[free-sklyarov] Copyright as a restriction

Huaiyu Zhu huaiyu_zhu at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 22 02:21:16 PDT 2001

Chris Savage gave a nice summary of the classical theory of copyright as
a social contract of giving incentives to creators of "science and
useful art".  He also explained well the distinction between profit as a
motivation for creative work and profit as a necessity to sustain a
lifestyle of creative work.

Tom pointed out that the main problem with this social contract is that
it uses the distribution of copyrighted work as the focal point to
collect rewards for authors.  This creates a peculiar trade-off: society
is trying to reward creators by restricting the use of his creation.
Another problem is that the distributors get paid several times more
than the authors.

The DMCA shows that as technology advances, this mode of rewarding
authors is becoming increasingly detrimental to the society - it not
only requires the restriction of the distribution and usage of
copyrighted work, but it also requires restriction of the creation and
distribution of technologies that might thwart such restrictions.

In other words, the cost of rewarding one creation soars from the
restriction of its usage and distribution to the restriction of other
creations.  That is simply not a good bargain for society no matter what
angle it is looked at.

DeBug proposed several other ways that creative work could be rewarded.
For example, government could collect tax to pay the authors for their
creative work.  Or government could force people pay certain amount
towards their own chosen authors.  Chris mentioned that the tax could be
collected on copying media sales, like CDRW, for example.

On the face of it, this seems unworkable, because it is hard to decide
on the recipient of the money, and it is quite easy to imagine various
kinds of fraud in such systems.  However, both schemes already exist,
and they work well in their respective domains.

A large portion of academic work is supported in the first way, where
government collects tax and doles them out through research funding.
The distribution is controlled by a complex machinery of committees,
peer reviews, citation counts, etc.  It certainly over-achieved its goal
of encouraging publication - a lot of junk is published as a side
product simply because the authors want more citations.

Many charitable organizations are funded in the second way.  The
government encourages (stimulates / forces) people to contribute by
provide tax rebates for charitable contributions.  The integrity of the
system is maintained by rigorous auditing and certification of such

Either incentive model removes the need to restrict the benefit of good
work in order to reward those who did the work.  The problem is that
they both need quite a bit of bureaucratic overhead.  Can authors of
general art and entertainment be rewarded in similar ways?  The answer
is likely to be no in general.  For one thing, peer review is generally
reliable only for science because it is an ingredient of the merit
system of science.

Jeme Brelin discussed a related issue, namely that for-profit
publication is likely to be of lower quality than works "from within".
However, this does not affect our main question as long as a large
number of authors will be positively influenced by financial rewards.

So the question is: Is it possible to reward authors to an adequate
amount without restricting the distribution and usage of his work?  I
don't know the answer.  The current copyright laws have many flaws, but
they seem to be good enough for their purpose.  The evil bit is in laws
like DMCA that break the intended balance in origianl copyright laws, by
baning certain types of creative work in order to reward certain other
types of creative work, rewarding a larging chunk to middlemen in

Huaiyu Zhu

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