Should We Abolish Copyright? From Intellectual Property to a Creative Commons | Tom Nicholas

Should We Abolish Copyright? From Intellectual Property to a Creative Commons | Tom Nicholas

Hi, my name is Tom. Welcome back to my
channel. Today, I want to talk a little bit (or actually for a fairly long time
but I think it’s worth it) about copyright and intellectual property.
They’re topics which draw in all of the intersecting subjects on which my
channel tends to focus; there’s a little bit of politics, philosophy, art and
aesthetics. What I want to consider in particular, however, is whether the
existence of copyright and intellectual property is a good thing for our society
and our culture or not and whether we might benefit from abolishing both
altogether. Now, unlike when I make most of my videos, I began writing the script
for this video pretty uncertain of what my final argument would be. I was driven
instead by a slightly more vague sense that the concept of intellectual
property holds something of a strange place in the popular imaginary in the
present. A couple of months ago, Katy Perry and her co-writers on the 2013
song Dark Horse were found by a federal court in the United States to have
infringed on the intellectual property of Christian rap artist Flame by
supposedly copying a 16 note bass riff from a song called Joyful Noise that he
had released in 2008. And pretty much every journalist who reported on this
story did so with a sense of astonishment. On this website, indeed, a
musicologist called Adam Neely made a fantastic video pulling apart the notion
that such a small number of notes could be owned exclusively by anyone. That
particular event, however, was only really the latest in a long line of
controversies surrounding how copyright law operates in the present day. In
addition to concerns that the present system might encourage claims of
intellectual property infringement in cases where the similarities between one
work and another which is said to have copied it might seem very slight,
frustrations regularly seem to flare up on this website surrounding what’s known
as the “fair use” or “fair dealing” doctrines which, in theory, allow for the
use of material protected by copyright for the purposes of commentary or
critique. I have possibly only watched one Let’s Play video in my entire life
but even I became aware of the controversy surrounding
Nintendo’s clamping down on such uses of footage of their games—something that
they’ve since changed their tune on. Ultimately, however, I think both these
episodes point to a broader shift in our perception of artistic and cultural
works in which we increasingly no longer really view such works as something that
can (or perhaps more importantly should) be owned at all. That’s not to suggest
that we no longer consider cultural works (whether that be video, games, films,
books or whatever else) as something that we should pay to experience. Many people
voluntarily part with a portion of their hard-earned cash to support those who
create things that they like on a regular basis. My incredible Patrons—he
says seamlessly working in a brief plug— such as J Fraser Cartwright, who
recently became one of my top supporters by visiting, would still be able to watch my videos without handing over any
money whatsoever. Yet they and anyone else who supports an artist or creator
of some description on Patreon or Ko-Fi or similar recognize that creating
videos or the like takes time and resources and so voluntarily decide to
help to meet some of those costs. Many of us also subscribe to streaming services
such as Netflix or Spotify. Nevertheless, the exchange which occurs when we pay to
access films and music through a subscription service is clearly very
different from that which dominated in previous decades. Where previously one
might have bought a film or album either physically or digitally, the new
normal is one far less predicated on the notion of ownership.
Now, it’s worth highlighting that the issue of the ownership of intellectual
property in the sense that Flame apparently owns that bass riff and
Nintendo own Super Mario Odyssey as an artistic work is separate and
distinct from that of the shift in the way that we pay to access films, music
and other artistic works. Yet I think the manner in which both infer an
increasing skepticism towards the notion that anyone
can or should have exclusive ownership over a piece of art or culture
fascinating. And it’s that thread of an idea on which I wish to pull today. For,
if our perceptions surrounding the possibility of owning an artistic or
cultural work truly have shifted in the way that I’ve just suggested, then it
begs the question: why don’t we just do away with copyrights and intellectual
property altogether? In order to discuss intellectual property and copyright in
any great depth it’s important that we first have a solid understanding of what
those things are and for us to be able to distinguish between them. As the
Oxford English Dictionary has it, then, intellectual property is ‘property […] which
is the product of invention or creativity, and does not exist in a
tangible, physical form’. Intellectual property comes in a number of forms.
Inventions (whether mechanical, biological, chemical or in the form of software) and
designs such as a company logo can all be forms of intellectual property. These
exist within a slightly differently legal system, however, and so, today, we’ll
largely be leaving these to one side. Instead, we’ll be focusing solely on what
are often referred to as “artistic works” which includes books, films, music, video
games and other cultural works, all of which can also be forms of intellectual
property. Copyright, by contrast with intellectual property, refers to the
systems of laws and statutes which exist to protect the rights of an owner over
the piece of intellectual property that they own. The video that you are
presently watching, for instance, is my intellectual property; I conceived of and
created it and thus, in most nations, am granted by copyright law the exclusive
right to do what I like with it and, perhaps more importantly, to seek
recompense against anyone who encroaches upon those exclusive rights. The same
would be true if this video have been created by a group of people or a
company—although, again, for simplicity’s sake I’m gonna mostly discuss
things in terms of individual creators today. As most countries have it, my
ownership of this video gives me the exclusive right to make copies of and
give access to this video to others either for free or for commercial gain. I
also have the right to sell or transfer my exclusive rights of this video to
another party—although, again, we’re gonna leave that thing to the side for
one day. The most important aspect of copyright law, however, is this fact that
it is an exclusive right and thus, should anyone else copy or distribute this
video without my blessing, whether for financial gain or not, they would be
infringing on my intellectual property rights as articulated in copyright law
and I would be able to take legal action against them. What it actually means to
own this video, however, is slightly more difficult to explain. See, it’s not
just the mp4 file that your computer is currently displaying that I own. Instead,
it’s slightly more abstract than that. If you were to download the script for this
video, say, and to recreate all or part of it yourself then you would still be in
breach of my intellectual property rights. Although you wouldn’t have copied
the video file itself you would have still have copied the expression of
ideas contained within. The counter to this is that I only own the ideas
contained within this video in the specific form that they are expressed
here. As the UK government puts it on their website, ‘an idea alone is not
intellectual property. For example an idea for a book doesn’t count, but the
words that you’ve written do’. In short, by making this video, I don’t now own the
concept of a video about whether copyright should be abolished or not nor
even the argument that I make within this video—whatever that turns out to be.
You or anyone else are free to make a video to
the same end. You would only be infringing on my intellectual property
rights once you begin to use the same sentences or filming and editing choices.
If you’re finding all of this highly confusing then you are not alone.
And things are made a touch more complex by the existence, in most countries, of
the “fair use” or “fair dealing” doctrines which I referred to a moment ago. These
enshrine in law the right for someone to use a certain amount of someone else’s
intellectual property for certain reasons. The United States Code, for
example, states that ‘the fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as
criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, […] scholarship or research is not
an infringement of copyright’. If you were to create your own video on a similar
topic and, as part of that video, include an extract from this one in order to
tear my argument to shreds for example, theoretically you would not be
infringing upon my intellectual property. As we saw in the example of Nintendo,
however, in practice things are not so simple. What counts as criticism, comment,
news teaching or research is very much open to debate and, as it stands, whether
a particular use of copyright material counts as fair use or not can only ever
definitively be decided by the courts. As a result, if Nintendo, who presumably have
a small army of lawyers on retainer, asked you to take a video down then, in
most cases, if you don’t also have a small army of lawyers on retainer, you’re
likely to simply fold and take that video down. A lot of the frustration that
people have with copyright law, to my mind, stems from these kind of vagaries, uncertainties and inconsistencies. The fair use doctrine, for example, seems
to hold out an opportunity with one hand whilst, through not providing a
