The symbol of Kopimi, an anti-copyright initiative developed by the Piratbyrån, a Swedish organization actively opposing modern copyright law and practices, and the previous operators of BitTorrent tracker The Pirate Bay, before it was spun off as an independent organization.

Anti-copyright refers to the complete or partial opposition to prevalent copyright laws. Copyright is known as the owner's right for copies to be only made by the owner or with his/her authorization in form of a license.[1]

The classic argument for copyright is the view that granting developers temporary monopolies over their works encourages further development and creativity by giving the developer a source of income; normally copyright is enforced within a framework of Berne convention, instigated by Victor Hugo and signed in 1886. A central anti-copyright argument is that copyright has never been of net benefit to society and instead serves to enrich a few at the expense of creativity. Some anti-copyright groups may question the logic of copyright on economic and cultural grounds. Also, in the context of the Internet and Web 2.0 it can be argued that copyright law needs to be adapted to modern information technology.


Anti-copyright groups and scholars

Groups advocating abolishing of copyright

Demonstration in Sweden in support of file sharing, 2006.

Many traditional anarchists, including Leo Tolstoy, expressed their refusal to accept copyright.[2]

Pirate Cinema and groups like The League of Noble Peers advance more radical arguments, opposing copyright per se. A number of anti-copyright groups have recently emerged in the argument around peer-to-peer file sharing, digital freedom, and freedom of information; these include the Association des audionautes.[3][4]

Recent developments related to BitTorrent and peer-to-peer file-sharing have been termed by media commentators as "copyright wars", with The Pirate Bay being referred to as "the most visible member of a burgeoning international anti-copyright—or pro-piracy—movement".[5][6] One well-publicized instance of electronic civil disobedience (ECD) in the form of large scale intentional copyright infringement occurred on February 24, 2004, in an event called Grey Tuesday. Activists intentionally violated EMI's copyright of The White Album by distributing MP3 files of a mashup album called The Grey Album, in an attempt to draw public attention to copyright reform issues and anti-copyright ideals. Reportedly over 400 sites participated including 170 that hosted the album with some protesters stating that The Grey Album illustrates a need for revisions in copyright law to allow sampling under fair use of copyrighted material, or proposing a system of fair compensation to allow for sampling.[7][8]

Groups advocating changes to copyright law

French group Association des audionautes is not anti-copyright per se, but proposes a reformed system for copyright enforcement and compensation. Aziz Ridouan, co-founder of the group, proposes for France to legalise peer-to-peer file sharing and to compensate artists through a surcharge on Internet service provider fees (i.e. an alternative compensation system). Reportedly, major music companies have equated Ridouan's proposal with legitimizing piracy.[3] In January 2008, seven Swedish members of parliament from the Moderate Party (part of the governing coalition), authored a piece in a Swedish tabloid calling for the complete decriminalization of filesharing; they wrote that "Decriminalizing all non-commercial file sharing and forcing the market to adapt is not just the best solution. It's the only solution, unless we want an ever more extensive control of what citizens do on the Internet."[9]

Groups advocating using existing copyright law

Groups that argue for using existing copyright legal framework with special licenses to achieve their goals, include the copyleft movement[10] and Creative Commons.[11] Creative Commons is not anti-copyright per se, but argues for use of more flexible and open copyright licenses within existing copyright law.[12] Creative Commons takes the position that there is an unmet demand for flexibility that allows the copyright owner to release work with only "some rights reserved" or even "no rights reserved." According to Creative Commons many people do not regard default copyright as helping them in gaining the exposure and widespread distribution they want. Creative Commons argue that their licenses allow entrepreneurs and artists to employ innovative business models rather than all-out copyright to secure a return on their creative investment.[13]

Scholars and commentators

Scholars and commentators in this field include Lawrence Liang,[14] Jorge Cortell,[15] Rasmus Fleischer,[16] Stephan Kinsella, and Siva Vaidhyanathan.

