Blog / 2012 / On Copyright Law and Being a Criminal

November 26, 2012

Of all the excuses people give for embracing the © and supporting intellectual property law, by far the silliest is that it’s the law.

Really? And you follow every law without questioning because laws are always, by definition, right?

What about the laws that made people whose skin was a certain color into property without freedom or rights? What about the laws that prohibited women from voting? What about the countless laws that still discriminate against people based on their sexuality? Are these laws all right because they were or are laws?

At this juncture, I feel a little lesson in civics and morality wouldn’t be remiss.

It’s important to remember that we all give up certain freedoms to live in a society—freedoms like walking around naked or keeping all of the money we make, among others. And this means that a society’s laws are an always-evolving conversation about the push-and-pull of individual versus civic needs. They are a conversation about the shape of individual freedom within the context of a whole and functioning society.

Our laws reflect our morality, and our laws change in response to the other changes that happen—changes in technology, in the number of people in a community as well as in the types of people, changes of all kinds. And when laws can’t or don’t change, as in the context of religious communities which adhere to rules laid out in ancient texts for example, we enter into very dangerous territory.

In order for a society to prosper, laws must be followed, but they must, in equal measure, be questioned.

the Ten Commandments of copyright
Gwenn Seemel
Copyright Commandments
pencil on paper
11 x 9 inches
(This image was reworked as an illustration for this book.)

When people in a society repeatedly break a law, as they do with copyright law, we need to check in with our sense of right and wrong. We need to ask ourselves if this law still reflects the morality of our society or if, in light of our new technologies and in light of our increased understanding of how culture evolves, it’s a law badly in need of an overhaul.

And please don’t forget that we’re talking about legal censorship when we talk about copyright. We’re talking about the ways which communication can be shut down according to the whims of copyright owner and we’re talking about the ways that corporations can use intellectual property law to stop you from viewing vast acres of the interwebs among other things.

Educate yourself before you embrace the © and support intellectual property law. Watch a movie like this one or read Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture.

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