definitive articulation of what counts as fair use and not and thus reliance on
costly court cases, taking it away with the other. The Katy Perry scenario,
perhaps even more troublingly, points to a lack of certainty in the law as
to what counts merely as ideas and thus isn’t copyrightable and what counters
expression and thus is. I’m not convinced that this just points to a problem with
copyright law as it is presently constituted
however. Instead, I think it points to the difficulty of applying concepts of
ownership which initially developed around physical property to the realm of
ideas and creativity. For, while it seems relatively easy to identify what a
physical object is and thus to legislate its ownership, art and creativity are far
more nebulous. I think it’s useful here, then, to take a step back and to consider
the concept of property more broadly. In particular, I think is useful to compare
and contrast the emergence of notions of property as it pertains to ideas and
creativity with the development of the same around tangible, physical things. The
side benefit of doing so is that it might encourage us to take a slightly
more critical view of physical property. Yet what I’m primarily interested in is
exploring the extent to which our concept of intellectual property borrows
from our concept of physical property and how using the same set of ideas for
both might not entirely make sense. In switching our focus briefly to tangible,
physical forms of property, it’s useful to distinguish between a few different
forms of property as they exist in the present day: personal property, private
property and communal property. Let’s begin with the first two. Now, in our
everyday usage, we might be used to using the terms personal property and private
property fairly interchangeably. In most broadly Marxist and anarchist schools of
thoughts, however, these terms have distinct meanings. As Bhaskar Sunkara
explains, the phrase personal property refers to ‘things meant for private
consumption’. The various bits of stationery on my desk, for example, the
food in your kitchen and most consumer goods (such as TVs or sound systems) would
be, in almost all cases, personal property— your reason for owning them is solely so
that you can personally use them. Private property, by contrast, refers to ‘things
that give the people who own them power over those who
don’t’. Sunkara continues that ‘the power created by private property is expressed
most clearly in the labor market, where business owners get to decide who
deserves a job and who doesn’t’. To give a further example, we might consider a
house that is owned by a landlord purely for the purpose of renting it out. In
that scenario, the house gives the landlord a considerable amount of power
over the person who lives in it; they can impose restrictions on what they can do
in the house or periodically increase the rent. Whether or not something is
private or personal property is thus predicated on whether or not it
engenders a social, economic or other power relationship between the person or
people who own it and those who don’t. Indeed, many things can be either
personal or private property depending on circumstance. Your personal computer
on which you play video games or surf the web, for example, is clearly personal
property. If that very same computer was given to you by your employer for you to
complete your work on, however, it would be private property because your
continued right to use it is contingent on you remaining employed in that job.
Indeed, often employers will actively prohibit employees from using such
company-owned devices for anything other than work. And if it’s these
relationships that define whether a piece of property is personal or private,
then it stands to reason that intellectual property can never be
personal; the exclusive rights that are bestowed upon the creator of an artistic
work (whether that creator is an individual or a company) create a power
relation between the creator and anyone else who might want to make use of that
copyrighted work. Let’s leave aside personal property then and instead focus
on our final form of property: communal property. Communal property refers to
anything that is owned in common by multiple people and thus which more than
one person has a right to use. Few examples of truly communal property
exist in the present day. Much of the time,
we might experience streets and pavements as though they were communal
property—administered by the state yet which we all have a right to use.
Nevertheless, anyone who’s ever found themselves at a demonstration or protest
will quickly have discovered the limits of those rights. Yet examples of
communal property have existed throughout history. We find reference to
one such form of communal property in volume one of Capital in which Marx
explains that ‘in England, serfdom had practically disappeared in the last part
of the fourteenth century. The immense majority of the population consisted then, and to
a still larger extent in the fifteenth century, of free peasant proprietors[.] They
enjoyed the right to exploit the common land, which gave pasture to their cattle,
and furnished them with timber, fire-wood, turf, etc’. This common land usually
consisted of a village green or similar space which most people living within
that particular village would have the right to use. Over the course of a number
of centuries however, a process known as enclosure served to fence off and parcel
up this communal property and turn it into private land. The result of this was that
it was no longer possible to raise one’s own cattle, say, for milk, beef or clothing
or that if one did want to do so one would have to pay rent to a landowner in
order to do so. Thus, property which previously engendered little in the way
of a power relationship came to do so— enriching some while disenfranchising
others. The analogy of land and enclosure is useful here. For the
emergence of the concept of intellectual property in many ways mirrors that of
private property in the form of land. See, the notion that artistic works might be
considered private property is a relatively recent phenomenon. The first
law resembling what we now call copyright came about with the passing of
the Statute of Anne in England in 1710. Primarily centred on literary works, it
granted the author of a novel or other literary text
exclusive rights over that work for a duration of 14 years. A number of
economic and historical trends intersected to bring about such a law.
The development of the printing press, for one, meant that it was easier to
distribute certain forms of artistic works and thus owning the exclusive
right to do so became highly profitable. Perhaps more interesting for our
discussion here however, is the manner in which an artistic movement known as
Romanticism had altered people’s perception of the act of artistic
creation. It is during this period, suggests Isaiah Berlin, that we see the
emergence of ‘a passionate belief in spiritual freedom, individual creativity.
The painter, the poet, the composer do not hold up a mirror to nature, however ideal,
but invent; they do not imitate (the doctrine of mimesis) but create not
merely the means but the goals that they pursue; these goals represent the
self-expression of the artist’s own unique, inner vision’. Such a perception of
the literary or artistic work as the sole creation of an individual author
struck by divine inspiration to create something from nothing may often seem as
though it’s been around forever. In truth, however, as Berlin suggests, the
exceptional individual artist who pulls their creations from thin air is, as
Roland Barthes had it, ‘a modern figure’. Certainly, writers, composers and other
artists have always been celebrated for finding novel ways to articulate or
present a certain narrative or set of musical ideas, say, but prior to only a
few hundred years ago, they were more likely to be viewed as grazing on an
intellectual or cultural commons. The narratives, musical phrases and other
creative ideas which already existed were seen as nourishing their creations
and, in return, that which they created were free to nourish the work of future
artists. For a great deal of history, then, art, literature, music and many
more forms of culture were deemed communal property not private. Whole
videos could be filled listing examples of celebrated artists who lived prior to
the advent of copyright law who borrowed extensively and consistently from the
work of others and who, in return, were borrowed from. As James Boyle and
Jennifer Jenkins stress in Theft! A History of Music, Beethoven, Brahms and
Bach all extensively rearranged and reworked the work of their
contemporaries and, in turn, had their own compositions reworked by others.
Shakespeare too would be considered today a career burglar with many of his
greatest plays drawing their narratives directly from pre-existing works. As John
Kerrigan writes in his book Shakespeare’s Originality, ‘Shakespeare
does new things with and adds extensively to what he draws from
pre-existing texts, but his originality is partly original-ity, a drawing upon
originals’. Recognizing the rich history of what would today be considered
intellectual property theft thus perhaps allows us to reconsider contemporary
copyright law. For it allows us to see that the present system is not a given
but, instead, is the result of a gradual enclosure of the cultural commons in
which communal property has slowly been converted into private. It reminds us
that there is another way of viewing art, literature, film and all other cultural
forms not as the immaculately-conceived creation of the exceptional artist but,
instead, as the result of a repurposing and reinterpreting of pre-existing ideas—
and thus not as private property but communal. In order to make the case
against the continuation of intellectual property as private property, however, we
need to go beyond this partly aesthetic and partly moral argument. For the
contemporary argument for the continuation of private property
