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← Everything is a Remix Part 4

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Showing Revision 2 created 02/18/2012 by Carlos Castillo.

  1. (Thanks to iStockPhoto for contributing

  2. footage to this episode. Check them out
  3. at
  4. The genes in our bodies can be traced back
  5. over three-and-a-half billion years
  6. to a single organism: LUCA,
  7. the Last Universal Common Ancestor.
  8. As Luca reproduced, its genes copied and copied
  9. and copied and copied,
  10. sometimes with mistakes — they transformed.
  11. Over time this produced every one
  12. of the billions of species of life on earth.
  13. Some of these adopted sexual reproduction,
  14. combining the genes of individuals,
  15. and altogether, the best-adapted life forms prospered.
  16. This is evolution. Copy, transform and combine.
  17. And culture evolves in a similar way,
  18. but the elements aren’t genes, they’re memes —
  19. ideas, behaviors, skills.
  20. Memes are copied, transformed, and combined.
  21. And the dominant ideas of our time
  22. are the memes that spread the most.
  23. This is social evolution.
  24. Copy, transform and combine.
  25. It’s who we are, it’s how we live,
  26. and of course, it’s how we create.
  27. Our new ideas evolve from the old ones.
  28. But our system of law doesn’t acknowledge
  29. the derivative nature of creativity.
  30. Instead, ideas are regarded as property,
  31. as unique and original lots
  32. with distinct boundaries.
  33. But ideas aren’t so tidy.
  34. They’re layered, they’re interwoven,
  35. they’re tangled. And when the system
  36. conflicts with the reality...
  37. the system starts to fail.
  38. Everything is a Remix
  39. Part Four: System Failure
  40. For almost our entire history
  41. ideas were free.
  42. The works of Shakespeare, Gutenberg,
  43. and Rembrandt could be openly copied
  44. and built upon.
  45. But the growing dominance of the market economy,
  46. where the products of our intellectual labors
  47. are bought and sold,
  48. produced an unfortunate side-effect.
  49. Let’s say a guy invents a better light bulb.
  50. His price needs to cover
  51. not just the manufacturing cost,
  52. but also the cost of inventing
  53. the thing in the first place.
  54. Now let’s say a competitor starts manufacturing
  55. a competing copy.
  56. The competitor doesn’t need to cover
  57. those development costs
  58. so his version can be cheaper.
  59. The bottom line: original creations
  60. can’t compete with the price of copies.
  61. In the United States the introduction
  62. of copyrights and patents
  63. was intended to address this imbalance.
  64. Copyrights covered media;
  65. patents covered inventions.
  66. Both aimed to encourage
  67. the creation and proliferation
  68. of new ideas by providing a brief and limited
  69. period of exclusivity, a period where no one else
  70. could copy your work.
  71. This gave creators a window in which
  72. to cover their investment and earn a profit.
  73. After that their work entered the public domain,
  74. where it could spread far and wide
  75. and be freely built upon.
  76. And it was this that was the goal:
  77. a robust public domain,
  78. an affordable body of ideas, products,
  79. arts and entertainment available to all.
  80. The core belief was in the common good,
  81. what would benefit everyone.
  82. But over time, the influence of the market
  83. transformed this principle beyond recognition.
  84. Influential thinkers proposed that
  85. ideas are a form of property,
  86. and this conviction would eventually yield
  87. a new term... intellectual property.
  88. This was a meme that would multiply wildly,
  89. thanks in part to a quirk of human psychology
  90. known as Loss Aversion.
  91. Simply put, we hate losing what we’ve got.
  92. People tend to place a much higher value on losses
  93. than on gains.
  94. So the gains we get
  95. from copying the work of others
  96. don’t make a big impression,
  97. but when it’s our ideas being copied,
  98. we perceive this as a loss and we get territorial.
  99. For instance, Disney made extensive use
  100. of the public domain.
  101. Stories like Snow White, Pinnochio
  102. and Alice in Wonderland were all taken
  103. from the public domain.
  104. But when it came time for the copyright
  105. of Disney’s early films to expire,
  106. they lobbied to have the term of copyright extended.
  107. Artist Shepard Fairey has frequently used
  108. existing art in his work.
  109. This practice came to head when he was
  110. sued by the Associated Press
  111. for basing his famous Obama Hope poster
  112. on their photo.
  113. Nonetheless, when it was his imagery
  114. used in a piece by Baxter Orr,
  115. Fairey threatened to sue.
  116. And lastly, Steve Jobs was sometimes
  117. boastful about Apple’s history of copying.
  118. We have always been shameless
  119. about stealing great ideas.
  120. But he harbored deep grudges against those
  121. who dared to copy Apple.
  122. I’m going to destroy Android, because
  123. it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go
  124. thermonuclear war on this.
  125. When we copy we justify it.
  126. When others copy we vilify it.
  127. Most of us have no problem with copying...
  128. as long as we’re the ones doing it.
  129. So with a blind eye toward our own mimicry,
  130. and propelled by faith in markets and ownership,
  131. intellectual property swelled
  132. beyond its original scope with
  133. broader interpretations of existing laws,
  134. new legislation,
  135. new realms of coverage
  136. and alluring rewards.
  137. In 1981 George Harrison lost a
  138. 1.5 million dollar case for “subconsciously”
  139. copying the doo-wop hit “He’s So Fine”
  140. in his ballad “My Sweet Lord.”
