An advantage of doing a lot of original research on copyright, and the history of copyright in particular, is that you start seeing very strong parallels to previous power struggles in society. I frequently say in my keynotes that there is nothing new under the sun.
What is happening now with the copyright industry vs. the people is practically identical to what happened when the printing press was introduced and the Catholic Church declared war on the self-educated people. In both cases, it is not really about religion or law, but about the very simple principle that people are people and that powerful people will use their power to keep their power.
What is interesting here, that a senior individual in the Swedish business pointed out to me, is that copyright defenders are acting like religious fundamentalists. They aren’t religious in the actual sense of the word, of course. But they are acting and reacting as if they were religious about copyright, as if it was something that wasn’t allowed to be questioned. Enrique Dans observes that they are attacking not just copyright reformists, but anybody who even questions copyright, with an emotional and aggressive fervor: calling the reformists pirates, thieves, freetards et cetera. In another time and place, heretics would have been the word of choice.
There are a couple of observations to be made from this.
First, people are people and will be people; there’s nothing new under the sun. All of this has happened before and will happen again.
Second, we are seeing emotional reactions that are identical to that of the Catholic Church when the printing press arrived. Since copyright is religious to these people, there is no middle ground and will never be a middle ground — the concept is as unrealistic as a middle ground between the Quran and the Bible. Again, I want to emphasize that it is not a religion per se, but that the people are reacting as though they were defending their religion. They are deeply, deeply uncomfortable by things being questioned that cannot and must not be questioned, and are reacting by emotional distress and full-on attack.
Third, and most interesting: once this has been identified, we can follow the script for how the Catholic Church was defeated by knowledge 500 years ago, and win again against the religion of these modern no-knowledge-proliferation treaties.
One needs to remember that the Catholic Church had instituted excommunication (exile) as penalty for unauthorized reading. They had persuaded France to enact the death penalty for using a printer to produce books. They were really tenacious about preventing the spread of knowledge. In the end, that was also what undid their stranglehold on the populace: that everybody learned how to read, and could question their word for themselves.
So the fight 500 years ago was one against knowledge, and it was won by spreading knowledge.
That’s exactly how we need to win today.
We need to teach the whole world how to share culture. Everybody needs to experience what the copyright industry is trying to kill. We need to connect Aunt Marge’s television set to a one-terabyte USB drive of hi-def movies with a media player, just like Protestants won by teaching people to read. Just like you can’t unexperience what it’s like to read, you can’t unexperience what it’s like to have the world’s culture and knowledge at your fingertips. We need to help everybody around us understand that sharing is caring, and that copyright is the opposite.
We need to document the transgressions of the copyright industry. Much sympathy was gained for the Protestant causes as the cruelties of the Spanish Inquisition and Bloody Mary were exposed to the public. There is certainly no shortage of horrendous acts on behalf of the copyright industry. We need to explain them in laymen’s terms.
We need to stand by one another and defend one another for what we know is just, fair, friendly and humane against what isn’t.