more broadly very rarely centers on morality but, instead, practicality and efficiency.
See, if you were to ask an economic student what the goal of their
specialism is they would likely respond with something along the lines of
‘economics can be defined as the study of the choices people make and the actions
they take in order to make the best use of scarce resources in meeting their
wants and needs’. In this vein, contemporary economics tends to view the
world as possessing finite resources (whether those resources be oil, apples or
houses) with the goal of economics being to theorize the most efficient way of
ensuring those resources get into the hands of those who need them most.
The idea that concentrating the ownership of such resources into the
hands of the few might lead to such an ideal distribution may, at first, seem
counterintuitive. Yet the idea that private ownership is preferable to
communal ownership for reasons of efficiency and practicality has strong
support across the discipline. The most oft-cited source used to make this case
is a 1968 essay by the ecologist Garrett Hardin titled The Tragedy of the Commons
which considers the efficiency and sustainability of a piece of communal
land in providing those who use it with food. ‘Picture a pasture open to all’,
wrights Garrett, ‘it is to be expected that each herdsmen will try to keep as many
cattle as possible on the commons’. Assuming the society in which these
herdspeople live is stable and somewhat peaceable, he argues that ‘the rational
herdsmen concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to
add another animal to his herd. And another; and another…. But this is the
conclusion reached for each and every rational herdsmen sharing a commons.
Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to
increase his herd without limit—in a world that is limited. Ruin is the
destination to which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a
society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons bring
ruin to all’. In short, Garrett argues that the consequence of communal ownership of
this metaphorical field is its devastation; each of the herdspeople
attempt to graze as many cattle as possible and, eventually, all the grass is
gone and the land is useless. Converting that land into private land, he posits,
averts such a scenario. For, he argues, if you have stewardship over just your
piece of land, you’re more likely to be wary of over grazing it and to ensure
that it remains useful to you for as long as possible. Garrett’s arguments, and
those made by economists in his wake seeking to refute the practicality of
communal forms of ownership, rely on a number of assumptions which I would
suggest aren’t quite as solid as he would like to think. Indeed, in 2009,
Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics for demonstrating
that the communal ownership of land can be both sustainable and efficient and
has been proven to be so in practice in numerous real-world scenarios.
Nevertheless, even if Garrett’s argument did bear out in its entirety it would
still provide little rationale for private property rights as they relate
to intellectual property. For the Tragedy of the Commons argument is predicated on
scarcity—that simply doesn’t apply to creative works. The existence of the Star
Wars fan film Darth Maul: Apprentice, for instance, doesn’t displease the resource
of Darth Maul—it was still possible for Disney to make use of the character in
Solo: A Star Wars story and it remains possible for other fans to make use of
the character in other pieces of fan fiction and fan films. From an efficiency
or practicality standpoint, then, the application of concepts of private
property which emerged in relation to physical property simply don’t cohere
when applied to intellectual property. In fact, to my mind, restricting the ability
of anyone other than the original creator of a work (whether an individual
or a corporation) is less efficient than not doing so for we’re placing false
limits on what can be achieved within our culture. The argument that copyright
law helps to ensure a better distribution of copyrighted material
becomes even weaker when we take into account the increasing lengths of
copyright terms over the past few centuries. For where the Statute of Anne
granted authors exclusive property rights for just fourteen years after
that work’s creation, successive national laws and international treaties have
extended copyright laws to a staggering degree. In the United States and the
European Union, copyright law currently considers an artistic work private
property for the entire life of the author plus 70 years after their death.
In Mexico, it’s a full 100 years after the creator has died. And we can
talk at great length about how ridiculous it might seem that, until 2015, Warner
Brothers were earning around two million dollars a year from the song Happy
Birthday to You—a revenue stream they were only denied due to the efforts of
filmmaker Jennifer Nelson who took the company to court to prove that the song
was actually in the public domain. Yet things are just as troubling on the
other end of the spectrum. For, many works which are still under copyright yet which are
deemed not to be profitable assets by their owners are likely to not be made
available to the public at all. Numerous books, films and sound recordings which
publishers and distributors don’t deem it worth spending money re-releasing thus
sit locked up in vaults being enjoyed by no one. I hope to have so far shown that
strong arguments for abolishing copyright law exist from both a
creative or aesthetic standpoint and also from one of efficiency and access.
Nevertheless, even if you are totally on board with my argument thus far, there
remains a pertinent and vital problem to be solved. For, even if we agree that the
creative process is not one of an artist drawing inspiration
from thin air but instead the result of their grazing on an intellectual or
cultural commons, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be compensated for
their work. The argument is solely that the creative process is different; not
that it is in any way less remarkable. As a child, for instance, I loved Disney’s
Robin Hood. And I was very aware that neither its plot or characters were
wholly original. Nevertheless, I still appreciated what those who had been
involved in creating the film had done with those characters and stories.
Reconceptualizing the creative process, then, doesn’t mean devaluing it. By
extension, the last thing we would want would be for the abolition of copyright
law to lead to artists not getting paid for their labor. This is perhaps the
aspect of abolishing intellectual property that I have the fewest answers
for. Yet, in recent years, such questions have increasingly had to be
asked. The Internet has made sharing copyrighted works without paying the
creator or creators of that work incredibly easy. Unlike in previous eras
in which copying a film book album or the like would often result in a lesser
experience of that work, the sharing of digital files has also made it possible
to freely share copies of a work that are every bit as good as one acquired
legitimately. Whether copyright is abolished or not, then, creatives of all
stripes are increasingly having to seek methods of earning a living beyond
simply trading off their exclusive rights over their creations. Of course, we
could posit some fairly idealistic solutions to this problem. We can
envisage a fully automated society in which work is a thing of the past and in
which all who wish to are able to pursue their creative impulses without worrying
much about how to pay the rent. In the short term, however, more modest solutions
might be required. There is a lot of potential in platforms such as Patreon.
Its success in the present is certainly limited with only 2% of creators on the
site making more than the US minimum wage during 2017. Yet I think it’s
slowly shifting how we view the economics of cultural
production and I’ve been genuinely shocked (in a good way) with how many
people are willing to part with their hard-earned cash to support those who
create stuff that they like. The issue of an alternative economic model which
might enable artistic and cultural works to continue to be made is just one of
many issues surrounding abolishing intellectual property and copyright law
that I don’t think it’s possible to solve within the course of a single
video. Yet I hope to have pointed to some of the gaping flaws and
inconsistencies in our present system and foregrounded some alternative lenses
through which we might view art and culture. As to whether we should abolish
copyright in its entirety: I’m not certain. The idealist, the artist and the
critic in me wants to say yes. But the realist recognizes that it is a
massively complex area. Nevertheless, I think the rise of the Internet has made
many of the drawbacks to abolishing copyright almost unavoidable. For, even if
copyright laws remain on the statute books, it is becoming increasingly
difficult to enforce them. Whatever your own thoughts on the matter, I hope this
video has perhaps challenged some preconceptions and maybe sparked some
new ideas and I look forward to continuing some of those conversations
down below in the comments. If you’ve made it this far then thank you so much
for watching what I think is gonna be my longest video to date. I promise not
to make a habit out of it and will aim to be back with some slightly snappier
content soon. Thanks once again to Ash, to Michael V Brown and to J Fraser
Cartwright, my top patrons over on Patreon. If you would like to join them
in supporting what I do here and download copies of the scripts for
these videos etc, then you can head over to and check
all that out. Other than that, however, liking this
video or sharing it on the web somewhere always really helps in spreading the
word. With that out of the way, however, thanks once again for watching and have a great week!

