We've talked here before about what it means to be a "copyfighter," with lawyer Erik J. Heels providing an excellent definition (emphasis, mine):
I don't always agree with other engineers, lawyers, or business people, especially if I feel they don't understand the "how" of the technology, the "why" of the law, or the "so what" of business. And don't get me wrong, I like being called "linkable and thinkable." But if "copyfighter" means "one who fights against bad copyright laws (and for smarter business practices)," then I am a copyfighter.
Now Cory Doctorow
, who has been spreading
the "copyfight" meme like a blazing inferno, has finally been asked, point blank, "What does 'copyfight' mean?" Here's his definition
, in the context of an interview about what's happening
at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO):
Copyfight is the broad banner to describe people who are fighting for reforms to intellectual property -- trademarks, patents, copyrights and what are called "related rights" (broadcast rights and so on). ...
[WIPO has been pursuing a policy of] simply making more copyright, more patent, more related rights, more trademarks on the grounds that all of these rights were themselves a good, regardless of the impact they had on people -- whether they were denying access to patented pharmaceuticals in poor countries that desperately needed them and couldn't afford to buy them at the market price, or simply creating copyright regimes that made basic education more difficult to provide in developing nations. ...
WIPO...created regimes that made it illegal, just for instance, to reverse-engineer digital rights management tools and create locally interoperable products, so you had to import foreign goods, which could only play foreign media, and your local arts scene would find itself smothered, your culture would find itself overwhelmed by imported culture, and your local technologists would be undermined by foreign interests.
My own attempt at a definition: the copyfight is the battle to keep intellectual property tethered to its purpose, understanding that when IP rights are pushed too far, they can end up doing exactly the opposite of what they're intended to do. That's why I find James Boyle
's recent series of articles on "IP stupidity
" such a satisfying read. He advocates for smarter IP, not no IP. And by smarter IP, he means IP that doesn't threaten free speech and democracy, competition, innovation, education, the progress of science, and other things that are critically important to our social, cultural, and economic well-being.
Every so often, I get an email from a Copyfight reader asking where the blogs are for "the other side" of the copyfight. The question always makes me uncomfortable. For one thing, I don't like to think we're all so easily lumped into categories. What possible good can come from standing so far apart that we can only launch long-range missiles at one another -- while readers yawn and look away? But more importantly, red state/blue state thinking is a big part of what keeps us in this ridiculous stalemate. You say tomato, I say tomato; we don't even get to potato before calling the whole thing off.
What readers are really asking for is the kind of real, honest-to-goodness debate that will give them the tools for understanding things like the Grokster decision. I'd like to to see that kind of debate, too. But what I often see from the "other side" is a bizarre kind of baiting strategy -- attempts to get a rise by either suggesting or outright arguing that people who fight for balanced copyright are automatically opposed to any and all copyright.
Case in point: not long ago I received a very polite email from the Institute for Policy Innovation's Sonia Blumstein announcing its new weblog, IP Blog. Wrote Blumstein:
IPBlog is not the only blog on intellectual property, we know, and it's not even the only one from a free-market perspective. But we know we have compelling content and commentary to share, and we hope you'll join us. ...We're also happy to have your suggestions for content, if you come across something of interest. And we're interested in your feedback and suggestions. We will be expanding and improving both the design of the site and its content on an almost daily basis.
What a nice invitation. Off I went for a visit. And found this post
describing an interaction with A2K prononents
at the WIPO Development Agenda meetings:
In a discussion thread on this blog, I challenged a critic to try to live an IP-free life for some brief period of time. ...Anyway, that reminded me of something funny I saw back at the WIPO meetings in April, the IIM/1, as it's come to be called. All the IP sceptic folks showed up on the last day of the meeting wearing their adorable black "A2K Now" tee shirts.
Well, as I was sitting in close proximity to the commies with the Free Software Foundation, I got a close look at the tee shirts in question. You can imagine my glee as I pointed out to them that the tee shirts they were wearing actually carried not one but TWO different forms of IP protection. On the tag there were both brand and style registered trademarks.
"Where are your open source tee shirts?" I asked. "Show me your Creative Commons commemorative gear!" I taunted. This resulted in a rather heated discussion, as you might imagine, but I got a huge kick out of it.
Good grief. What's next -- spitballs?
I suppose this post is my inexcusably long-winded way of arguing for a definition of the copyfight that gets us as far away as possible from spitball territory. Is it really so difficult to agree that intellectual property can sometimes be pushed too far, in ways that harm society? That there are smarter approaches to IP law and policy than one-size-fits-all, more = better? Do we really have to go back to grade school each and every time to explain that we're not communists when we say so?