iprThere are many things about me that people seem to find surprising or hard to understand. One thing that never fails to cause raised eyebrows if it should happen to crop up in conversation is when people find out that I don’t possess a television. In fact, since leaving home at the age of 18, apart from two short periods amounting to a few years each – times when I’ve shared a home with someone else – I’ve never bothered with a TV.

People seem terribly surprised at this. How do I cope without, they wonder; what do I do to entertain myself of an evening, they ask… Well, I have to say it’s never been that much of an issue as far as I’m concerned. There’s always plenty to do and, if I do fancy watching a movie or on the rare occasion that there is something worth watching on the telly, there’s always the Internet and catch-up TV. Not that the people’s catch up service of choice, the BBC iPlayer has ever really impressed me all that much. As far as content is concerned, my own view is that they need to sack whoever is responsible for it – most of the programming is frankly dire, and what’s left is either ‘classics’ from the days when 625 lines and vertical hold held sway, or is just plain boring.

It’s pointless trying to watch anything serialised on iPlayer – by the time you’ve realised it’s online, half the episodes have been removed, and wait around too long for anything before you watch and you’re likely to find that it’s been removed for ‘copyright reasons’. The problem, apparently, is that such programmes are only licensed for broadcast – by whatever means – for a limited time, after which they disappear into some media black hole, perhaps never to surface again, except in some overpriced box set hidden away in the darker recesses of Amazon. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all a pretty academic argument anyway – with the government making the decision that I’ll need a TV license to use iPlayer in the future, I’m afraid that I’ll be going elsewhere for my entertainment – the quality of the service is poor enough to dissuade me from bothering most of the time at the moment, and it’s certainly not good enough to make me want to pay for it!

pulp1_001This whole licensing thing is very much a modern phenomenon… These days it seems there’s practical nothing out there that doesn’t require you secure some sort of licence for the privilege of accessing or using it: TV, software, images, music, and so on. We all know why – it’s to protect the intellectual property of the copyright owner, although that in itself is open to debate, since the copyright owner these days is rarely the creator but some faceless corporate entity, solely in the business of making money on the back of other people’s efforts. The trouble is, in my experience, the licensing process very often defeats the underlying principle that it’s supposed to be protecting: When iPlayer tells me that only three episodes of Dad’s Army are available, and I have to watch one of them in the next 2 hours or lose it forever, I don’t simply shrug and accept my bad fortune, instead I get annoyed and start hunting down every – possibly nefarious – copy of every episode that was ever broadcast. Nobody profits from that, other than me.

Maybe you’d consider that to be intellectual property theft – I’m not going to argue the point. However I would suggest that it’s a kind of nonsense, especially when we’re considering visual or audio media, where the inherent nature of the beast is such that it is intended to viewed or listened to – to restrict that ability is to defeat the very purpose of that intellectual property. We live in a world where shared ‘ownership’ and creative commons is considered the norm – original work is so straightforward to copy and disseminate that any attempt to restrict such activities is bound to fail, and at worst, will exacerbate the situation. (Unless, of course, you’re trying to scan a banknote, or edit an image of one in Photoshop – try it, you’ll be surprised at what happens).

IP rights are, of course, extremely important for original creators – something that strikes close to the heart of many SL content creators – and it will always be necessary to have some sort of protection in place to prevent people in this position from being ripped off, plagiarised and losing revenue, but as technology continues to develop, it really is about time that IP protection and the law also developed alongside it, rather than trying to fit outdated principles and arguments to modern cases – the world is changing, so are attitudes, and it’s probably about time we became a bit more flexible in terms of how we treat ‘property’.

Who, for example, owns items created inworld, or for that matter, imported into SL? Is it the creator – and if so, if the original and possibly only work, exists solely in SL, then who is in control of its fate? Is it really the creator, or is it Linden Lab? And… Does it matter?

If I upload a photograph to an online image sharing site, I may inadvertently, (or maybe entirely vertently… Is that a word?), be passing any rights I have to that image to the hosting company – I may well be signing over the right to use that image in any way they wish, profit from it, sell it on or butcher it to suit their own needs… I could tune in to the news one day to find one of my images has – perfectly legitimately – been turned into Trump’s campaign logo – and there’d be nothing I could do about it. Yet I’d still own the identical original and it would be entirely my inalienable right to do with it what I wanted – weird, huh?

IP law, practice and principles are entirely outdated and hopelessly inadequate for coping with the constantly changing digital landscape, but perhaps that’s not the underlying problem… Maybe we need a change of heart – is it time that our whole concept of what ownership of intellectual property means needs to change? The alternative is just to hide whatever creative output we make so that nobody but ourselves has access to it, either that, or licence it… No, forget I ever mentioned that!

s. x

Hold on John
I think there’s something good on
I used to read books but
It could be the news
Or some other amusement
It could be reusable shows
Pink Floyd – Not Now John

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