100 thoughts on “Should We Abolish Copyright? From Intellectual Property to a Creative Commons | Tom Nicholas

  1. Thanks for watching! If you've enjoyed this then please do considering subscribing and/or sharing the video with a friend. And, of course, if you want to support what I do here, then I'd love it if you'd consider supporting me on Patreon at

  2. Wonderful as always.
    The concept of 'cultural commons' is incredibly fascinating.

    I'm sure you're aware but if not o highly recommend Patricia Taxxon's 2 videos on Abolishing Copyright.

  3. "Every new invention is a synthesis, the resultant of innumerable inventions which have preceded it in the vast field of mechanics and industry.
    Science and industry, knowledge and application, discovery and practical realization leading to new discoveries, cunning of brain and of hand, toil of mind and muscle – all work together. Each discovery, each advance, each increase in the sum of human riches, owes its being to the physical and mental travail of the past and the present.
    By what right then can anyone whatever appropriate the least morsel of this immense whole and say – This is mine, not yours?”

    Some bearded man….no, not that one.

  4. there may be a limit to the number of Darth Maul films the average person would like to watch. there are only a certain number of scenarios which could be made and so with each one there is potential for diminishing returns…

  5. commodifying ones art shouldn't be required for meeting the basic needs. Artist deserve livelyhood and wage for their labour, not for their works.

    Thus from leftist perspective the question of copyrights is a false question. Artist both deserve a fair compensation AND copyrights shouldn't exist as non-physical, privately own property. Any system of copyright should protect artists right for recognition of their unique achievment, not as a quantaree for market position. The consiquences of copying should first and foremost be social, and based around the copying artist failure to create their own, or build on the original, art.

