How Copyright Legitimizes Kicking Puppies

The following is a guest post by MCM.

Copyright sucks.

You heard me, it sucks.  It’s the biggest scam of the modern era, wasting billions of dollars and even more time, all debating stuff that can’t be solved.  When historians look back on us, they’re going to say to themselves: “Wow, this makes the angels-on-the-pin debate look substantive.”

What’s wrong with copyright?  It’s fundamentally incapable of doing what people think it can do.  We’ve got arguments like “information wants to be free” and “creators are starving”, neither of which is true.  People latch on to those ideas because they’re solid ground, but they’re utter nonsense.  You can’t prove that information wants anything any more than you can prove the emotional state of a rock.  Here, let me demonstrate: the flower right next to you wants a McFlurry.  Better get on that.

We don’t need to rework copyright, we need to fix society to make copyright obsolete.  Kicking puppies is illegal, but not many people do it to begin with.  There are social norms that we all appreciate as fundamental, and we try and stay on the good side of them.  So how did copyright go so wrong?

Products, that’s where.  Long ago, you stopped paying for music in any meaningful way.  You paid for records, cassettes, CDs.  We place inherent value in these physical objects, the carriers of our culture, and over time, we came to value a New Release movie at a certain price, and a song at another.  I’m not buying a movie, I’m buying a disc with a movie on it.  I couldn’t care less how much work went into the art itself, as long as it’s priced competitively.

So when you remove the physical object like the internet has done, the natural reaction of society is to think “It’s great I don’t have to pay for all that plastic!” and assume they should be getting their movies for next to nothing.  They’ve lost their sense of morality in this area, because it’s been obscured for so long.  It’s like they’ve been living in a world where puppies are wrapped in foam balls, so it’s fine to kick them… but all of a sudden, the foam is taken away.  I kick a puppy every day on the way to work… why should I stop just because things have changed?  Puppy-kicking is a fundamental part of my life.

Deep beneath the surface, I think most of us realize there are people making the things we read, watch and listen to.  Whether it’s a one-on-one relationship or they’re part of a giant team of artists working on a massive project, we’re at least vaguely aware they exist.  And we don’t want to kick them.  We appreciate them.  Well, maybe not Michael Bay.

Copyright is a legal concept that is trying to tell us we need to imagine there’s still a ball around the puppy, and that it’s important to step around it even though it’s invisible.  Some of us are doing that, and some of us are refusing, but in the end, we’re all obsessing over the legitimacy of the concept, and completely ignoring the poor puppies inside.

Copyright is a massive waste of time.  We need to take care of our artists (by whatever means necessary), and stop obsessing about an abstract concept that has very little relevance to the world as it exists today.  There are so many better things we could be doing.  Like buying ice cream for plants.

MCM is the author of The Pig and the Box, Fission Chips, and The Vector, all of which are Creative Commons-licensed.  He would like a McFlurry too, thanks.


  1. I don’t understand your argument, MCM. Do you want to get rid of the copyright part of intellectual property law, or change how it’s enforced? I get what you said about people only wanting to pay for a physical copy of a creative work. How will doing away with copyright help us take care of our artists?

  2. @Nancy: sorry I’m so late replying!

    I would argue leaving copyright alone is a good first step. The primary value of copyright was (and still is) the ability for one business to stop another business from selling stuff it didn’t create. Modernizing stuff won’t change that. So the only reason you’d want to go mucking with it is to change the consumer/creator dynamic.

    The problem with doing THAT is that it’s a big hairy mess, with no end in sight. And going down that path just wasting everyone’s time, because there’s no good solution to be found. It’s angels and heads of pins all over again.

    The real solution is to re-connect society’s consciousness with the idea that art is created by SOMEONE, and that someone needs to eat. Not by legislating it, but by downplaying the medium and the middleman, and letting fans appreciate where their content comes from for a change.

    We used to worship things, but now the things are gone. Replacing them with legal threats is wasted effort, but replacing them with ARTISTS… that might just work. If we don’t try, we’ll have a lot of work for lawyers, and nothing new for them to defend.

  3. This article seemed to strike a chord – so what better way to introduce our new “Polls” widget than with a question regarding copyright!

    The poll closes next week, and we’ll have a different question each week. This week we ask:

    “Do you agree with MCM’s stance on copyright?”

    We look forward to seeing the results!

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