Anti-copyright arguments

Economic arguments

Intellectual monopoly

"In the case of both patents and copyright, from the point of view of economics, there are two ingredients in the law: the right to buy and sell copies of ideas, and the right to control how other people make use of their copies. The first right is not controversial. In copyright law, when applied to the creator this right is sometimes called the "right of first sale." However, it extends also to the legitimate rights of others to sell their copies. It is the second right, enabling the owner to control the use of intellectual property after sale, that is controversial. This right produces a monopoly – enforced by the obligation of the government to act against individuals or organizations that use the idea in ways prohibited by the copyright or patent holder." [17]
...results in a weaker incentive at creativity
"The evolution of copyright from an occasional grant of royal privilege to a formal and eventually widespread system of law should in principle have enhanced composers' income from publication. The evidence from our quantitative comparison of honoraria received by Beethoven, with no copyright law in his territory, and Robert Schumann, benefiting from nearly universal European copyright, provides at best questionable support for the hypothesis that copyright fundamentally changed composers' fortunes. From the qualitative evidence on Giuseppe Verdi, who was the first important composer to experience the new Italian copyright regime and devise strategies to derive maximum advantage, it is clear that copyright could make a substantial difference. In the case of Verdi, greater remuneration through full exploitation of the copyright system led perceptibly to a lessening of composing effort." [18]


Some libertarians, particularly proponents of Austrian economics, including McElroy, Palmer, Lepage, Bouckaert, and Stephan Kinsella, argue that copyright is invalid because, unlike physical property, intellectual property is not scarce and is, they claim, a legal fiction created by the state. That is, infringing on copyright, unlike theft, does not deprive the victim of the original item, and so enforcement of copyright law constitutes aggression on the part of the state.[19]

Information technology related arguments

Web 2.0

One of the founders of Piratbyrån Rasmus Fleischer argues that copyright law simply seems unable to cope with the Internet, and hence is obsolete. He argues that the Internet, and particularly Web 2.0 have brought about the uncertain status of the very idea of "copying" itself. He argues that in an attempt to rein in Web 2.0, copyright law in the 21st century is increasingly concerned with criminalizing entire technologies. Leading to recent attacks on different kinds of search engines, solely because they provide links to files which may be copyrighted, Fleischer points out that Google, while still largely uncontested, operates in a gray zone of copyright (e.g. the business model of Google Books is to display millions of pages of copyrighted and uncopyrighted books as part of a business plan drawing its revenue from advertising). In contrast, others have pointed out that Google Books blocks-out large sections of those same books, which incentivizes purchases, and supports the legitimate interests of rightsholders.

Fleischer's central argument is that copyright has become obsolete with regards to the Internet, that the cost of trying to enforce it is unreasonable, and that instead business models need to adapt to the reality of the darknet.[20]

The Darknet Theory

In 2002, a group of Microsoft-affiliated researchers, published "The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution", investigating what they call "the darknet", a collection of networks and technologies used to share digital content (such as peer-to-peer file sharing and CD and DVD copying). The authors state that "we believe it probable that there will be a few more rounds of technical innovations to sidestep existing laws, followed by new laws, or new interpretations of old laws, in the next few years." The paper discusses evidence that the darknet "will continue to exist and provide low cost, high quality service to a large group of consumers. This means that in many markets, the darknet will be a competitor to legal commerce."[21]

The authors also argue that people have always "copied", however in the past valuable objects were mostly physical and it was uneconomical or, when carried out on a large scale, stoppable using patent or copyright law. They argue that this has fundamentally changed with the Internet and associated technologies, as valuable digital content can be copied at little cost and distributed on an unprecedented scale.[21]

Cultural arguments

Freedom of knowledge

Groups such as Hipatia advance anti-copyright arguments in the name of "freedom of knowledge" and argue that knowledge should be "shared in solidarity". Such groups may perceive "freedom of knowledge" as a right, and/or as fundamental in realising the right to education, which is an internationally recognised human right, as well as the right to a free culture and the right to free communication. They argue that current copyright law hinders the realisation of these rights in today's knowledge societies relying on new technological means of communication.[22]

Such groups see copyright law as preventing or slowing human progress. They argue that the current copyright system needs to be brought into line with reality and the needs of society. Hipatia argues that this would "provide the ethical principles which allow the individual to spread his/her knowledge, to help him/herself, to help his/her community and the whole world, with the aim of making society ever more free, more equal, more sustainable, and with greater solidarity."[22]

Authorship and creativity

Lawrence Liang, founder of the Alternative Law Forum, argues that current copyright is based on a too narrow definition of "author", which is assumed to be clear and undisputed. Liang observes that the concept of "the author" is assumed to make universal sense across cultures and across time. Instead, Liang argues that the notion of the author as a unique and transcendent being, possessing originality of spirit, was constructed in Europe after the industrial revolution, to distinguish the personality of the author from the expanding realm of mass produced goods. Hence works created by "authors" were deemed original, and merges with the doctrine of property prevalent at the time.[23]

