Intellectual property monopolies have become so rigid and enduring that even the publishers of Mark Twain's 100-year-old autobiography are claiming the work is still under copyright protection. But there's a ragtag group of misfits out there who are fighting the system like modern-day Robin Hoods, all with their own reasons for defending the public domain. Some samples:
Pope Benedict XVI objects, in that roundabout papal way, to tightly controlled patents on medicine (as opposed to patent medicine). From ArsTechnica:
A recent encyclical by Pope Benedict, one that speaks at length about the Catholic approach to development, is deeply concerned with economic inequality. In Benedict's view, strong IP rights can be part of such inequality. "On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care," he notes.
Elèutheros agrees. It's a Catholic group (whose name means "free") which exists for "the promotion, inside the Catholic Church, of the software, computer protocols and file formats more compatible with Her own Doctrine: those Free (as in Freedom)." The group praised [Vatican UN observer Silvano] Tomasi's speech, saying that the concerns behind it inspired Elèutheros' own manifesto.
Ireland's supreme court, meanwhile, has ruled in favor of internet service providers who refuse to crack down on downloaders. From the Beeb:
Mr Justice Peter Charleton said in his judgement that illegal file-sharing was "destructive of an important native industry".
But he added that there were no laws in Ireland to allow the disconnection of pirates from the net and that any attempts to do so could be in breach of European legislation.
UPC said in a statement that it "does not condone piracy and has always taken a strong stance against illegal activity on its network".
"Our whole premise and defense focused on the mere conduit principal which provides that an internet service provider cannot be held liable for content transmitted across its network," the statement added.
The Irish Recorded Music Association (Irma) is considering its next move.
Also sticking up for file sharers is legendary New Wave director and newly minted Oscar refusenik Jean-Luc Godard, who has donated €1,000 to the legal defense of a French citizen accused of downloading almost 14,000 MP3s. BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin quotes Godard:
There is no such thing as intellectual property. I'm against the inheritance [of works], for example. An artist's children could benefit from the copyright of their parents' works, say, until they reach the age of majority… But afterward, it's not clear to me why Ravel's children should get any income from Bolero.
And from the other side of the Rhine comes an attack on the roots of IP protection. In his massive two-volume work History and Nature of Copyright, German historian Eckhard Höffner compares British and German history, and concludes that British copyright law held back the right little tight little island's industrial development. Although Höffner covers a lot of territory – including the counterintuitive claim [pdf] that copyright actually depresses authors' earnings – this Spiegel article describes the basic macroeconomic contrast:
Höffner has researched that early heyday of printed material in Germany and reached a surprising conclusion—unlike neighboring England and France, Germany experienced an unparalleled explosion of knowledge in the 19th century.
German authors during this period wrote ceaselessly. Around 14,000 new publications appeared in a single year in 1843. Measured against population numbers at the time, this reaches nearly today's level. And although novels were published as well, the majority of the works were academic papers.
The situation in England was very different. "For the period of the Enlightenment and bourgeois emancipation, we see deplorable progress in Great Britain," Höffner states.
Equally Developed Industrial Nation
Indeed, only 1,000 new works appeared annually in England at that time—10 times fewer than in Germany—and this was not without consequences. Höffner believes it was the chronically weak book market that caused England, the colonial power, to fritter away its head start within the span of a century, while the underdeveloped agrarian state of Germany caught up rapidly, becoming an equally developed industrial nation by 1900.
Even more startling is the factor Höffner believes caused this development—in his view, it was none other than copyright law, which was established early in Great Britain, in 1710, that crippled the world of knowledge in the United Kingdom.
So who is still fighting the public domain? None other than Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, who tried to deliver a tongue-lashing to file-sharing Kiss fans, but ended up suffering a series of DOS attackes that were hotter than hell. Fox News reports:
"Make sure your brand is protected," Simmons said during a panel discussion. "Make sure there are no incursions. Be litigious. Sue everybody. Take their homes, their cars." The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is well known for conducting just such a strategy of litigation; Simmons felt the groups response has nonetheless been too weak.
"The music industry was asleep at the wheel," complained the bassist and businessman, "and didn't have the balls to sue every fresh-faced, freckle-faced college kid who downloaded material. And so now we're left with hundreds of thousands of people without jobs. There's no industry."
Simmons declined to respond to a FoxNews.com request for comments, firing off a stern warning to the online vigilantes on his site instead. "Our legal team and the FBI have been on the case and we have found a few, shall we say 'adventurous' young people, who feel they are above the law."
"We will sue their pants off," the bassist and businessman continued. "First, they will be punished. Second they might find their little butts in jail, right next to someone who's been there for years and is looking for a new girlfriend."
True to its manifesto—"For this, you will be held accountable before the people, and you will be punished by them. We will not stop. We will not forget. We will prevail. We are anonymous"—the group reacted swiftly to the remarks.
Simmons' sites succumbed again to a second wave of hacker attacks, and 4chan's Anonymous group added GeneSimmons.com and SimmonsRecords.com to its "official" hit list.
Simmons' site is back online now—but his statement has been removed.