    This way we could have some amount of meritocracy in art, as artists "copyrights" would exist as part of them in person, which, if their work of art is notably successful, should lead to rewarding, fame and future opportunities as funding.

  6. I was waiting for that "how will creators pay the rent" to come in. Small content creators are already treated as a grazing ground by larger entities, relying on their financial inability to fight back to get away with theft (see how fast fashion lifts from individual designers and then blames it on an intern). We are in heavily unequal system, where creative work is already devalued. The "creative commons" concept works if there is a framework for creators to get paid, and we don't have that. Even Patreon is now making several moves to ratchet up profit instead of insuring creators gets paid.

  7. I discovered you through your neoliberalism videos and have quickly come to really look forward to your stuff.

    I feel bad because I recognize that Disney is one of the worst corporations around, but I still have a lot of good feelings and memories attached to them, so I find it hard to hate on them too much

  8. Maybe if you do have artistic talent that is valued by THE COMMONS, you should be financially supported by them to do and express your art. Maybe there should be jobs for people in the arts – I don't consider what you do art of course – you are a teacher. In New Zealand we have a poet laureate job come up every two years, you earn an average wage for two years of your contract. 1 person out of 10,000s good poets and then they are not allowed to say anything to controversial.

  9. Vangelis : Beaubourg Baudrillard: "Hold my cigarette"
    Wonderful work. You past the 30 minutes mark and for bloody good reasons! Raising a lot of questions and self-reflection.
    Nintendo case is especially interesting. Although their old machines can be perfectly cloned and even upgraded, you still cannot use the RoM even from their very first NES games because of something like a 95 years copyright.
    Plus it's funny to consider that Nintendo was basically shooting itself in the foot by going crazy on their games streaming and videos, completely missing or at least misinterpreting the Internet spaceship until quite recently.

  10. As an econ student: your analogy to land is stronger than you realize.
    Neither private landownership nor copyright increase the productive or distributional efficiency of these resources, both of these merely create monopolies that lead to increased economic rents, and in the terms of economics, intellectual property is a type of land.

  11. Isn't Garrets argument, and the argument against communal ownership, generally provably false especially with the existence of things such as century old cooperative enterprises? And wouldn't that also throw out all agriculturally based tribal societies, which we've got centuries of examples of? The tragedy of the commons always struck me as a unique form of nonsense and upon further stretching at what it covers over it really starts to become an argument that ignores a lot of background history just to push forward the drive for privatization.

  12. We would need to rearrange our society to provide for the necessities of life for all and eschew the ambition for profit and power over others.

  13. Hogarth started copyright because, when he created a painting and tried to sell it, he found it had already been copied and not worth much money anymore. As a painter that was all he had so he tried to stop it. It’s the same today, no one is going to invest any money on a large scale if they think someone will copy it on day one and sell it for next to nothing. With no copyright music, art, photography would be hobbies with no professional basis. If you want a world where all music is made by someone in a shed then copyright needs to change lol of course record labels exploit the artist but that’s another story.

  14. There are other considerations here for who the artists and writers were? Lord Byron ? Was there a time when very few people took up this as a career and most of them were rich anyway. Or they had to get patronage from a royal court. I would say copyright is a better system than having to create art to please a noble or royal. The problem copyright has is not the system, it is the people who are on YouTube that just take what ever they want to get clicks. The real problem is YouTube never enforced it properly. There are so many people breaking the law but they do not know. Spotify makes people thing music is free but it’s not. Someone is spending money to make that music. Now everyone just takes what they want without realising that someone relies on that income to feed their kids. I’m sure if YouTube turned the channel off when someone infringed copyright they would go crazy calling it unfair but they are quite willing to take from others. The current court cases in America are slightly more complicate as it really depends where you end up in court. I agree that what they are going makes no sense, music has always borrowed and developed. The state in the USA does affect the outcome. But the system is correct, it was just not enforced properly. It would be like allowing shoplifting but when it gets out of hand cracking down on it. Now everyone is upset because they can’t take what they want anymore. How come people not saying shoplifting should be allowed ? Just intangible things should be free ? There has to be something for someone who makes a living ruin the arts.

  15. I think you have rather messed up in this one. You make a Star Wars film, you spend millions on it. First day release goes well, day two and no one turns up. It was copied on day one and everyone can now see it for free of the web. A $100,000,000 film makes back $200,000. And it’s all okay because there is no copyright. And how many more films are made ? Hmmmm that would be zero. It is exactly the scarcity of the offering. If everyone has it for free it’s worthless. It may be shown in every cinema in the country but that is scarce compared to every iPad in the county. It’s still a limited resource, or tried to be.

  16. This topic is one I'm really passionate about myself (though that doesn't translate into writing about it well XD). In Japan there's a huge industry of fan works that doesn't cause any issue whatsoever, it's really fascinating

  17. I wonder how a society with an automated vital workforce or the general lack of need to work to support a basic lifestyle would impact the narratives and general subject matter of creative work over time. It would be a rather dynamic shift away from the current norms which define the role of a person in their society and I wonder if it could lead to stories with a focus otherwise alien to how people envision the world today.
    Interesting video, by the way. You're quite good at this.

  18. I really enjoyed this video! I think you laid out some interesting arguments in a manner that was easy to understand. And I think the topic is really important. While I haven't thought everything through, I'm pretty solidly in the fold with people who find intellectual property to be rather abominable – although I don't have the immediate solutions as to what should be done instead. If the main problem with abolishing IP rights would be that creators wouldn't be compensated for their work or wouldn't create in the first place, one could perhaps counter with universal basic income as a perhaps viable option (or artist stipends as is already done – or patreon, as you already mentioned), with the fact that a lot of artists etc seem to be screwed over by corporations already, and with the fact that a lot of people seem to create and find enjoyment in creation regardless of whether or not they are getting paid. I mean, Minecraft is a thing, but numerous other examples could probably be found. But again, thanks for the video! And for what it's worth, I find longer videos to be perfectly fine when they are this good 🙂

  19. I been saying copyright laws has been broken for a while, and was I about to do my own Breadtube essay on it, but thanks for doing this for me kinda

