I normally reserve this blog solely for things written by yours truly. However, as anyone who knows me is likely well aware, I tend to have rather strong views about copyright…namely, that copyright is a bad thing. Recently, my fellow blogger and author Aelius Blythe posted this essay on Medium, and I felt that it is a perfect description of the utterly backwards way the language surrounding the copyright debate is structured. As a signal boost, and to practice what I preach (specifically, sharing and spreading a good thing by copying it) I’ve decided to re-post her entire essay here. Thank you, Aelius, for the inspiration.

“Your Words Are Bad and You Should Feel Bad” by Aellius Blythe:

“A writer’s biggest threat is the laws meant to protect them.”

“Director Simon Klose has won his copyright battle. For now.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to this year’s drama in the pirate world, here’s the 5 minute summary: Simon Klose is not your usual Hollywood crusader fighting those damn kids pirating his movies. In fact, this year, he was fighting to defend his own film – the documentary on the Pirate Bay trial, TPB AFK – from overzealous DMCA takedowns. The takedown notices weren’t directed at the content – which he himself uploaded to YouTube and the Pirate Bay –they were rather attacks on Google for even linking to the content. While not removing his work, this made it harder to find for your average viewer who doesn’t have a favorite Google-alternative at the ready.

Mr. Klose isn’t alone – Google gets over a million takedown requests every month to remove links to so-called pirate sites. Chilling Effects keeps a record of DMCA takedowns, which occasionally contain hilarious errors, like requests to remove content from Hulu or even the rightsholder’s own website. However, sometimes these errors are not so hilarious. While they cannot be proved to be malicious, takedowns often target news sites, reviewers, and even other creators, like Mr. Klose.

Fortunately, this battle ended well for the creator.

Unfortunately, not all creators are fearless Swedish pirates with the Pirate Bay on their side.

What of the smaller creators who don’t make the news? What of the creators who don’t have the resources or connections to fight false copyright DMCAs? What about your average small-time, indie filmmaker or artist or author who doesn’t even know that they can fight the far more powerful DMCA-wielders?

What about me?

I’m a newbie to the writing world, and a relative unknown outside of my small circle of readers, writers and fellow bloggers. Having reliable ways to be able to reach readers is absolutely essential. With so many content creators online, it’s way too easy to get lost in the competition. If a reader hits an obstacle – like a disappeared link or DRM that doesn’t play well with their e-reader of choice – they’ll just move on. Here at the bottom rung of the ladder, it’s really hard to get noticed, and one stumbling block can set all your hard work back several paces.

Fortunately, for authors we have libraries.

Libraries – the old standby for access to information, art, and culture.

Libraries – free to all, and proud of it.

In their digital incarnation, libraries have been the subject of intense copyright debates over how the readers benefit at the expense of writers by getting things for free. But the reality is that libraries can be a serious advantage for authors as well.

It’s an advantage I am thankful for every time I reach a new reader.

But some people want to take it away.

Earlier this year, while Google was censoring Mr. Klose’s documentary, somebody was DMCA-ing my books at The Ultimate Ebook Library. And it wasn’t me.

And these weren’t just links disappearing, these were my books. Somebody took my books away. And it turns out, mine weren’t the only ones. I recently heard from another author whose books were removed without her consent, and from the owner of the Ebook Library who recognizes that, sadly, these are not isolated incidents. While the library of course reinstates the books as soon as they are told, the implications of these kinds of errors (“errors”) are troubling. How many others out there have had their work disappeared, and don’t even know it, or don’t know what they can do about it? As a creator, especially a small-time creator, I can tell you that it is an unbelievably helpless feeling to have your primary channel for reaching fans hobbled.

I blame Newspeak.

The Copying is stealing! mythos has terrorized the entertainment industries since the days of Napster. Almost fifteen years, later few people – not even the Supreme Court – hold onto the literal interpretation of that particular moral stance. We laugh (or glare) at the rich and powerful making 9 year old girls and grandmothers into hardened criminals. But while many don’t exactly believe that copying = stealing, the fact is that the newspeak of the copyright monopoly is so pervasive, their new language so obfuscated, that many have well and truly forgotten the meaning of the words.

As much as we laugh at the old You wouldn’t steal a car! interpretation of copyright infringement, we also laugh at – or worse, ignore – the counterargument that copying isn’t stealing. Whenever the topic comes up in writer’s circles, there’s eye-rolling and head-shaking. It’s old news, but no one remembers it. Authors still rail against their readers “stealing” their profits. And even journalists in the mainstream media, often and incorrectly, refer to infringement as theft.

Did we forget that actual theft meant taking something away?

Did we forget that actual stealing deprives a person of what’s taken?

Yeah, I think we did.

Whoever took books down from the Ebook Library, or links from Google, or videos from YouTube isn’t sharing something, isn’t copying something, isn’t borrowing something. They are taking something away.

And yet, this is ok.

You won’t hear journalists call that theft. You won’t hear writers complain about stolen profits. You won’t have the responsible parties disconnected from the internet or forced to take a class on DMCA abuse, or made to pay the victim 7,000 per book in restitution and punitive damages.

Sharing, copying, and borrowing are – under the new language – terrible, terrible acts of theft. And yet taking something away – whether it’s a distribution channel or other means of communicating with fans– is totally ok. That’s a mistake. That’s acceptable collateral damage.

Yeah, our creative work is collateral damage.

This isn’t just a consequence of overreaching laws, bumbling politicians, or greedy lobbyists. It is a consequence of a forceful and deliberate manipulation of the very building blocks we use to understand our world: our words.

Yes, languages change. Words shift, meanings appear and disappear, and our understanding evolves. That’s what makes language useful — it’s adaptable.

But in this case, I think I liked the old language better.”

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