Some people have heard this from me before, but I believe that Copyrights and Patents are the source for much ethical confusion, especially in combination with the internet. While I understand the idea of patents and think it is ideally good, it’s also a horrible practice.
From my understanding, the purpose of a patent is to protect the ideas and inventions of an individual or company. Copyrights are similar but for works of art. Since I have a desire to publish some things in the future, I do like the idea of having some protection for my work. On the flipside, as I read more and more, I see that ideas I have developed independently have already been thought of before. On one aspect, I think it is amazing that I can come up with the same ideas as a well known author before reading his works. Also, this follows Sherlock Holmes maxim of “what one man has created, another can discover.” However, now the “Copyright” can act against me. Even though what I have made is a result of my imagination without even knowing about the other person’s work, I would be considered to be “stealing an idea.” Therefore I would not be getting any credit for the time and effort I spent developing it myself.
Likewise for patents, a company can develop a very strong product only to find after its release that some random person had a patent for one idea used in the process. It can be seen today in the extreme. Some companies only survive because they file a lot of patents that they have no intent on developing, but other companies don’t know they exist. To their knowledge, it’s an original idea. The result is a big hindrance of progress.
Of course, as mentioned before, the whole process exists for protection and honest business practice. Especially in the competitive world, companies like to steal ideas they think that can make a profit. If they could, companies would steal the ideas without giving due credit to its original thinker. The problem is that “there is nothing new under the sun!” At some point, people need to let things run its course and let something better get built. I know they are working on that, but the process is still a hindrance and costs resources.
Now the part that is really confusing is Copyright. When it comes to stuff like music, movies, or books. How does it work, especially with something like the internet? One reason why I don’t like to share my music is because this issue is so gray. As I said before, I would like to get some of my stuff published as well, so I can’t be a hypocrite and give away someone else’s works for free when I paid for them. So far, my understanding is that there are a few licenses you can use when you buy a song. So my music sharing really only goes as far as I know it won’t go further.
Those licenses can be really confusing. Back in the day, you were buying a physical copy of a song or show. The concept of sharing was the same as before. Yet with the emergence of digital and easy copying abilities, what can we do? Then when it comes to rereleases, do you have a right to get that version for free? I will actually argue that you don’t, for the logic of the physical copy. When you buy that copy, it’s the result of work someone has done. When a new version is released, it’s the result of more work. That’s probably not expressed well, but that is as simple as I can put it at the moment.
So what can you do with that copy? That is where it starts getting more confusing. I think you should be able to make a copy for insurance reasons, after all, you’d be doing work still to keep what you bought. After all, with digital stuff, you can’t repair it like you could with a watch. However, if you sell the original after copying it, the copy should be gone too. In this regard, I’ll agree with the EU when they said that digital games should be able to be sold, as long as it is removed from the original owner’s hardware.
Now translations are tricky. There are a lot of people who watch tv shows online with fansubs. I used to do it myself. Yet again, when I started thinking about my own ideas and dreams, I stopped since it seemed to be against it. However, I realize too that the reason why I was watching them fansubbed was not only because it was better, but because there seemed to be no hope of them being localized here. Even if they were, it’d be long after my interest would have faded, which it did for some series because the official companies took so long to release them. When the series is targeted at middle schoolers, they are not likely going to still want to read it when they are in college. So why make production that long?
So the problem with fansubs is that the original creators can’t make any money from them. Some people might recognize this as the argument against used products, but that’s another topic. Now what happens when a person does in fact buy the original? Should he be able to use the fansub? I think so. After all, at that point, the fansub of a book is being used to enjoy the work bought from the original creator somehow. This is also extends the practice of finding someone who can translate what you have before you, but using the internet to do that. Also, the translators are doing work. It may be based off the work of other people, but it still is work, and people would pay for such work. After all, how different is that from a company who makes profits off selling iPhone cases? They didn’t make the iPhone, but they made a product based off it. If they want to give it out for free, then let them. Sure it is reliant on that someone bought the phone, but the internet can’t check for credentials that you bought the original product either. That basically is dependent on the honor system.
The idea of Copyrights and Patents follows the ideal that only certain men can develop a certain idea. It also comes from the concept that many people steal ideas to make a lot of money without giving due credit. To an extent this is true. However, it also neglects that people can develop the same ideas without knowing that someone already has, just like the story of calculus who is credited to two separate geniuses, Newton and Leibniz. It also is used as hindrance rather than an aid to progress. While we can’t get rid of the system, because it does serve some good purpose, perhaps we can fix it from the abuse.