Y’know, I try to have a calm, productive Monday morning and not let anything rustle my jimmies, and then somebody on Twitter posts an article by Rick Falkvinge. And I CLICK ON IT! And I know I shouldn’t because everything Falkvinge says is so mind-numbingly stupid that it’s only going to distract me into composing a response in my head when I ought to be focusing on something of greater value. Okay, my ADD isn’t Falkvinge’s fault, but every time he puts finger to keyboard and presumes to give voice to what passes for thought in his myopic universe, and I stumble upon it, all I can think of is Dan Akroyd doing Point Counterpoint on SNL in the 1970s: “Rick, you ignorant slut.” Only I’m not joking.
In his latest offering on Torrentfreak, The Swedish Pirate rallies the troops, reminding them that the war is long, but the cause is just. Continuing with the theme of Newspeak writ large on Times Square right now, Rick’s premise is that “the copyright monopoly cannot coexist with fundamental civil liberties.” Falkvinge states that he and his myrmidons must keep repeating this message, person by person if need be because “social change for good,” takes time. Indeed it does, but there is another path Falkvinge and Co. could take — they could always shut up and let the artists champion social justice and civil rights just like they’ve been doing for centuries.
On paper, copyright and civil liberties have coexisted since our nation’s founding. Of course, many civil liberties themselves have been, and continue to be, hard won against sentiments of racism, sexism, and religious zealotry; but the constancy of copyright’s incentive has played a crucial role in those battles. When James Baldwin published The Fire Next Time, he couldn’t ride in the front of a bus in the American South, but he still enjoyed the right of copyright, without which his talents may have played no role in the greater effort toward justice. Harvey Milk would hardly be known today by most Americans were it not for a 2008 motion picture that would not exist without copyright. And these are just two obvious examples. The truth is that the total volume of free expression produced by creative artists is one of the greatest buffers against social injustice within democratic societies.
In one hand the artist holds the right of free expression, and in the other, he holds copyright. Wielded together, these tools have done more social good than any politician could ever hope to achieve. So, to say that copyright cannot coexist with civil liberty is like saying fire cannot coexist with oxygen. Copyright is a civil liberty, and if we destroy it, there is every possibility that the real monopolists win.