Sharing Is Human

Imagine, if you will, a small tribe of hunter-gathers hole up in a winter cave in some long-ago time. The storyteller entrances his audience, sitting around the fire, with an inspiring tale of a fair maiden beset by an angry god and the hero that came to her rescue. Then, after he finishes, he tells them that he owns the story and if they want to repeat it to other people, they have to give him a banana each time they do.


Doesn't that sound stupid? How do you think the storyteller's audience would react to something that silly? I doubt they would even know how to react, the entire concept would be so out-there that they would probably think the storyteller was just possessed by demons or something. He was nuts. He certainly wouldn't be getting any bananas.

Welcome to the world of residuals, copyright law, and intellectual property. Where the hell did we go so horribly wrong? Why did we end up with such a nutty system?

Well, everything was just fine for a very, very long time. We were probably sharing information, freely, even before the time of Homo Habilis, certainly long before we became the humans we are today. For roughly 40,000 years after the first humans, like us, walked the earth, we shared information and culture. We traded stuff, but we shared information. Then came writing, and sharing information got much easier. Still, we shared. Then, along came the Industrial Revolution, and things changed. Suddenly, we could mass-produce items for sale; we traded lots more stuff. With the printing press, we could even package stories into neat bundles and trade them. Things started to get complicated.

First off, it took effort to design these thing for mass production. Inventions needed to be invented; books needed to be written. Mass production was actually the easy part. This caused problems because it was cheaper to just mass-produce someone else's idea than put the effort into making your own. So, to fix this, we started making laws. We made patent laws to protect innovative designs and we made copyright laws to protect artistic works, like the story part of a book. Both patent and copyright laws worked fairly well in protecting one corporation from another, which was all that was necessary at the time. After all, individuals couldn't mass-produce these things, and mass production made things far cheaper than any individual could make by hand. But, that changed too, at least for artistic works.

Along came the Information Revolution, and it became quite easy for individuals to make copies and share, just like in the old days when they repeated stories they had heard. In a very short period of time, the whole copyright system fell apart. They've tried to patch the laws, to enforce them in every way possible, but it just doesn't work. The laws try to prevent people from being human, from sharing stories, and songs, and ideas. Sharing these is what we've done, basically, forever. It was only during a tiny fraction of human history that we found ourselves in a position where ideas could be canned and sold like a product. This isn't normal, it was just a temporary artifact of the Industrial Age. But, that age is over, we're in the Information Age now. No amout of copyright law can change that; you can't pass laws against being human and expect them to be obeyed.

The Industrial Age is over, this is the Information Age, try to keep up.

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