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I’m headed to Vancouver this weekend to give a keynote at SIGGRAPH; I did a long interview with Blaine Kyllo from the Georgia Straight about the subject of my talk — that is, how you build a digital copyright system that gives creators a fair deal, and why getting it wrong is bad for the whole society, not just artists.

BK: That’s always been the refrain, hasn’t it? That the markets are going to take care of things. But they tend to be governed and controlled by those with money, which are the corporations which have a vested interest in maintaining status quo, right?

CD: And also that they are…markets, especially markets where the market is built around something that is a regulatory fiat.

This isn’t like a market in potatoes where the potato exists whether or not the government creates a potato right. This is a market in goods that have no tangible existence. This isn’t the market for books; this is the market for the words on the books. And that market only exists to the extent that the government comes in and says, “This part of the word is property and this part of the word isn’t owned by anyone.”

So for example, you can register a copyright in the tune of a song, but not in the rhythm of a song. Now if copyrights had been developed in the Afro-Caribbean tradition, where the tunes tend to be improvised and the complex polyrhythms tend to be static and are thought of as the works of authorship, we would have a totally different view of what was a song and what was incidental to the song, what was just the stuff that musicians did while they were performing the song. Right now we think of the words and the music as being the song, we don’t think of the drumming as being the song.

So we’re not just talking about a market. Even if you’re an “A is A”, Ayn Rand fundamentalist, we’re not talking about markets in the way that we think about markets, as a market for cars or real estate or something, we’re talking about a market in a good whose contours are defined by a bunch of regulators who sit down in a board room with some industrialists who say, “We would make more money if you would make this part of this ephemeral, imaginary thing into a property right.” And they listen to all the different people who have opinions on which part of your imagination should be property, and they go, “Well, this part makes sense to be property,” and then they go off and trade it.

Actually, I don’t think that that’s totally bent or crazy, I just think that it’s rife with potential for abuse, and that we should look at the arguments of people who are present-day beneficiaries of that system, who say that what we need is more of it, and what we need is more of it not because we would no longer have any works if we didn’t have more of this kind of right that we benefit from, but they’d be the wrong kind of works.

So for example when you say to a movie executive, “What do you mean that we’ve got to shut down YouTube to keep the Hollywood film industry alive?” Hollywood gives us, like, 40, 100 hours of movies a year? We get 49 hours of video every minute on YouTube. And they go, “Well, that’s not good video. It’s the wrong kind of video.”

I think that when you have an industrialist who says, “This policy that is supposed to create video is creating the wrong kind of video, it should create my video, of which there would be a lot less of it, but I’d make more money from it.” I think that we should at least look that argument up and down pretty thoroughly before we go, “Oh, yeah, makes sense.”