Why Copyright?

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to deliver a talk to the Canadian University Press National Conference, a gathering of student journalists from across the country.  The talk was a long response to a question that comes up pretty regularly - why has copyright generated so much interest from so many people.  A podcast of the talk is available here.  The slides are posted below.

Audio / ExtPodcasts / News

Why Copyright?

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to deliver a talk to the Canadian University Press National Conference, a gathering of student journalists from across the country.  The talk was a long response to a question that comes up pretty regularly – why has copyright generated so much interest from so many people.  A podcast of the talk is available here.  The slides are posted below.


  1. Jakub Sadowski says:

    Professor Geist – I would like to offer a slight correction in your presentation.

    When you talk about “Elephants Dream” you refer to the movie as being “open” because it is created using open-source tools such as blender. This is somewhat off the mark as the movie is “open” because all of the models, art, and animation data are available under a Creative Commons license so that you may create your own derivitive or alternate art using their working files (or “building blocks” if you like metaphors).

    The use of blender and other open-source tools is moot as most of the major motion picture studios use open-source tools such as blender, Linux, and others exclusively (and some of them have been using them for more than a decade – the movie “Titanic” was put together with Linux driving the studio’s computers).

  2. New One
    A new open movie called “Peach” ([ link ]) is now out as well!

  3. Index Request
    Do you have an index of all the open-access and collaborative sites mentioned in your talk? It would be useful to have all those in one list.

  4. Best Talk Ever
    This is the best talk I’ve ever heard on contemporary copyright issues, Professor Geist. I’m passing this along to everyone I know who’s interested!

  5. R. Bassett Jr. says:

    GPL, GNU/Linux
    Indeed, computers running software compiled from source code that is distributed under the General Public License, such as GNU/Linux, are often used for rendering digital video in “clusters”. Pixar used 117 computers running Sun Micro System’s Solaris OS (which is now free and open source) in a cluster to render the movie Toy Story. I’m no fan of Sun’s Java, as it’s an inherently slow “high level” language (that I wish people would stop using for important applications where I work), but it’s certainly used all over the place by a great number of people and it’s open source as well.

    Open source is a handy way to make computer programs, as it gives the end user the ability to fix something themselves right at the lowest level if they need to. I personally had to do this once with the plip.o kernel module for Slackware Linux 9, where I had to go through the code and fix a compatibly issue with an older version of plip.o, then recompile it. I’m not overly well educated in C/C++, but I was able to put my college courses to use and actually fix my problem, because I had the source code available to work with. In the Microsoft-like software environment, if I had a similar problem with a low level component of Windows, I would have had to wait for Microsoft to fix it, without any knowledge of when such a fix may be available.

    It really seems that the whole notion of copyright has gotten completely out of hand in the USA these days, with silly things like the smart phone patent lawsuit (where someone got the patent for the general idea of the smart phone and literally sued everyone who makes them – including Canadian based RIM) to the inane ability to copyright a legal document (effectively allowing anyone to extort money from anyone else without worry of public reprisal). Honestly, it seems like we all have just a little too much greed, self absorption, and time on our hands for our own good as a society in North America.

    GPL and Creative Commons still allow content creators (those who write source code for instance) the ability to earn money from services related to the content, which I can tell you from experience is where the money is these days. With actual items being manufactured so cheaply, unless you are Apple you’re not really going to get away with making enough profit from the sale of items themselves to survive. Instead, you’ll win your market share by offering excellent services associated with your product. Take Intel as an example, if they released all of the specs of their processors there are still only a handful of companies around the world that would actually be able to use that information to make processors. Intel would stand to make billions of dollars in helping other companies build fabrication plants, business models, etc. and this happens to be the approach that IBM has been taking for quite some time now. In fact, IBM is one of the largest supporters of the open source process. “Open” doesn’t mean you’re giving away your “intellectual property”, it means you have the confidence in your ability to capitalize on your concepts that you’re willing to share them with others while you do with your ideas as you see fit.

    Personally, I’m pretty sure that I have the documentation to prove that I was the first person to come up with the concept of what is now referred to as Bluetooth technology. I never did anything with the concept, I never created a functional prototype or simulation to be eligible for a Canadian patent, but there is the possibility that I could apply for and win a patent in the USA, which would allow me to sue quite a number of people. But, why would I do that? To “get rich”? Sorry, but I’m not a scum-bag. The plain truth of the matter is that a good idea is just that, “a good idea”, not a unique concept – anything you have thought of someone else has thought of too at some point. I feel there is no need for copyright/patents beyond their use to prove that someone actually came into your “world” and stole something from you directly. If you can’t prove that someone stole something from you, then what ever it is you’re complaining about should be considered obvious and not eligible for copyright or patent (such as the alphabet, the phone, the mug, or the form letter) – a good idea is “a good idea”, after all.

    Also, I believe that Canadian law should definitely not use the principle of precedence, as it is subject to the personal ignorance/beliefs/bad-hair-day of a single judge, who does not speak for the people as a whole. At the very least, all precedence should be subject to veto by the Supreme Court on a case by case basis, to avoid mistakes made by a judge (or jury) from having lasting legal consequences. Perhaps it already works this way, I don’t know, but what is important is that we ensure Canadian Law has protection from perversions made by morally devoid individuals in positions of influence (read “shitty lawyers”), who really couldn’t care less about the long lasting consequences of their actions.

    Why Copyright?

    Mr. Geist is right: Because it’s being used to butter up the already slippery slopes that protect our human rights and freedoms which our ancestors worked so very hard to provide for their children. We owe it to our descendants (as well as ourselves) to resolve the issues regarding copyright, to essentially “put it in its place” and move on to more important matters of national and world security, health, safety, and education. That is, after all, what Canadians do best. We are only 30 million strong, but we are strong, united, and free. That is a gift and it is a gift that we must always share with the highest level of priority. Never lose sight of the reality that one can never be everything to everyone; Sometimes our trading partners are just going to have to disagree with us. In order to provide a solution that suits the principles of our nation, I believe our copyright law is one of the instances where we will have to agree to disagree and move on. We are under no obligation to do otherwise.

  6. R. Bassett Jr. says:

    I should have added…
    I enjoyed your speech as well!

    You did a nice job of giving some examples of the consequences of the US DMCA that people would understand. Though, it may have been a nice touch to throw in a reference to the guy caught “camcordering” who was successfully charged without using the hastily created anti-camcorder law. That incident is a clear example that our laws are sufficient as they are. Our laws may require some modification and clarification, but not a wholesale change.

    Unlike some of us, Michael, you do an excellent job delivering information without getting caught up with emotion 🙂 This quality of yours may help others take the issue more seriously, which is great. You’re the David Suzuki of Copyright.

  7. Keep up the good work!
    You continue to be a great informatve resource that I am constantly directing others too. Keep up the great work!