Many of us who are 100% ‘free speechers’ wave our hands dismissively and tune out when somebody raises the issue of ‘fair use rights’ on copyrighted materials. This is a mistake.
Just as ‘free speechers’ are not just a bunch of racists and rednecks, no matter how loudly their opponents laber them as such, ‘fair use rights’ advocates are not just a bunch of ‘pirates’ and ‘thieves’. If they were, they would simply steal the content – and certainly not bother to stand up and fight for their rights.
What we need to recognize that these issues are connected: both revolve around finding the ‘right’ balance of rights versus limitations. Once we recognize the similarities between these two seemingly separate issues, we can better understand how to arrive at a balance we can all be satisfied with – at least a little bit.
Just like we are willing to put limits onto ‘free speech’ – the proverbial ‘yelling ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theatre’, and similar limits – it is also justifiable to place limits on the use of ‘music’, ‘movies’, books’ and other intellectual content meant for consumers. In the first case, ‘public safety’ is threatened. In the second case, the rights of the creators of this ‘IP content’ need to protect their investment and their ability to reap a fair compensation for having created it.
This does make sense. The trick is, and always has been, in finding acceptable balance of rights.
The problem arises when the laws are written so as to only protect one side’s rights, at the expense of the other. It is no less oppressive than having unreasonable limits placed on one’s freedom of speech, in order to protect some from ‘hurt feelings’.
But there is another connection, a very fundamental one, between these two issues: both seek to restrict communication. Limiting freedom of speech imposes limitations on an individual as to what they are, or are not, free to communicate. So called ‘fair use’ laws seek to control the means of communication….
Recently, I watched a program that drove home the difference. It is one-hour long (and part 2 of a 2-part series), but it is well worth watching. Here, in brief, is the background…
In Sweden, there used to be different ‘fair use’ laws than in North America. Under Swedish laws, it was legal to set up a company called ‘Pirate Bay’ – even though this was, at that time, illegal under US laws. The ‘Hollywood industry’ used its influence to pressure the White House, which, in turn, pressured the Swedish government, into police raids and materiel confiscation against ‘Pirate Bay’, even though their own attorneys advised the government that the operation was perfectly legal….. Part 1 of the show, ‘Steal This Film’ deals with this. I found the segments of it on YouTube here, here, here, and here.
Part 2 discusses the very interesting issue of how these ‘fair use’ laws are (and are not) balanced – and why. And yes, how this directly impacts ‘freedom of speech’. Very interesting, the whole lot of it. The links for the YouTube version are here, here, here, here, here and here.
While Part 2, section 2 has a comprehensive history of ‘copyright’ and its implications from book printing on (and thus VERY much worth watching), it is Part 2, section 4 that sums up – in my mind – the essence of this debate. It is not just about IP – it is about the control of the means of delivering ‘culture’ to us all… And whoever controls the means of delivery also controls which voices will be heard.
I suppose one could see the ‘fair use’ battle as the corrollary to the ‘free speech’ battle. While one is a battle to allow one to speak freely, the other one is the battle to allow one to be heard freely. After all, if one is allowed ‘free speech’ – but only in isolation, where what one says is not actually heard by any other human being – it is a hollow victory…
It’s something to think about.