  20. Regarding the question of how to compensate creators in an era without strict copyright, I can't help but think about the philosophy of playwright Charles L. Mee in what he titles "the (re)making project". The aim of the project is to show, in the creator's own words, that "There is no such thing as an original play." At the top of the page describing the project he says this:

    "Please feel free to take the plays from this website and use them freely as a resource for your own work: that is to say, don't just make some cuts or rewrite a few passages or re-arrange them or put in a few texts that you like better, but pillage the plays as I have pillaged the structures and contents of the plays of Euripides and Brecht and stuff out of Soap Opera Digest and the evening news and the internet, and build your own, entirely new, piece—and then, please, put your own name to the work that results." (quoted from )

    In order to do this, on his website (mentioned above) you can find the full text of all of his plays listed, without any paywalls or ads or anything (I can tell you this was certainly useful when I was performing a monologue from the play "bobrauschenbergamerica" for my acting class). The only caveat to this policy is that you need to pay for rights if you are performing the plays as written (you can also support him directly if you wish), so I guess it's not a true abolishment of copyright, but I think it treats issues of copyright in a really cool way that I haven't really seen elsewhere. Just thought this was worth sharing, and might spark some thought.

  21. A potential counterargument to the argument that any move toward copyright abolition could leave artists unpaid/uncompensated, imo, is that we could rethink the dynamic between art and pay. Artistic communal property could perhaps be crowdfunded and individual content creators or prosumers could be receptive to donations, and this could all be boosted with UBI. Or alternatively, there’s also the option of federal funding of art, like what was done with the Federal Art Program established by FDR.

  22. Public domain content has been re-copyrighted due to some USA judges decision.
    The question then is not if copyright should be abolished but sadly how long before big business makes public domain illegal.

  23. Intellectual property has clearly gone too far these days. It often serves to consolidate the wealth of those already in power, both individually (e.g. Jeff Bezos) and internationally (e.g. the global North).

  24. Over the past few years, I've come to the conclusion that the copyright system is unsalvagable at this point. So, while I'm not against the concept, too many large businesses have taken it to such an extreme that I can't see any way forward but to abolish it altogether. It does not protect small creators, not in a way that matters, because they can't afford to sue when an infringement happens, but big corporations can abuse the hell out of it. That happens a lot.

  25. Without copyright there would be no content creation. Anybody could copy and paste, and in the end corporations would copy and paste other people's work. Abolishing copyright is not a solution.

  26. The Tragedy of the Commons
    My understanding is that this was basically made up and that the original paper sites no real-world examples of such a thing happening, where it wasn't done on purpose so someone of means could maneuver to enclose it for themselves. It also assumes that people act like large corporations and can't communicate with each other.

  27. Copying is easier than Ever
    This is why I think things don't actually need to change that much. Because copying is so easy and prevalent basically no one HAS to pay for any movie or TV show or whatever. Yet they somehow still make money hand over fist. People are willing to pay for convenience, and when pirates offer more convenience… well they can't be beaten on price.

  28. The idea that intellectual property should submit to capitalist property rights despite there being no such thing as scarcity of ideas/information/etc can only be backed up by one (capitalist) defense:
    That it is not about ownership of the idea itself so much as it is about entitlement to any and all economic reapings that could potentially be produced as a result of that idea – within a capitalist market. Implicit then in the conception of intellectual property rights is an entitlement to an uncompeted market share – a monopoly.
    The only thing then that is supposedly being stolen by infringing on one's intellectual property right is the opportunity cost that one might conceivably suffer as a result of having to share the market with someone else.
    Note that this all builds on the potentiality that sharing an idea is economicly detrimental to the individual rather than benefitial to the community or for that matter the individual . Just consider for example how often in the Internet age small content creators benefit from exposure alone when having their ideas copied and repurposed though memes, fan content, remakes, etc.

    These are some fairly ironic contradictions considering that the same ones who will defend intellectual property for capitalist reasons will also praise the need for free markets and ease of access.

    Regarding intellectual property rights for small artists and content creators I certainly get that it is in their economic interest, and that in the current economic order it may even be necessary in order to be materially secure in one's artistic pursuit and to get anything off the ground in the first place.
    My policy preference in that regard would probably be some type of minimalist intellectual property legislation. A property right that 1) leaves much space for fair use and that 2) completely expires after like 10 years max.

    Regarding technological things however, industrial patents for example, I think i am radically opposed to any form of intellectual property, especially considering the immeasurable harm that is done to humanity by withholding these things from the public domain. Ask yourself for example how much unnecessary suffering has been bestowed upon the world by the existence of privately held medical patents.

  29. At it's heart, copyright is a tool to incentivize the invention and improvement of things that our society feels are important. People still need to be paid for their work that's being sold commercially. Though, severe limitations on the artist's rights should really be upheld with fringe cases. Society doesn't benefit in any way I can see when pop music is protected to the extent it seems to be.

  30. I don't think the solution is abolishing copyright. At least, not yet. The proper solution is rolling back copyright terms to their original duration with no option to renew. When the terms expire, the content becomes public domain, no exceptions. This allows creators to receive income for their works but prevents the obscene "culture squatting" of copyright trolls and allows our common culture to be used and built upon by anyone and everyone.

  31. A possible way to address the concern of paying an artist for her/his labor is to distinguish two types of incomes: those that result from ongoing effort, and those that results for "rents." The problem with copyright is that considers them both the same, and in fact seems to favor rentier income. The creative labor is priced by the public, so the market can ascertain the value of the artist's labor, any income after that is rentier income. The emerging consensus is that rentier income is less desirable and should be abolished and/or taxed more heavily to avoid the Tragedy of the Enclosure.

  32. Really great video. I recently did a paper for college on the ethics of sampling in house music with regards to race and a lot of these questions surrounding copyright and IP cropped up. It seems more relevant than ever to look at how we view IP and ownership today not only with digital tech allowing us to distribute music/art for almost no cost but also how sampling, reiteration and repetition are mainstream modes of expressing ourselves creativity. Super relevant to new music but also even thinking of how important memes have become in our culture and how copyright laws are starting to affect peoples ability to do a bit of simple meming. So many problems and no easy solution unfortunately

  33. "the rational herdsmen concludes that the only
    sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another…. But this is the conclusion reached for each and every rational herdsmen sharing a commons." Don't believe this misdirection. Only a selfish, and shortsighted, herdsman thinks like that. A rational person can see the sense in a self imposed limit.

