It may be about time to dig out that old library card. Hoping to draw back readers, libraries have vastly expanded their lists of digital books, music, and movies that can be downloaded by their patrons to a computer or MP3 player — and it doesn’t cost a cent, unlike, say, media from Apple Inc’siTunes or Amazon.com Inc.
While not enough people recognize it, the real purpose of copyright law is to provide an incentive for the creation of more content. The government felt that there was a market failure, where not enough “content” would be produced without a limited monopoly, and thus, copyright was born. However, that happened back in the day when creating content wasn’t easy. You pretty much had to go through a professional process. These days, thanks to new technologies, creating content is exceptionally easy — and thus, a big part of the very basis for copyright no longer makes sense. We’re drowning in content — and it’s not because of the “incentive” of copyright. There are plenty of incentives for creating content these days and very few have anything to do with copyright.
Danny O’Brien’s new essay “Copyright, Fraud and Window Taxes (No, not that Windows)” makes a really good point about the way that people view copying on the Internet: copying is a ho-hum, every day thing (after all, in order for you to read these words, they had to be copied dozens, if not hundreds, of times) but “passing off” (plagiarism, fraud) is more frowned-upon than ever.
But we are shifting, too, from a culture of scarcity to one of abundance. That is the essence of the Google worldview: managing abundance. So let’s assume that instead of a scarcity there is an abundance of talent and a limitless will to create but it has been tamped down by an educational system that insists on sameness; starved by a mass economic system that rewarded only a few giants; and discouraged by a critical system that anointed a closed, small creative class.