were entities in and of themselves (which I suppose is true, in a way).

Corporations are made up of and run by people. If people were capable of self-regulation, we wouldn't need laws to regulate their actions.
posted by SoftRain at 1:03 PM on September 23, 2002

Precisely why corporations exist, SoftRain. The entity gets so big that no one person becomes responsible for the actions of the company. When a company becomes 'incorporated' it legally becomes an entity unto itself, and when someone sues it, no individual is held liable, because no one individual is running it. No one's held responsible.

It's like the way gangs work when run properly. An entire gang shows up to kill this guy. When the cops come around, none of the gang fesses up. No one person claims responsibility for the death. Majority (i.e., mob mentality) rules.

Comparatively, if you sued a sole proprietorship for wrongdoing, the guy who owns the shop has to pay any damages from his own pocket if he loses. This often means the guy can't afford to keep operating. His profits go into lawyer's fees and he eventually goes out of business, which discourages the proliferation of business. Why get big for your britches if someone somewhere's just gonna shoot you down? Hence the invention of incorporating.

Those who run companies legally finnagle a way out of personal responsibility by incorporating. It also helps with taxes and endless other things. However, it discourages community behavior or even ethical behavior, because the individuals get into groupthink and start acting on behalf of "The Company" rather than their customers. Hence the phrase "corporate mentality."

Corporations aquire a sort of diplomatic immunity, since no one individual or even group of individuals is completely responsible for anything. The CEO reports to the board of trustees, who in turn report to the stockholders.. it's actually a pretty sweet deal. Supposedly an internal system of checks & balances should keep any one person from doing something unethical or downright evil on behalf of the corporation, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

If a company plays its cards right, it can get away with murder. Literally. Some have. In fact the only real way to bring down a corporation is their Achilles' Heel: The Accounting Department. Just like Capone. *wink*
posted by ZachsMind at 2:23 PM on September 23, 2002

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