  34. On the note that fan films about Darth Maul don’t delete the resource for Disney, I think it’s worth considering that the more a market is saturated with Darth Maul, the less profitable he becomes. There is certainly an essence of delusion to it

  35. Copyright is weird. It seems to me like it somewhat violates freedom of speech/expression, since it prevents anyone other than the owner of the intellectual property from being legally allowed to express an idea that they have involving someone else's idea (and frankly, most ideas do involve someone else's ideas, even if it is not an explicit reference).

    And, although it involves private ownership of something, it would seem weird from a free-market perspective as well, since it is in fact government intervention in the markets. Without the government to say "this imaginary thing belongs to this person exclusively and so no one else is allowed to use it," it would be perfectly possible to take someone else's idea, improve it, and then use it to compete in the market. Then again, I think there are a lot of contradictions with that philosophy in general, and I don't always understand things in the same way that hardcore capitalists do, so maybe it does make sense to them.

  36. I think the problems most people have with the modern form of copyright can be summarised as follows:
    – Unfair in practice: it's often enforced by the powerful on the weak, but rarely in reverse. (due to uneven access to the legal system)
    – exploitative: power imbalance in society forces needy creators to relinquish the rights to their own work to the rich and powerful
    – counterproductive: stifles creativity by blocking creators' access to valuable cultural resources
    I think there's a clear pattern to see here.
    The "problems" with copyright aren't inherent to the concept of copyright itself. Instead, it's the fact that copyright is enforced by a capitalist system specifically that gives rise to these contradictions.
    It's interesting to note, additionally, that the concept of copyright is a peculiarly to capitalism. Since capitalist economics operate on the principles of supply and demand, or "scarcity", the emergence of copyright can be seen as a natural attempt by a capitalist system to introduce the idea of scarcity to a resource that would otherwise be inexhaustible. Information and culture cannot be "used up", but in fact are only increased through use. The usual capitalist principles shouldn't apply to dealings involving them. However, copyright facilitates the "monopolisation" of information. By making the right to manage a piece of information exclusive, that information is made "scarce". Thus, the regular capitalist principles can once again be applied to a previously infinite, un-scarce resource.
    This presents an ironic scenario: on one hand, it is the capitalist nature of enforcement of copyright that makes it problematic. On the other hand, without capitalism there may not be a need for copyrights in the first place! The very system that necessitates copyright is simultaneously responsible for making it untenable.

  37. Only commenting before watching to get this in quickly.
    I don't think the terms copy"right" and intellectual "property" are accurate IMHO.
    It assumes it is real property and can be stolen like cars or bread or watches.
    And the publisher, usually not the author, has a right to it and not a privilege.
    I like the terms "ISCP" – intellectual so-called property and intellectual privilege; though that still abbreviates to IP.

  38. Let's not kid ourselves. The concept of copyright is yet another tool of colonization. A slave invented the cotton gin but his overseer took credit. Artists appropriate symbols and inventions from ancient civilizations without any context. I just want people to be credited for the work they do.

  39. Homer could have never given us the Illiad or the Odyssey. Any folk singer that claims ownership over a song they write is not a folk singer.

  40. It's already been abolished and partly destoyed by the Chinese. Then came folks like Pirate Bay and several file sharing hosts .. copyright is corporate hoodwink. Its only greedy assholes at Warner, Sony, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook fighting for the leftovers .. Copyleft.

  41. Was really intruigued by the comparison to enclosure (though I've come across it before, but not as poignantly) and the historic background regarding the commons dating back so long. I'm not all too familiar with medieval "UK" history but I'd love to see more about levellers and diggers and whatnot and how they might relate to other modern concerns like how you made the comparison to enclosure.

  42. Copyright and IP are the two things where my positions on them have gone way more in another direction than where I used to be, but at the same time, there are a couple of scenarios where I still think that they afford certain protections to the owner. For example, let's say I write a song that I decide to only make money off of through live performance rather than distribution of recordings, and in addition to that I'm not going to restrict other musicians from performing it live or even making their own recordings of it so long as they don't profit from the recordings. So far, so good. Let's say, as a result of this, this song becomes popular because it's got catchy riffs and a singable chorus. Even better. People like my song, and maybe I get more frequent and better gigs, which pay me better and better free me up to write and perform more songs like it. This is great. Then, however, some politician who I disagree with completely uses my song as a campaign song. I would very definitely want to send a cease and desist letter to that politician's campaign since their using of my song implies endorsement of their campaign. Also, if someone wanted to be a dick they could copyright a song that I wrote but didn't claim copyright and then use that to sue me for playing my own song. It's not very likely at all, because realistically I only write songs that are moderately catchy at best, but that is a potential snag. Copyright and IP are tricky.

  43. No. Because the creative industry is horridly competitive. No intellectual property means nothing creative has any value. Especially in the digital world. But copyright should be overhauled to reduce predatory activity over intellectual property. Which is easier said than done, but so would be abolishing copyright.

    25:20 The scarce resource is time. For instance if a writer writes a book then that takes time. If someone else copies the contents of that book, and sells it then the original creator gets undercut which devalues the time spent writing the original work. Time is almost always the scarce resource in creative pursuits. If you can't make money to live on because someone else is making the money on a copy of your work then you don't have the time to continue creating because you have to spend time seeking other sources of income besides creating.

    It doesn't really have anything to do with what constitutes property necessarily. It's more like if you can't sell something then you make no money which provides less time to make more of that something. So if copyright was abolished the commons would not become the intellectual works, but the intellectuals themselves would become the commons. Which is downright weird in a kind of vulture economy kind of way. Time as a resource works that way. Which is why we are offended by things like slave wages. We feel bad because it's time that's wasted for very little recompense for added value, and not necessarily because something was stolen.

