Monday, 8 October 2007

The Intellectual Property Pendulum has Swung Too Far Right

The opening paragraph of this news item says it all:
"In the first US trial to challenge the illegal downloading of music on the internet, a single mother from Minnesota was ordered to pay $US220,000 for sharing 24 songs online."

And the public mood is adequately captured by the comments after it -- definitely not happy.

True, violating copyright is illegal. As in "against the law of the day". I'll say that again. Against the law of the day. And that's why the RIAA may want to go easy on the champagne.

The right to intellectual property is not a fundamental right. It isn't enshrined in any constitution. Intellectual property ownership, in the form of trademarks, patents and copyrights, are given to private parties at the pleasure of the government. Laws governing intellectual property are passed by legislatures, as bodies like the RIAA and the MPAA well know. That's how they've been getting the terms of copyright extended time and again, well beyond the original intent of the American Founding Fathers. One of these people went so far as to say, entirely seriously, that people skipping ads while watching TV were "stealing".

Things have been going your way for a few years now, big boys, but as they say, be nice to people on your way up, because you may meet them on your way down. And I mean people, as in "we the people".

Even the few defenders of this week's verdict are doing so because they believe that "intellectual property rights help artistes make money". Poor sods. Little do they know, as industry insiders have often pointed out, that very few artistes actually make money from recording industry contracts. The music industry has been described as "middle-aged men getting rich off young boys and girls". It's the fat cat recording labels who make money off music, not the songwriters or the musicians.

Paradoxically, I'm happy about this verdict. Because it's a sign to me that the music industry has pushed its luck too far. Common people are frightened, angry and outraged. This legal nightmare could have happened to anyone.

If enough people get angry enough, legislators will have to listen. And laws can be repealed. As I said before, intellectual property legislation has no constitutional protection. Intellectual property rights exist at the pleasure of the government. They can be taken away when the government withdraws its pleasure. And the government exists at the pleasure of the people. The very people being targetted by the intellectual property lawsuits. Get it?

The big boys are playing with fire. I look forward to seeing them get burned in the very near future. Expect to see a grassroots backlash starting to organise itself anytime now.