Opinion

Copyright’s Abuse Of The Public Domain & How It Is Suffocating Our Cultural Intellect

copyright

I have some issues with copyright. From how it perpetuates the absurd notion that an idea or thought can be owned, how it currently fails at its basic premise, to the strain and pressure it puts upon creativity and culture. As with most discontent aimed at pop culture, it all starts with Disney who in the past few decades and right now have gone about abusing copyright by claiming that they, and only they, have the intellectual right to produce and distribute some of the most famous works in popular culture. And though this may be true in a legal sense, I despise the notion that Disney or any other company has the ethical right to our cultural products. Copyright has been sold to us as a necessary evil meant to prevent the degradation of our cultural intellect. I however just see it as evil, as it does just that. And by the end of this article, I hope you will agree with me that we should abolish copyright.

How Copyright Killed The Public Domain

Before discussing why copyright is evil, it is important to understand the original intention of copyright and why we have the broken system we have today. Copyright was originally intended to make it so that only the creator of an original work had the exclusive right to copy, modify, or publish that work. For another individual to do these things, they first require the prior consent of the copyright holder. Copyright for creative works was only initially meant to last for 28 years from creation. However, due to the lobbying efforts by Disney to constantly renew their copyright, this would become the life of the creator plus 70 years.

To demonstrate how absurd this current system is, if George Lucas died today, it would take until 2092 before Star Wars: A New Hope, and only A New Hope, would enter the public domain. And that is only if the current copyright system is not extended further. As copyright currently exists, it is unlikely that any of us will live to see the characters and icons we grew up with enter the public domain.

Imagine if characters from Marvel, Harry Potter or Star Wars were able to be treated in the same way classic cultural myths such as Greek and Roman are treated.

The public domain was at one point the final outcome of all creative works, where after a reasonable period of time, a creator’s work would become free use. Meaning that the work could be used, modified and published without permission. Allowing for various interpretations, remixes and versions of a text to all exist. Imagine if characters from Marvel, Harry Potter or Star Wars were able to be treated in the same way classic cultural myths such as Greek and Roman are treated. With countless interpretations and versions of these stories being told by different storytellers, with everyone having their favourite.

Yet, so few voices are able to tell the stories of the characters we love, often being pressured or forced by one corporate mandate or another. And what of the stories that only got to be told once? Those that have listeners and admirers that will never get to hear more of the story simply because the company that owns it sees it as unprofitable. Not telling the story is better for them than allowing anyone to tell the story. I would hardly consider this to be protecting our cultural intellect, quite the opposite in fact. More to the point, why should a company be allowed the exclusive right to a creative work if it is not even going to use copyright as intended? Instead, they use copyright as a shield to ensure no one else can tell that story.

Who Truly Benefits From Copyright?

A common argument in favour of copyright is that it enables creators to be the sole entity to profit from an idea. That it is only through private ownership of an idea that a creator is able to become successful. This raises a fundamental issue I have with copyright; that an idea can be owned. Maybe someone at Disney can explain to me why they can claim ownership of a character like Mickey Mouse and why I have no right to use his image despite the fact that Walt Disney has been dead for over 50 years and cannot exactly profit from his idea anymore.

Additionally, the concept of copyright as the exclusive ownership of an idea is also applied unequally, with some industries that rely on creation and innovation having no copyright at all. Industries such as food, fashion and the automobile industry operate under fewer copyright constrictions than the arts and media, yet are successful nevertheless. These industries rely on finding new, inventive ways to distinguish themselves from competitors and encourage consumers to buy their product.

The creative industry, while certainly massive, does not experience the same amount of pressure that these other industries do. These industries, while having problems of their own, allow you to choose who, and where you spend your money on. If you disagree with a company’s ethics, or how they treat their employees, there will almost certainly be an equivalent alternative available to you. Yet, for companies like Disney, Amazon and HBO, who own many of our favourite pop culture characters, there is no alternative. For properties such as Marvel, The Lord Of The Rings, or Harry Potter, there is typically only one place you can go to enjoy those stories. And if you do not like these companies, you ‘always’ have the option to take your business somewhere else.

A World Without Copyright

The more you look at it, the harder it gets to justify that copyright is of any benefit to the public. Rather than protecting and adding to our cultural resource, it harms and subtracts from it. Leaving us with less than we otherwise would have had. This is not to say that the arts and media have not experienced tremendous success in recent decades. Rather, I see them as succeeding in spite of copyright rather than because of it. As, if the culture we are currently able to enjoy exists despite being suppressed by one of the most corrupt and cruel systems that exist, I am in awe of what could be accomplished if copyright did not exist.

And they will continue to do this and hold these ideas captive for generations to come because they know on a fundamental level that if given the ability to truly choose in the realm of arts and media, we would not choose them.

Copyright is a tool that has been taken by corrupt institutions to create monopolies around the notion that it is right and ethical to own an idea in perpetuity. That despite not having created these stories or characters themselves, these companies are the only ones with the right to produce and distribute them. And they will continue to do this and hold these ideas captive for generations to come because they know on a fundamental level that if given the ability to truly choose in the realm of arts and media, we would not choose them. We would choose those capable of telling the best stories, those that actually care about the story they are telling, and those that can tell it ethically.

However, we do not live in a world without copyright and will have to tolerate companies like Disney for the foreseeable future. Though we may be living in a bad timeline with regards to copyright domination, things can improve and laws can be changed. We are at this point because the rules and goalposts have constantly been adjusted to favour corporate institutions. I do not see why we cannot change the rules in our favour going forward.

 

Cover: Umberto

Edited by: Gaukhar Orkashbayeva

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