Copyfree: policy > why

Why Copyfree?

The following is a work in progress. Rather than secret it away where nobody will ever see it until it is deemed "finished", it is shared here in the hopes that, even as an unpolished introduction to the reasons we should consider adopting copyfree policy in our endeavors, it may prove helpful to some.

Business Advantage

What most people would probably consider a "traditional" creative business model is embodied in a number of industries dominated by large, centralized, corporate distribution networks, such as major book publishers, MPAA member film studios, and RIAA member record companies. What economists would describe as "artificial scarcity" is created and enforced via copyright laws, and these industries make use of that to generate revenue by selling physical and digital media and prohibiting others from selling them in competition with the copyright-dependent distributors.

These distributors have long been regarded as necessary for commercial success, as superstars such as Metallica and Stephen King would not have reached as wide an audience without national and even international marketing and distribution provided by the industry dominating distributors. The vast majority of creators in such industries saw little of their royalties or other unit sales income, however, and either made a more modest living through more personal interaction with consumers (e.g. touring for bands) or by maintaining a dayjob alongside their creative work. The commercial benefits of widespread distribution mostly applied only to the distributors, leaving many producers of creative works to make what money they could in much the same way that itinerant actors, musicians, puppeteers, and storytellers did centuries ago.

The business landscape is changing, however. The fact that the cost of copying and distributing a digital representation of a work is plummeting to effectively zero undermines the major distributors' business model as many consumers of new works actually find it in some ways more technically difficult to avoid sharing copies of what they possess than to (often unintentionally) violate the restrictions of copyright law. While some complain that this is destroying the profitability of industry business models for creators and distributors, others embrace this as providing the ability to bypass the industry gatekeepers to distribute and market their works essentially for free, enlisting the filesharing fanbase as a replacement for those corporate distributors.

Whether you believe that copyright violation by fans is wrong, the truth is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to halt such informal filesharing, with no end in sight to the increasing ease, frequency, and ubiquity of filesharing. For the independent creator, whose biggest concern is usually obscurity rather than "piracy", the best way to address filesharing is to use it as leverage to reach a wider audience and employ business models that benefit from rampant filesharing rather than depending on the apparently impossible task of stopping it.

Cultural Persistence

The durability of culture is an important concern. There are many film, magnetic, and digital archives of cultural works that are vulnerable to loss due to a combination of copyright restrictions and low perceived commercial value. The extent to which a cultural work is kept to a small, restricted state of archives, it is vulnerable to loss due to digital storage failure, fires and floods, and the occasional negligence of caretakers, among other problems. Indeed, even the cost of maintaining an archive can induce a caretaker -- often the copyright holder, when a work is not considered currently commercially viable -- to intentionally delete or destroy archives of cultural works.

Simple acts like sharing freely downloadable digital archives over the Internet, with no notable restrictions on copying and redistributing in any form, can significantly mitigate the danger of loss for many cultural works. In fact, it puts most of the cost of (potentially endless) archive duplication in the hands of people who simply want a copy of works in the archive, who will gladly pay the tiny costs involved.

Allowing cultural works to decay and disappear does a disservice to the general public, to historians, to creative people who might draw inspiration from those works, and to the legacies and sometimes even livelihoods of the people who contributed to the creations of those works in the first place. Authors of cultural works can see entire legacies vanish forever if, as is the case in most copyright-heavy industries, the copyrights of their works end up in the hands of corporate distributors whose only interest in the works is their short-term commercial viability; it is ironically, in the face of distributors' arguments based on the supposed needs of artists and authors, a fact that artists and authors are harmed by perpetual enforcement of strict copyright terms for their works when archives of those works are allowed to perish, taking the artists' and authors' legacies to the grave with them.

Legal Concerns

The more complex and restrictive the legal conditions under which a work is made available, the greater the costs involved in enforcing those terms, and even in ensuring that the legal language of the licenses used when distributing a work will give rise to no unintended side-effects in practice. These problems can be minimized by using the simplest, most permissive licensing it is practical to employ. If your business models and other approaches to distributing your work are not copyright dependent, the use of Copyfree Initiative certified licenses can maximize the simplicity and permissiveness of your licensing terms, and (mostly) eliminate any legal concerns associated with the distributed work.