Access Entitlement: The Intellectual Property Debate

Posted: January 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

Image courtesy CLJUC (2009) Retrieved from

From my perspective, there is a complexity to this question that requires it to be teased into discrete components. I infer from the question a bias that copyright laws are an inherent problem and that the culture as commons (Bradley, 2010) model should prevail over copyright restrictions governing the acquisition and use of Web 2.0 materials. As noted by Jenkins (2004) there is a distinct tension between the media conglomerates who are implementing stringent policies to restrict usage in order to maximize revenues and consumers who are equally resistant to these controls. Even after completing our readings for this module, I felt woefully ill-equipped to make a cogent argument that fully addresses the above question. After a bit of a web search I found several articles that further framed the intellectual property debate. Michael Geist, a well-respected Canadian law professor and columnist who writes about technology and legal implications discussed this topic in his blog. Read this entry that cites the words of Judge Richard Posner regarding the restriction that copyright laws are placing on creativity. Note the fervour with which his commenters debate the issue. I am not alone in my inability to crystallize my views. It is clearly a dichotomous debate.

Jenkins (2004) highlights the belief that the internet’s “gift economy” is being undermined through ongoing commercialization and that the media concentration by conglomerates will reduce access. This concern is shared by Posner who believes that restrictive fair use is inhibiting the creative process.

Hildebrandt (2007) explores the ramifications of both copyright and access using the phenomenon of YouTube. His conclusion (albeit from 6 years ago) is that that YouTube has certainly democratized access and has made a credible attempt to address copyright issues. This action in itself has resulted in a number of other consumer generated content sites that are similar and in the case of sites like Vimeo, less commercially oriented, as consumers try to avoid YouTube’s clutter.

Further clouding my thinking is my response to the excellent Kirby Ferguson video documentaries Remix (parts 1-4) in which he demonstrates the connectivity and creative inspirations engendered between old works and new. Is this the cultural commons as it is supposed to be; shared, inspirational, dialogic? Manovich (2008) celebrates the ability of Web 2.0 to support and disseminate the creation of cultural works by both professional and non-professional producers of art. If there were tighter and more restrictive controls would we have the level of cultural creation that we currently enjoy? A number of my class mates refer with passion the amount of online media that they consume and enjoy as integral to their lives. Conversely, as classmate Bruce laments, the mass production mentality that YouTube supports, may result in a loss of “the art and wonder of the story. That undercurrent behind the visual or auditory spectacle that sticks with you and keeps you thinking long after the image and sound fades.”

I feel strongly that downloading new music, literature and other media without paying any sort of user fee is inherently unfair to the artist, who after all creates to live. Video, music and literature piracy is unjust to the creators and it needs to be controlled. I am also concerned that many legitimate news organizations will cease to exist (many have already) if their revenues from traditional media continue to decline. In the case of news, (see these links that examine the controversy incited by the Toronto Star’s announcement that it intended to launch a paywall) there are many other online options, but are they are credible and reliable news sources? I am a huge user of online content and would find paying for certain things untenable. However, I buy ebooks, use iTunes and am willing to pay some fees for some services in order to preserve them. If we do at some level uphold the idea of intellectual property and are not willing to pay for well-constructed content, are we destroying the incentive to create?

Jenkins (2004) touches on the topic of micropayments which he notes that at the time of his writing were not fully operational. In the intervening years a number of micropayment models have been developed. In October 2012, Google launched a micropayment service for web content. Take a look and see what you think. Is this an answer, at least in part, to the copyright dilemma or is it another attempt by a large media organization to commodify content? In all cases is commodifying content the enemy?

In order to have a balanced discussion perhaps the question needs to be reframed. As our readings and my cursory research would indicate there is a plethora of opinion from multiple perspectives on this issue.

Perhaps the question should be how do we balance the right of producers to be appropriately compensated for their work (not in perpetuity, but to enable them to earn a living) against consumers who are increasingly entitled regarding accessing material on the World Wide Web. That might make the issue less dichotomous.

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