Friday, January 20, 2012

Final thoughts on Copyright, SOPA, and this week; protests

My thoughts on copyright, plus, read through to the end for this week's dose of fiction.

By now this weeks' fight - at least most of it - is over, with the good guys having won a dramatic even if not decisive victory.People asked very good questions about the balance between protection of intellectual property and freedom of speech, the rights of creators to their creations and the rights of those who own information channels to free distribution of data. The question not enough asked, though, is the bigger one of what copyright is for in the first place, and how it has been abused.

Interestingly, the only actual creators whose opinions I've heard on this (ranging from freelancers and independent bloggers to big names like Trent Reznor and Neil Gaiman) oppose this effort to protect what is proportedly their rights. Why? The focus of copyright protection law hasn't been the protection of actual creators in years.  Instead, it's focused on protecting the exclusive rights of investors over the commons.

To give one exampe, JRR Tolkein created Lord of the Rings from a combination of his own imagination and the folklore which is our shared cultural heritage. I'd argue that his creation has a pervasive enough effect on how we see mythical beings as to be a continuation of that same heritage. Tolkein, of course, has long since passed away. We can't, however, follow in his footsteps and use his takes on mythic characters because his heirs own the rights to Middle Earth and its denizens. 

Copyright law is not protecting the creator of Middle Earth, but his children.
Not the creator of Mikey Mouse, but the multi-billion dollar enterntainment and media conglomerate that he founded.
Not the creators of Superman, but the company that cheated those creators out of their rights.

A decade ago a Russian scientist and writer named Eskov Kiirill penned a counterhistory to Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy called The Last Ringbearer, which told the story from the point of view of the losers. I'm not sure I'd call it an artistic success, but it was an interesting thought experiment, and the kind of thing one can do within the commons. Under current copyright law, of course, it's illegal. Thus, legacy of JRR Tolkein is protected over an actual current creator in Mr. Kirill. (And yes, it is possible to riff on another author's work without using their actual characters, as Jacqueline Carey did when she filed the serial numbers off Tolkein's work for her The Sundering duology, which in my opinion did a better job of answering Tolkein's flaws than Kirill's work. The point is that one shouldn't have to. Dungeons and Dragons shouldn't need to rename Hobbits as "halflings" just to appease the lawyers).
Solutions? The first is easy. Copyright protection dies with the creator, unless the creator wants to give it away sooner. Being the descendent of a creator grants no  moral rights to their work, nor the right to keep the commons from growing. After we fix copyright we can talk about protecting it.
And now, as promised, your weekly dose of fiction. Another vignette from a photo-prompt. (Prompt from photographer Eric Albee, shared by Bliss Morgan (You can find Eric on Flickr, and Bliss on G+ or Wordpress:
The Crimson Ninja finaly caught up to me on a lonely rooftop, high above the city. Finally face-to-face after years of sparring through our henchmen and proxies, shell companies and lawyers, minions and cunning brass robot warriors. Was I a bit slower in my old age, a bit less careful about leaving clues? Perhaps. Had I been relying too much on ancient magics and demon allies, not enough  on my own wits? Certainly. Did part of me, the secret part I don't even know myself - did that part of me want to get caught? I'd say not. Give the Crimson Ninja her due.
Truth be told, neither of us was a hero. She spun a web of extortion, protection rackets, and cons to rival my own, although she did always free the sex-slaves, return their stolen passports, and even buy them a ticket back home. I suppose I should be proud of her for that. It was finaly over now. She'd followed me, caught up to me, and had me cornered. Up on the roof with nowhere to flee.
She stood cautiously, in a ready position, the blade Heart's Razor in her hand.
I'd never named my blade. I tightened my hand around it, white-knuckle tight as if preparing for the first fight of my life. Or the last.
"Alli", I said, "looks like this is it."
Her eyes narrowed in concentration, as if trying to see through my mask. "You know me? How?"
"Oh, please. You think that absurd strip of makeup is enough to hide your face?" I pulled off my more restricting but far more functional mask and looked at her, eye to eye. "Especially from your own father?"
The point of her blade dipped, just a bit. "Dad? What... oh, fuck. How did I not know." Her voice got smaller. "I always thought you'd been cheating on Mom, all those years, and after... fuck."
I lifted my blade into a ready position. "You must have suspected. You were always a smart girl."
She dropped the blade. Tears welled up in her eyes, but her body was rock steady, her shoulders relaxed. I felt a lightness in my body, a sense of peace. With a deep breath of the clean night air I raised my nameless blade and charged.
She was as fast as I knew she'd be, the poisoned dagger out of her sleave into her hand flung into my belly faster than an eyeblink. She looked into my eyes as the poison burned me, as my life forced ebbed. "I'm sorry, Daddy".
"No... this is right. A child should ...replace the parent. I'm proud". Those were my last words as I released my mortal flesh, relying on arcane secrets to preserve my spirit at least for a time. Now a silent ghost, I watch this city, waiting to see what the Crimson Ninja will make of it, now that it is hers.

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