In Striking a Balance, Neil Kleinman addresses the intense debate over the function and intentions of copyright law, and how these stack up against the nature of digital media. He argues that the various problems associated with the Internet and copyright law are due to the fact that that digital content is fundamentally immaterial, and that the copyright law tradition is rooted in the idea of material commodities. He explores the various schemes that could alleviate this problem, drawing from pre-Capitalist ideas on the communal nature of knowledge production. One problem in this system is that the ‘author-publisher-consumer’ paradigm, which Kleinman addresses in his essay, is becoming more outdated in many fields not related to book publishing, such as software and music.
Copyright law has its origins in the world of printing and book publishing, but its concepts have been applied to other creative activities. The irony of the digital era is that book publishing has been probably the least troubled by the rise of the Internet, and in some ways, has benefitted from it. Books are still predominantly the product of a single author, and the publishing apparatus is still necessary, for editing, marketing, and production. Even with the rise of platforms like the Nook, iPad, and Kindle, material books are still preferred for a variety of reasons.
The issue should not be how we can bring the idea of Copyright into the 21st century, but how in the 21st century; we can do away with Copyright entirely for those domains where it was always a bit irrelevant. Copyright, which began in printing, the world of the written word, was only applied to other areas as a matter of appearance in production. Music was brought under the domain as a matter of legal convenience; its early production process resembled that of books, with a singular songwriter (author), performers/producers (publishers), and a consuming public. In an even greater stretch, it was stretched to the domain of software as well, with developers/programmers, manufacturers, and again, a consuming public.
The advancement of digital technology in recent decades hasn’t problematized the issue of Copyright, but only revealed how ill of a fit it was in the first place. Music rarely has a singular author, but often teams of songwriters, full bands of set musicians, and producers and mastering engineers who have a much greater influence over the final product than a copy editor does over a book. The same goes for software, which is even a greater collaborative effort, employing a veritable army of developers, programmers, and designers, the process of producing high-end software more often resembles the building of a skyscraper than the writing of a novel.
So what is the purpose of copyright and it’s societal function? The purpose is that of accreditation, to make sure that those who put the labor into a work are properly recognized for their hard work. The societal function is to ensure that this accreditation stimulates incentive in the market. Surely there are other manners in which these two parameters can be fulfilled, other than an archaic notion of copyright. If the problem with copyright is, as Kleinman claims, new digital technology’s lack of physical extension to ground it, then maybe we should stop trying to conceptually fit a square peg into a round hole and offer some new concepts which operate in the same spirit as Copyright, but better fit the new digital terrain.