  44. The paradox of copyright, for me, is encapsulated pretty well in the case of American songwriter Stephen Foster (1826—1864). He wrote at least a half dozen songs that anyone reading this could identify after a few bars (Camptown Races, Oh Susannah, Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair, to name just three). His songs were and are immensely popular. But copyright and performance right laws (Tom did not discuss the way ASCAP governs song performances in the U.S.) for songs in his day were not strong, and he died penniless. If the copyright laws had been as strong in his day as they are today, his publishers could have paid him substantially for the rights to his work, and he might have been a reasonably wealthy man; but perhaps if the copyright laws had been that strong, his works could not have spread as rapidly as they did at that time, and we would know little of them today. They certainly would not have been as widely published after only a couple of decades as they were in reality.
    I do not know if we will ever find a ‘right’ answer to all this. The practical fact is that the system is very well locked up by the major stakeholders, as seen with the Disney Copyright Extension Act of 1998 which froze the extension of public domain retroactively. Because the people who created works and died 75 years ago need to be compensated.

  45. Interesting look! I think the term of copyright should be reduced, but I do think that any abolition would require a fair compensation for the artist.

  46. my good man Tom, I could virtually kiss you on the head for this video! this is mainly me saying thank you for putting this topic of copyright and intellectual property in video-essay form.

    my undergrad thesis was nearly EXACTLY on this topic, under the umbrella of rhetoric, which I titled "Author as Owner Redefined by New Media," in which I mainly used Barthes' "Death of the Author" and Bakhtin's theory of dialogism to discuss the present problem (and by no means offer up a solution, as you at least partially tried to do) of copyright related to creative / intellectual property. I also referenced Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons, which you reference in your title but I'm guessing ran out of time to talk about.

    my professors told me I was barely scratching the surface, which is why I looked forward to graduate school very much. having only watched a few of your videos so far, I am absolutely more than motivated to continue on to a PhD program in the near future! this video reminded me so much of my passion for this topic, and gave me so many more ideas and references for future papers. I'm sorry i don't have a quippy short comment, but I'm honestly just so happy to have watched this video, it really reignited my passion for learning and writing. it's also a fresh reminder that these things are very much NOW in their evolution, with harder questions and undeniable impacts on society, economies, and creativity world-wide.

    so thank you!! i would also love to have more discussion on this topic with you in the future if you would ever be interested! i'm doing my best to make my way down your "What the Theory?" playlist, and it's been a wonderful refresher course so far.

  47. The concept of copyright isn't the problem.

    It's corporate individual rights which becomes the ghost in the machine and feeds the trolls who ruin the benefits of copyright.

    It is the individual who exists, versus the conglomerate ghosts of committees. One is held accountable, while the other can be abolished and regroup. One has limited financial strength, versus an unlimited group of profiteers.

    This is where the purposeful intent of copyright becomes corrupted.

    You wasted my time, and your donater's by addressing only copyright.

    Try again. Address corporate individual rights. Industry versus individual creation. IP and copyright is skirting the issue.

    Good luck…

  48. Nah dude. Not saying these rules aren't laughably abused, especially in music.What is mine is mine. If I write a song and someone else uses it and profits off it, that is stealing. Rather than expanding it to the commons, laws should be made that protect the artists, not the corporation.

  49. I think it's a question of when, not if.
    You fantastically explained it, but copyright does come down to restricting ideas once you sort through the complex wording. Before capitalism took hold, human civilization as it was had taken shape almost solely because ideas could spread and be replicated easily and freely. There were no copyrights or patents on the wheel, or on shelter from the weather, or on canals or farming or textiles. And no copyrights on folklore.

    Modern "culture" is stifled by copyright, allowing culture to be controlled and dictated by the owner-class, the capitalists who own everything. And society strains against it. Because it's unnatural.

    We should have an eye toward moving away from copyright, toward individuals not needing to greedily guard their creations and demand money in exchange for a story or a tune. We need to aim for a post-capitalist world, because one way or another we're headed there. Either we can prepare and have some pretty good systems in place (I think some form of socialism) or we can collectively drag our feet and deny that capitalism is falling apart and wind up in chaos.

  50. awesome video! i’ve never seen one of your videos before but you managed to say literally everything i’ve been thinking about copyright law!

    artists are already shafted by copyright law. in your example of Robin Hood, i doubt that anybody who actually worked on that movie creatively still benefits from Disney’s copyright stranglehold on it. and if they do, their benefit is infinitely more minuscule than Disney’s profit. so copyright law isn’t even helping independent artists at this point.

    i always have to laugh when people mention super-small independent artists, as well. for copyright law to be upheld, it has to be pursued. if i were to blatantly steal your video and use it for commercial gain, you would have to come at me in a court of law to get justice. who says that individual artists even have the money, time, or know-how to do this? it’s all a bit ridiculous.

  51. Can you please do some introductions of some of the Arabic authors?
    Khalil Gobran , Ali alwardi , Ali shariati and Rumi (Persian)

  52. Thanks for this video. I am going to start my own YouTube channel called, mmm…. how about "Tom Nicholas"? I am going to download all of your videos right after you post them, and then upload them on my channel. You can do all the work – and I can share in the profits!

    Just out of curiosity, what kind of bucks are you pulling in from this Youtube channel?

  53. Free as in speech, not as in beer! Maybe you can't produce an unmodified copy, but you damn well aught to have a right to modify and distribute the mod with clear sourcing

  54. Some amount of copyright law shpuld exist but its current form is way too restrictive and it shows. The fact that YouTube unironically gets better and more original content than 99% of the big budget television establishment is telling, and even YouTube hasnt reached its full potential with all the music use bullshit and similar stuff.

  55. Make a video on Brexit and British exceptionalim and how it relate to shakespeare plays. Kindly regard my humble request.

  56. What a moron. I agree that the current copyright laws are too long but copyright IS necessary. Your agitprop should cover drugs not fluff shite like music. Why people bother watching your shite astounds me.

  57. We should still have copyright laws but reformed. The reformed copyright law should allow anyone to “legally create” a “derivative work” of the original work. Also the reformed copyright term should last 25 to 50 years.

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