Respecting rights of artists, writers contrasts with copyright infringement

Recently, I was reading an article that talked a little bit about some early of the early  legal battles regarding early copyright law and the right of the author. The cases discussed took place in the 18th century, but they laid the framework for the copyright laws that are still in place today. What was interesting was how the idea of intellectual property has changed.

Initially, copyrights were things to be purchased and owned. They were parts of estates that were to be passed onto heirs. Now we live in the age of free media and open-source documents. What would those early booksellers and authors think of this new, technological world? What about YouTube and Google Books? Has technology irrevocably changed media? It is probably too early to know.

We talk a lot about plagiarism at Vassar, and it’s important because what makes something yours, and not someone else’s, is what defines the individual. It’s analogous to taking credit for someone else’s personality and creativity.

Why are these traits different from the imagination and intelligence that give rise to individual ideas? Ideas are unique because every person is unique.

No other person is thinking the exact same thoughts that you are thinking, humming the melodic tune you are humming or forming the ideas you are forming. How could someone possibly take credit for something they could have never possibly have created, simply because each person creates unique, special ideas and thought?

With the recent explosion in technological advancement, a lot of the battle over intellectual property comes from illegal downloading and piracy. One of the prominent arguments for it is that “big record/movie/publishing companies don’t need the money.” Well, perhaps that could be true in that the actual studio or distributor doesn’t necessarily need the money, nor do the principal, millionaire actors of a movie. But what about all the smaller artists that studios support? Or the lower-budget films that studios produce? But maybe these less-fortuitous groups are not worth the benefit of downloading your favorite movie for free. Plus, it’s hard or even painful to say that an actor needs to earn $50 million dollars for shooting a movie. I mean, do they really need three houses and a condo in Switzerland? Probably not.

So where do we draw the line? Is it okay to pirate big-budget movies like, say, “The Avengers”, and music from artists like Justin Timberlake? A lot of the time, it seems to come down to whether you like the artist or whether you want to support the artist. As for an artist who’s already made it, they don’t need the money.

But the indie artist who’s releasing their first EP, or the group of local filmmakers who just put out an art film? You’ll buy that for twice what it’s worth. The question really comes down to how much worth you put on the individual or group’s intellectual property. Does the volume of production decrease the overall value? Does distinctiveness merit a higher value? It has become one of many pressing questions in today’s technological world.

So what is worth paying for? That is the question. As far as music, movies, games and software goes, people have proven that pirating is here to stay, at least for the time being. BitTorrent sites such as The Pirate Bay have allowed illegal downloading and pirating to flourish.

The legal complaints from high-profile corporations such as the Motion Picture Association of America and Electronic Arts keep these sites in the limelight and popular among those who want to flaunt their disdain of traditional media outlets.

What is really interesting is that those same people downloading illegally will give lots of money to support endeavors they deem worthy. Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing website, offers the chance for independent artists and entrepreneurs to find funding for projects which otherwise might have stayed waiting in the wings.

Even if you argue and decide who deserves their money, or whether or not rich actors really need more money, there is still one very important question that remains: What if it was your creative content? What if it was your book, your movie, your music or your art? What if someone wanted to pirate your idea and not give you your credit where due or compensation you felt fair for creating it?

Whether by claiming that your idea was theirs, or simply refusing to pay for your hard work by pirating the result, the end result is that your intellectual property has been violated. It’s difficult to decide where this line is though. So is downloading okay, or just streaming? What can be downloaded or streamed? In the end, only one person can make that decision, and it’s not a big artist or a CEO: It’s up to you.

 

—Lily Elbaum ’16 is a prospective independent major.

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