My first experience with copyrights breach was in 2001. The Vault was the first TV format to be sold by an Israeli company and make it big in the international TV market. The contract signed between Keshet Broadcasts and CBS Kingworld was blown almost out of proportions by the Israeli media

. Everyone was talking about the millions of dollars that the creator and host of the show will make, without realizing that royalties for this kind of thing are low and short lasting.
While the show was being rolled out to licensees in the first few territories, we got word that the German cable channel, Prosieben, was promoting a new game show called Speed. It didn’t take much German to understand that the show is a copy of The Vault: It had the exact same game mechanics structured into the same dynamics. The only difference was the branding.

A cease and desist letter from CBS followed. This, in turn, was responded with a “so sue me” letter. Eventually, the fate of the copycat German show was sealed not by legal action or a posteriori sense of fair play. The channel’s owner, Kirsch Media, financially collapsed and was sold for scraps to Saban Group. The Vault had its good run in the international TV formats market. It has since ran its course.

A Brief History Of Copyrights

It may very well be that copyright laws are soon to be obsolete. But before delving into the possible future of copyrights, here is a concise history of the subject:

In the beginning there were no copyrights. As a matter of fact, people who had something important to say and wanted their creation to gain some sort of credibility, credited someone entirely different as the author: God, Hermes Trismagistus or Socrates. Most probably, with so very few who had the required craftsmanship to create any noteworthy piece, it wasn’t so hard to figure out who is the real creator. Admittedly, it was in times when little or no copies could be made, so that the creation and distribution of content was pretty much monopolized. No copyright laws were required.

When Michaelangelo came to Rome, at the end of the 15th century, he buried a sculpture he made, to make it look like it was ancient. Michaelangelo’s forgery may be considered a crime today. It was pure fraud, but Michelangelo did not forge any copyrighted artwork. He created a new one, which was attributed to no one. He did not have any reason to suspect that in the future, the sculpture could be photographed, appear in posters and postcards, web pages and magazines.

Copyrights are a modern concept. Since it was conceived, somewhere in the 18th century, a lot has changed. Copyrights today are, arguably, quite detrimental to any creative work. Arguably, because there is a constant tension between the need of the creation to be distributed and gain following and the need of the creator to receive acclaim and financial compensation in order to be able to continue to produce more works of art.

But there is also a sort of mutual dependency between the two needs, where the creation gains weight by the perception of the creator by the public, as an authority of creativity.
Authors in many languages believe that to reserve their copyrights, all they need to do is to mail the work in a sealed and stamped envelope to themselves. What court of justice will accept a piece of evidence that was manufactured and kept by the plaintive, I seriously do not know, but I doubt there is such a court.

Copyrights were thought of, as stated in the US constitution:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8

Different countries treat copyrights differently. There was an issue several years ago when an American publisher compiled an anthology of short stories by Iranian authors. The idea was to reserve the royalties due from selling the English language translations to the benefit of those Iranian authors.
There was also a big problem with that initiative, because the law in Iran says that the state owns the copyrights for all literary work. As such, the state hold the right to decline publication of these works, thus making the anthology illegal to publish and distribute. In any case of publication, legal or not, royalties due will have to be paid to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Copyrights Are Becoming Instrument Of Restriction

The idea of art in the age of reproduction was thought of at an age when mass production was already established, but today the idea is even more relevant to what we do, what we will do. The age of reproduction is putting a hard, clear mirror in front of law makers everywhere, not only in respect to art and the right for free speech. Already, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hill school shooting and the cry in America to finally ban firearms, there is the issue of possibility to 3D print firearms, regardless what legal restrictions there are.

3D printing is one way for individuals to privately manufacture copies of copyright protected items. Imagine a world where no one will want to buy “official” branded toys, because it will be simpler to print those at home.

But it is not just guns, toys or artifacts: Intellectual Property laws helped propelled the pharmaceutical into a multi-billion dollars market. With patent laws securing monopolies, life saving drugs can be priced at hundreds or thousands of dollars per tablet, just because a pharma company bought the patent rights (remember Martin Shkreli?).

Copyrights are important. Every author on Amazon relies on the law to protect them against being plagiarized. Every recording artist needs to have a security against unlicensed distribution. Well, the law is not very helpful and none is as infamous as the DMCA.

The problem is that technological progress creates new use cases, which the law does not cover.  On the other hand, the current legislation and regulation of intellectual property serve the powerful: corporations who hold rights to historic works, whose authors have long been dead.

What is the necessary change in the laws of intellectual property? I really can’t tell. All I know is that the current solutions are causing too many problems. A change is well underway, or at least it should be.

Further Reading:

Copyright Laws Don’t Work in the Digital Age

Copyright and Intellectual Property: Change is Coming


Posted by Samuel Miller

1 comment

Raylenn Dubuc

we don’t need the copyright anymore. in the age of the internet, nothing belngs to anyone as long as it’s published on the web. like in communism. and in itself, that ain’t a bad thing. it allows for any artists or author to create with less limits, until you meet the copyright. that thing is not only obsolete, it’s also corrupted. so at this point, the copyright MUST die out. so that art can be free again.

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