Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mathuselah's Copyright

I want you to close your eyes, and imagine something. I want you to imagine a world where there was no death from old age, and no sickness. When people could live for ever. Got that? Now, think clearly what that world would be like.

Right now, the US Congress has an absurdly high incumbency rate. Yet, when member's are not forced to retire through age, ill-health, or death, then the incumbency rate will be even higher. A body that is already staffed by older people, out of touch with the needs, wants and desires of the younger half of the population becomes ever more distant, stuck in the rut of what's comfortable. Without new blood to revitalise, and bring new energy, life and directions to the body, it will become more set in its ways, without evolving, or adapting to new mindsets, technologies, or societal norms. The last three Congresses (109-111) have had average ages of 55, 57. and 58.2 respectively (broken down by House/Senate as 55/60 for 109th, 55.9/61.7 for 110th, and 57/63.1 for the 11th Congresses). It's brought about questions asking if Congress is out of touch, as it's more than 20 years older than the average age of the country.

Of course, not only will politicians be keeping their jobs, everyone will. without people moving out of the workforce due to death or retirement, those already in the workforce can't advance, and thus there are no entry positions for the new young people entering the job market - not, that is, in any employment position with a future. Certainly there will be more jobs - there will be more food grown, more stores to serve the food, more police to control the growing populace, but the jobs will all be ground level.

Those at the top, have a limited lifespan. By the time you get to be a major player, you're usually in your late 40s or older. however, you don't have 10-20 years of work life left, you've maybe got 100. Now, instead of trying a gamble that might pay off in 10 years (and if it doesn't, you're retiring then anyway so what does it matter) you're going to be more risk adverse. You have to be concerned about 100 years down the line, as you'll still be around then.

So without the risks, by playing it safe, we are led to near stagnation.

If that seems bad, it is. Yet, it's only a potential future. Prolonged lifespans (a hyper-methusilan age) are going to happen - in fact some have suggested that people born in 20 years time may 'never die' as they will always become eligible for longevity treatments as they develop. And while it sounds like fantasy, it's not. It's already happened.

It's not happened with people, or even any form of biological creature. It's happened with copyright. Copyrights traditionally had a short life, and died. The world you were asked to imagine earlier, that is the world of copyrights. Copyrights came, they existed for a period of time, they retired (expired) and new ones came in to replace them, but now the old ones are still there, still working and preventing new ones.

Copyrights are not self-contained things just a person isn't. Just as a person is the sum of it's society growing up, a society established by the previous generations which are built on, copyrighted materials are built on what goes before. It's like the corporate ladder, but without those at the top expiring, it's very difficult for those starting out at the bottom, to ever 'make it'.

The various measures to prop up (extend, protect etc) copyrights are akin to extending the life of our older population. With copyright (and the culture that develops from it) given longevity, it moves at a slower pace than before, slowing development and progress. There is also an apparent paradox at heart. Extending the status quo is a short-term thing, that brings about stagnation because it encourages the long-term view of stability. It's not actually a paradox, as this stagnation comes from a short term view of society, encouraging the long-term view of a small segment of that society.

Don't get me wrong, the lack of any sort of copyright would be bad, just as a lack of labour laws was bad. There has to be some regulation, to prevent bad practices, and keep the direction moving forward. There is a point at which the good turns bad. If you're sick, a prescribed dose of medicine helps you, but taking too much may make you worse, or kill you; at the very least it gets habbit forming.

Addictions should be broken, and people should retire (at some point)  - it's very hard to argue that sustaining an addition is a good thing, or stagnation is beneficial, as there's no basis for it. However, it's a rule that's completely ignored when it comes to copyright. To make that mistake, you have to be on something, senile, or looking at your own short-term benefits, and that's not good.

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