Volunteers collect and digitize old vinyl recordings and publish them at the non-profit digital library Internet Archive. The makers of the project emphasize its charitable goals: historical sound recordings are of great value for research and education and should be saved from oblivion. They also get a lot of encouragement, after all, these are noble intentions – and which consumer would not like to browse through hundreds of thousands of music recordings free of charge?
The creators also provide a legal justification for their actions. So you not only want to be on the safe side ethically, but also legally. After all, the artists whose work you can hear on the project are long dead, and copyright law sets a (more or less exact) limit to free use of protected material that the people at the Internet Archive consider to have long been crossed. Their justification sounds almost as if they feared a legal dispute about the use of the recordings and wanted to decide in their favor before the eyes of the public.
dispute between unequal parties
And the argument ensues. The “music industry” in the form of billionaire companies from the entertainment industry files a lawsuit and sees the whole action in a completely different light – ethically pretty much on the other end of the scale, which is why the plaintiffs choose strong words: “mass theft”, “blatant injury”, the altruistic ones In fact, his motives are only “a cloak to cover up theft”, the victims “some of the greatest artists of the 20th century” and so on. The companies also state that digitally processed versions of the recordings complained about have already been published on numerous streaming platforms, where they are certainly not forgotten. You can believe the companies when it comes to the latter, because they ultimately book their income from it, which is why they only make all the effort in the first place. And without them and their “market power” there would be no significant income for artists.
The reactions are quite one-sided, to the detriment of the “music industry”: They are greedy, immoderate and ruthless, overextending the law in their favor and so on. On the one hand, these statements document the impotence of those affected (consumers should pay in order to enjoy music, and artists are kept as short as possible when it comes to royalties) – on the other hand, the power of the sheer amounts of money that these companies set in motion for the purpose of their profit. In principle, nobody has anything against him. But it shouldn’t be excessive if possible, wherever the threshold may be.
The copyright, on which the dispute is based and on which the legal resolution of the dispute will be measured, also comes off badly with the commentators: outdated, rigid, not arrived in the “digital age”. So two sides are irreconcilably opposed, insist on existing law and at the same time want the state to adapt it – all in their own interest. Instead of getting into the endless dispute about legal subtleties (70 years after death? 90 years with companies? Or better yet, a flat rate until 2067?), it is worth taking an unbiased look – sometimes without anticipating taking sides for the “good guys” in a dispute the construct of “intellectual property”.
What distinguishes intellectual property from other property
In all societies designated as “market economy”, work serves the purpose of producing products which, as private property, have to bring their owners a profit on the market. This is so self-evident for all inmates of these communities that they also find it normal for products made from brainwork. But private ownership brings with it some absurdities when it comes to intellectual products. Findings in a science and products of poetry and art are always general in their nature. Their very creation is calculated to be disseminated and picked up (and continued, or at least enjoyed) by the rest of humanity.
The state, as the power to guarantee and protect property, has no problem with this and also finds it absolutely necessary to guarantee the owner of the exclusive power of disposal for every work product – whether material or intellectual. After all, he needs it to charge others for his product. Any other violations will be punished accordingly. In copyright law, the state decrees the continued exclusive use of brainwork for the purpose of enrichment, even after the result has long been generally available (which is easier than ever to do in the “digital age” via unlimited copies). At the same time, however, it also regulates cases of transfer (licenses) and deadlines (death of the author). All this always serves the same purpose: property should be economically productive, bring in revenue, as much as possible, that is, for as long as possible.
The material products of labour, although also property, disappear with their use (consumption) after acquisition and as such are not suspect. But when it comes to intellectual property, some people find it uncomfortable that the legal title ‘private property’ means the exclusion of others, which draws a lot of criticism. In both cases, the core principle of an economy in which everything revolves around money and its multiplication is at work. So before one accuses the ‘doers’ of the economy of immorality (their size is precisely proof that they have successfully achieved what everyone strives for), one would do well to reinforce such criticism of the exclusive character of property in general and on the ‘big’ whole’ to expand. When it comes to ownership, no state leaves a loophole – as if a hobby project with old records wouldn’t matter to the profit professionals …
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