No copyright intended

2 minute read

There are about 489,000 YouTube videos that say “no copyright intended” or some variation, and about 664,000 videos have a “copyright disclaimer” citing the fair use provision in Section 107 of the Copyright Act.
— Andy Baio (2011) No copyright intended

Finally, with mock exasperation, I said, “O.K., let’s try one that’s a little less complicated: You want a movie or an album. You don’t want to pay for it. So you download it.”

There it was: the bald-faced, worst-case example, without any nuance or mitigating factors whatsoever.

“Who thinks that might be wrong?”

Two hands out of 500.
— David Pogue (2007) The generational divide in copyright morality

These are excellent articles about a very interesting cultural shift: the perception of copyright. The problem here is that people have a natural inclination in sharing and manipulating and here they’re just doing that.

I’m not trying here to write extensively on copyright, but I’d like to point out some interesting details that sometimes are overlooked.

Copyright started as a protection for authors, and accordingly to Wikipedia it started with the printing press in 1662 first and 1709 next in England. There was no copyright before, because it was the printing press that made duplication easy. Copyright rises at the same time as a simple and cheap way of duplicating is born. This doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist before, the author always had rights, but copyright is explicitly tied with the problem of duplicating.

Today, copying is easy, and copyright is a very challenged law, not because there are people that like to pirate (even if, of course, there are) but because it harms not only them, but also the natural inclination of people of sharing and manipulating.

From a certain perspective, the kids that are posting these manipulated works are understanding copyright better than the people that made the law: they understand that the author must retain authorship and revenues and at the same time they can’t see a problem in sharing and manipulating.

The problem of duplications started only because at some point duplication become easier, simpler and cheaper, but payment to authors didn’t. Quite the opposite, from a certain perspective: paying an author in the 15th century meant just taking some coins and giving them to the author, today you have to pass through complex online payments systems, while copying is still just one click.

When you balance in these three factors:

  1. natural inclination in sharing
  2. simpleness and cheapness of copy
  3. complexity of payment to authors

You see today’s copyright struggle clearly.

And you’ll see also another thing.

Today, you can change only one of these three variables. ;)