Liang argues that the concept of "author" is tied to the notion of copyright and emerged to define a new social relationship - the way society perceives the ownership of knowledge. The concept of "author" thus naturalised a particular process of knowledge production where the emphasis on individual contribution and individual ownership takes precedence over the concept of "community knowledge".[23] Relying on the concept of the author, copyright is based on the assumption that without an intellectual property rights regime, authors would have no incentive to further create, and that artists cannot produce new works without an economic incentive. Liang challenges this logic, arguing that "many authors who have little hope of ever finding a market for their publications, and whose copyright is, as a result, virtually worthless, have in the past, and even in the present, continued to write."[23] Liang points out that people produce works purely for personal satisfaction, or even for respect and recognition from peers. Liang argues that the 19th Century saw the prolific authorship of literary works in the absence of meaningful copyright that benefited the author. In fact, Liang argues, copyright protection usually benefited the publisher, and rarely the author.[23]

Criticism of Anti-copyright

Sumner M. Redstone of the Progress and Freedom Foundation argued that Copyright drives the economy by compelling creativity, and is a fundamental right for both creators and consumers. He argued that all preposed alternatives to Copyright protection do not allow for viable business models, as content creators would not have incentive to produce their products if they cannot be guaranteed payment.[24] "Propose to a dairy farmer that the milk he sells become a free commodity available to all, and he will stop cultivating cows. Why buy the cow, when consumers can get the milk for free?'"'[24]

According to a study by the Institute for Policy Innovation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy think tank, piracy of Copyright material costs the U.S. economy $5.5 billion in annual earnings among U.S. workers, as well as $837 million in lost annual tax revenue and $20.5 billion in lost annual output to all US industries. Furthermore it estimates that piracy costs the U.S 141,030 jobs, two thirds of which are outside the film industry.[25]

See also


  1. ^ World Intellectual Property Organisation. "Understanding Copyright and Related Rights" (PDF). WIPO. pp. 6–7. Retrieved August 2008. 
  2. ^ Leo Tolstoy, Letter to the Free Age Press, 1900
  3. ^ a b Rose, Frank (September 2006). "P2P Gets Legit – The new Ascap: Audionautes". Wired. 
  4. ^ Byfield, Bruce (May 2006). "FSF launches anti-DRM campaign outside WinHEC 2006". Linux. 
  5. ^ Sarno, Sarno (April 2007). "The Internet sure loves its outlaws". Los Angeles Times.,0,1261622.story?coll=la-home-entertainment. 
  6. ^ Mitchell, Dan (August 2006). "Pirate Take Sweden". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ Kim, Melanie. "The Mouse that Roared, Grey Tuesday". Tech Law Advisor. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  8. ^ Werde, Bill (February 2004). "Defiant Downloads Rise From Underground". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Bangeman, Eric (January 2008). "Swedish prosecutors dump 4,000 legal docs on The Pirate Bay". Ars Technica. 
  10. ^ "What is Copyleft?". Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
  11. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Creative Commons. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  12. ^ "FAQ - Is Creative Commons against copyright?". Creative Commons. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  13. ^ "FAQ - What is Creative Commons?". Creative Commons. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  14. ^ "How Does An Asian Commons Mean". Creative Commons. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  15. ^ Jorge, Cortell (May 2005). "Lecturer censored in Spanish University (UPV) for defending P2P networks". Own Website. 
  16. ^ Fleischer, Rasmus (May 2006). ""Mechanical music" as a threat against public performance" (PDF). Institute of Contemporary History, Sodertorn University College. 
  17. ^ Boldrin, M.; Levine, D.K. (2008). "Against Intellectual Monopoly". Cambridge University Press. 
  18. ^ Scherer, F.M. (2004), Quarter Notes and Bank Notes. The Economics of Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Princeton University Press 
  19. ^ Kinsella, Stephan Against Intellectual Property (2008) Ludwig von Mises Institute.
  20. ^ Fleischer, Rasmus (June 2008). "The Future of Copyright". CATO Unbound. 
  21. ^ a b William, Bryan (2002). "The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution" (PDF). Microsoft Corporation. 
  22. ^ a b "Second Manifesto". Hipatia. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  23. ^ a b c d Liang, Lawrence (February 2005). "Copyright/Copyleft: Myths About Copyright". 
  24. ^ a b "Copyright is Even More Right in the Digital Age". January 2011. 
  25. ^ "The True Cost of Motion Picture Piracy to the U.S. Economy". September 2011. 

External links

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