Wednesday, May 6, 2009

At the Gates

Mark Helprin, a favorite author, has a new book out:
Mark Helprin makes the case for the importance of intellectual property rights — he defends copyrights and criticizes people who download music illegally. Helprin is an acclaimed novelist, but his new book Digital Barbarism makes an explicit argument: "Should the foes of copyright prevail, civilization, though it will survive, will, even if they don't know it, change radically and not for the better," he writes. "You cannot claim to protect the little man while simultaneously liquidating the few rights by which he protects himself against the whiplash of the mass."

Though I'm an advocate of the free distribution of art, I believe the choice to do so should be up to the artist and no the consumer. Sure, I do my best to acquire music and books and movies at the cheapest method possible - even free, if I can - but that's the free market at work. I don't advocate stealing which is the subversion of the free market.

How long should copyrights last? Why not perpetuity? When I acquire property, I own that property until I divest myself from it, whether willingly or through due process. Why should something I create be any different?

Helprin should be careful, though, about railing against modern technology. Sure, the attitude out there is that everything on the 'net should be free - and, man, I loves me some free stuff - but though the technology makes it easy to pirate art, it's not the fault of technology but the user. Computers and the internet are good things, radical things, as radical as Gutenberg printing press. We're living in a time of miracle and wonder and our task is to find ways to use technology for the good.

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