The world of intellectual property is a world of hypocrisy.
As demonstrated by Walt Disney’s behaviour during his prolific reign as king of the animating industry, and little more than a couple of hundred years before James Watt’s obsession with patents, copyright law only becomes important to creators when they experience success and want to protect it at all costs (Lessig 2004). Once Walt Disney parodied Steamboat Bill Jr, shamelessly copied and appropriated the work of the Brothers’ Grimm and other fairy tales, and gained huge success from others’ unprotected intellectual property, his company lobbied the US government to extend copyright so that other creators could not do what Disney did in using older material to create new things. Indeed, the protection of the infamous Mickey Mouse character is at the center of the debate surrounding intellectual property rights. It seems as if every time the Mickey Mouse character is about to hit the public domain, the Disney company lobbies for an extension of copyright law to keep Mickey from the terrifying clutches of content creators and appropriators (Masnick 2012)
The same intellectual property debate rages like an out of control bushfire sweeping the land, leaping fences, seeping furiously into homes. Governments and entertainment conglomerates accuse file sharing hosts and everyday citizens of stealing, while they gather user data and private communications surreptitiously, unashamedly (Black 2013), almost never being held accountable. This is why the recent PRISM scandal involving the NSA in the U.S. (Stone and Brustein 2013) was so shocking to us (see Declaration of Independence); because it was always start-ups, uncontrollable internet companies and everyday citizens who were seen to be doing the stealing.
The copyright debate has become murky in the cyber-age. The right to say who can stop the free flow of information and determine who has the right to share it has caused problems between governments and cultures across the world. The ad used to scare Australian and UK citizens into submission on the subject of downloading and sharing pirated content was found to be using unacknowledged and therefore stolen music to create the ad (Whitehouse 2012), it raised questions about the legitimacy of the debate. If even the entertainment industry is pirating content, why is it so bad for the average citizen to do it? Aren’t we just sharing what we’re interested in with our peers?
When a study on whether internet piracy of movies was decreasing revenue revealed that there was little to no impact on the movie industry of the piracy of movies, we have to question why it is necessary for the big entertainment conglomerates to be so vocal about copyright and piracy. Maybe there’s something that the industry should be thinking about before it gets all up in arms about what we’re doing and look at their own habits: releasing content which is globally popular to the U.S. first and delaying release to other countries, or simply barring them from content if they are foreign (U.S. TV show websites, Netflix etc), is making audiences seek other ways to consume content.
So do the benefits of being able to share content readily with others and create new, original pieces of work without living in fear of persecution outweigh the negatives which are dominating the debate? I say yes, yes they do. If the entertainment industry can learn to back down, to work with the new possibilities of digital media, they’ll have more than a fighting chance in getting what they want while starting a new, two-way relationship with the people they expect to keep the industry in business. Or at the very least, we might finally free Mickey.