Too soon? The Ethics and Etiquette of Copyright

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Copyright has always been a sticking point for everybody. From the days of Shakespeare right up to the modern world of mass-distributed digital and online multimedia, issues of ownership and sharing have dogged the creative arts and led to friction and intrigue. Naturally this has all only got more complicated with the advent of internet, social media and the mass-production and distribution of multimedia. But are we actually any further on?

The Ethics and Etiquette of Copyright

One big question the multimedia industries are having to consider anew is the extent to which they can, and should, police information sharing for infringements of copyright. The opening up of the internet to millions of private users has made it simply impossible to prevent the reproduction of media on a mass scale. Consequently this activity, at least on a modest scale, tends to raise eyebrows but is generally ignored. After all, it is hardly reasonable to think that millions upon millions of users could be simultaneously arrested and/or have court cases brought against them.

The question becomes rather more serious when private users start to reproduce and distribute media on a mass scale. This presents a financial risk to the copyright holders and, if not kept under some sort of control, has the potential to seriously undermine the industry. While Hollywood musicians and filmmakers can hardly complain about the odd DVD copy when their films have enjoyed success and brought in solid revenues, the small-scale studios who rarely cover costs simply cannot afford to lose revenue.

The quandary of what an acceptable level of copyright infringement should be really gets to the heart of the issue. This is because, far from being a legal issue, in pragmatic terms copyright really is as much about ethics and etiquette as it is about rules. The industries may be unable to force people not to copy DVD or CD media, but they could yet manage to persuade them. Unfortunately the culture of the industry is in disarray, with one set of standards for consumers, another for the industry and often hard feelings between the two groups. This, even if it were sustainable (which it isn’t) would be an inadequate state of affairs.

A different way to approach the issue might be to consider the question of timescale. Antiquated works of literature and art eventually lose their copyright and become ‘public’. For almost all of the Western World, the lifetime of a copyright before a work enters the public domain is seventy years after the death of the author; to copy DVD and CD media, the United Kingdom has a lifespan of fifty years while the United States sets it at ninety-five years. But considering the vast profits that are made by the work of, for example, The Beatles, is this soon enough?

In one sense these questions of copyright ethics are likely to simply idle on unresolved. In another sense, though, a resolution will necessarily be found through some international body or agreement – and ultimately, this will need to be based on the equilibrium between what producers and consumers will accept. A middle ground will sooner or later be found. The alternative is a continuous discord between the producers and consumers of media and that, whichever way one looks at it, is in no one’s best interest.

Martin Johnson is director of the UK’s leading DVD/Blu-ray/CD duplication company providing exceptional quality at the lowest UK prices. He offers next day delivery anywhere in the UK and will complete your job quickly with the greatest care. You can connect with him on Google+.