I’m going to begin my post with a story so bear with me.
Immediately after graduating from college, I secured a job and moved with what few possessions I owned to Philadelphia. I had worked throughout high school and college and my “new to me” car was a symbol of my responsibility and hard work. Within a few weeks of moving to my studio apartment located in what at that time was a rundown neighborhood, my license plate was clipped and the registration sticker stolen. The fact that someone felt they could steal something that was rightly mine left me feeling violated.
Maybe if I had the resources, I would have tracked down the perpetrator of the stolen sticker. Maybe I could have hired someone to find the free rider and bring them to justice. But I had laid out too much money already paying for a new plate and registration stickers. The most I could do was what so many others had done before me; report it and keep my new sticker in my wallet, along with my registration card so it wouldn’t be stolen again.
Words like stealing and theft in combination with possessions or property often elicit visceral reactions and feelings of injustice and violation. During the DCAL session on April 5th, William Patry, author of Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, pointed out that these and other words/terms became part of the rhetoric around copyright during the late 1970s.
In the late 1970s, former Motion Picture Association of America leader Jack Valenti argued before Congress that the protection of copyright was a public good and that the piracy or theft of copyrighted material by free riders was an assault on the People. Patry noted that in reality, Valenti was arguing to protect the economic bottom line of the media industry from the perceived threat of a new technological innovation called the VCR, not the public good. The entertainment industry’s push for copyright protections was a preemptive action to try to prevent the potential loss of revenue from commercial spots because this innovation would allow VCR owners to skip the commercials when they watched the programming after the fact.
During the discussion, Patry spoke to the power of metaphor in relation to copyright. When referring to copyright as property it triggers associations of ownership and that it is mine unless I agree otherwise or society through the proper channels intervenes. This argument weighs the scales for the copyright owner, making it more difficult to argue otherwise. Referring to copyright as a social growth program for the benefit of everyone; however, would put everyone on the same plane and affords greater opportunities to benefit from it. Unfortunately, from the beginning copyright has been overpromised and as such has largely failed as a public growth program.
Patry suggested that innovation is actually the public good and copyright as it stands is the free rider. We are currently in a position where innovation and copyright are pitted against each other. As such, we as individuals need to work together to identify that which is impeding innovation and offer solutions on how to address it. This type of action can be seen with the recent defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and with the development of Creative Commons.
Let me go back to my story for a moment. Interestingly enough, a few years after I moved out of Philadelphia, the increase in reports of stolen plate stickers resulted in the DMV piloting rear window stickers. Unfortunately, the rear window stickers were disbanded after five years. While I am not privy to the reason for the pilot failure, I’m going to take some liberties and make a few assumptions.
- I’m pretty certain the folks who had been clipped continued to keep the stickers in their wallets for fear that now their windows would be smashed.
- The clipping issue existed primarily in Philadelphia, thus making an exception for a small subset of Pennsylvanians.
- Philadelphians traveling elsewhere in PA were subject to increase police stops and possible profiling due to the new window tag.
So what does my story and the assumptions about the failed pilot have to do with my take away from this session? My comparison and comprehension of the discussion may seem a bit obtuse, but I came out of the session thinking that:
- Fear of copyright should not deter Higher Education from facing the issues surrounding it.
- Higher Education as a whole (faculty, staff, students and administration) will need to come together to identify the issues faced by academia regarding copyright and then work toward unified solutions.
- Higher Education’s support of efforts such as Creative Commons and Open Publishing have the potential to support knowledge generation, creative endeavors, and sharing as a way to overcome the inadequacies and misuse of the current copyright system.