  141. Prior to this plenty of songs sounded
  142. much more like other songs
  143. without ending up in court.
  144. Ray Charles created the prototype for soul music
  145. when he based “I Got a Woman”
  146. on the gospel song “It Must be Jesus.”
  147. Starting in the late nineties,
  148. a series of new copyright laws and
  149. regulations began to be introduced...
  150. ...and many more are in the works.
  151. The most ambitious in scope are trade agreements.
  152. Because these are treaties, not laws,
  153. they can be negotiated in secret,
  154. with no public input and no congressional approval.
  155. In 2011 ACTA was signed by President Obama,
  156. and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement,
  157. currently being written in secret,
  158. aims to spread even stronger
  159. US-style protections around the world.
  160. Of course, when the United States itself
  161. was a developing economy, it refused to sign treaties
  162. and had no protection for foreign authors.
  163. Charles Dickens famously complained about
  164. America’s bustling book piracy market,
  165. calling it “a horrible thing
  166. that scoundrel-booksellers should grow rich.”
  167. Patent coverage made the leap from
  168. physical inventions to virtual ones,
  169. most notably, software.
  170. But this is not a natural transition.
  171. A patent is a blueprint for
  172. how to make an invention.
  173. Software patents are more like
  174. a loose description of what something would be like
  175. if it was actually invented.
  176. And software patents are written
  177. in the broadest possible language
  178. to get the broadest possible protection.
  179. The vagueness of these terms sometimes
  180. can reach absurd levels.
  181. For example, “information manufacturing machine,”
  182. which covers anything computer-like, or
  183. “material object,” which covers pretty much anything.
  184. The fuzziness of software patents’ boundaries
  185. has turned the smartphone industry into one giant turf war.
  186. 62 percent of all patent lawsuits are now over software.
  187. The estimated wealth lost is half a trillion dollars.
  188. The expanding reach of intellectual property
  189. has introduced more and more possibilities
  190. for opportunistic litigation — suing to make a buck.
  191. Two new species evolved
  192. whose entire business model is lawsuits:
  193. sample trolls and patent trolls.
  194. These are corporations that don’t actually produce anything.
  195. They acquire a library of intellectual property rights,
  196. then litigate to earn profits.
  197. And because legal defense is
  198. hundreds of thousands of dollars in copyright cases
  199. and millions in patents,
  200. their targets are usually highly motivated
  201. to settle out of court.
  202. The most famous sample troll
  203. is Bridgeport Music,
  204. which has filed hundreds of lawsuits.
  205. In 2005 they scored an influential
  206. court decision over this two-second sample.
  207. That’s it. And not only was the sample short,
  208. it was virtually unrecognizable.
  209. NWA’s “A 100 Miles and Runnin’”
  210. This verdict essentially rendered
  211. any kind of sampling, no matter how small, infringing.
  212. The sample-heavy musical collages
  213. of hip-hop’s golden age
  214. are now impossibly expensive to create.
  215. Now patent trolls are most common back
  216. in that troubled realm of software.
  217. And perhaps the most inexplicable case
  218. is that of Paul Allen.
  219. He’s one of the founders of Microsoft,
  220. he’s a billionaire,
  221. he’s an esteemed philanthropist
  222. who’s pledged to give away much of his fortune.
  223. And he claims basic web features
  224. like related links, alerts and recommendations
  225. were invented by his long-defunct company.
  226. So the self-proclaimed “idea man”
  227. sued pretty much all of Silicon Valley in 2010.
  228. And he did this despite no lack of fame or fortune.
  229. So to recap, the full picture looks like this.
  230. We believe that ideas are property
  231. and we’re excessively territorial
  232. when we feel that property belongs to us.
  233. Our laws then indulge this bias
  234. with ever-broadening protections
  235. and massive rewards.
  236. Meanwhile huge legal fees
  237. encourage defendants to pay-up
  238. and settle out of court.
  239. It’s a discouraging scenario,
  240. and it begs the question: what now?
  241. The belief in intellectual property
  242. has grown so dominant it’s pushed
  243. the original intent of copyrights and patents
  244. out of the public consciousness.
  245. But that original purpose is still
  246. right there in plain sight.
  247. The copyright act of 1790 is entitled
  248. “an Act for the encouragement of learning”.
  249. The Patent Act is
  250. “to promote the progress of useful Arts.”
  251. The exclusive rights these acts introduced
  252. were a compromise for a greater purpose.
  253. The intent was to better the lives of everyone
  254. by incentivizing creativity
  255. and producing a rich public domain,
  256. a shared pool of knowledge, open to all.
  257. But exclusive rights themselves
  258. came to be considered the point,
  259. so they were strengthened and expanded.
  260. And the result hasn’t been
  261. more progress or more learning,
  262. it’s been more squabbling and more abuse.
  263. We live in an age with daunting problems.
  264. We need the best ideas possible,
  265. we need them now, we need them to spread fast.
  266. The common good is a meme
  267. that was overwhelmed by intellectual property.
  268. It needs to spread again.
  269. If the meme prospers,
  270. our laws, our norms, our society,
  271. they all transform.
  272. That’s social evolution
  273. and it’s not up to governments
  274. or corporations or lawyers...
  275. it’s up to us.