Horror movies are not my only interest, as crazy as that may sound. I may have majored in Film Production, but I minored in Legal Studies, emphasizing in issues dealing with media and the law. Today, I'm going to talk about copyright. You might be thinking, "Eww, that's boring." However, it's something that should be paid attention to and easily impacts filmmakers/fans/bloggers/internet surfers because of its restrictions on First Amendment freedoms. My inspiration for sharing my copyright research with you guys came from an unfortunate incident that occurred with one of our fellow horror bloggers, J. Astro from The Cheap Bin. A post containing images found via Google search engine was disabled by Blogger, even though the pictures were (in some way) promoting a product. When I first heard about this story, I was intrigued and J. Astro was also concerned about the legal system in regards to intellectual property. Many people have questions about the origin of copyright/patent/trademark laws and how they can be justified in a political system that supposedly embraces Free Speech and in a technological world where information can be shared more quickly than ever.
Well, I conducted research for one of my classes on this subject matter and I take a rather unconventional approach, arguing that intellectual property must be dissolved. I recognize that it's an extreme position and hardly pragmatic, but it's worth a discussion. Since it is a very long paper, I will release it in sections over the next week or two. Here is Part I, introducing my thesis and explaining why copyright is more important to our freedoms than people think. Keep an eye out for Part II, which will explain the origin of intellectual property law.
Would Thomas Jefferson Steal a DVD?
The Rising Age of Technology and the Dissolving Philosophy of Copyright
"That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation." -Thomas Jefferson 
Most of us are familiar with the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) public relations campaign against piracy that played before feature presentations on DVD’s, especially because no matter how many times the fast-forward button was pushed; the message could not be skipped over. In 2004, the MPAA released its advertisement, “You Wouldn’t Steal a Car.” The script for the ad reads: “You wouldn’t steal a car; You wouldn’t steal a handbag; You wouldn’t steal a television; You wouldn’t steal a DVD; Downloading pirated films is stealing; stealing is against the law.” The “pervasive rhetorical use of the language of ‘theft’ in intellectual property discourse” creates a false definition of legal terminology through popular conception “so that new social meanings become attached to acts such as the digital transfer of a musical file or a film.” This tactic is questionable not only because it employs subversive jargon but because it propagates ideas of intellectual property that are not founded in traditional legal philosophy. So many misconceptions surround copyright, patent, and trademark law that improper meanings have become commonplace in American government. The intended purpose of granting these exclusive rights monopolies has been misconstrued as a proponent of capitalism, private property, and democracy. While the whole of intellectual property must be reexamined, the primary focus of this paper shall be copyright and its impact on the artist. Copyright, originally designed to protect artists and promote creative endeavors, has become so far removed from the artist that it no longer serves the same purposes. Modern copyright law has been orchestrated to encourage the monopolization of the entertainment industry and thereby, hinders the creative process rather than securing it. And this imparts unforeseen consequences for American government.
It may not seem that art, culture, and entertainment have a foundation or niche in political philosophy. Yet, “[m]odern mass media in the industrial nations have transformed social relations, politics, and economic and legal structures.” In Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, he focuses on the TV among an assortment of other technologies as a threat to the ideals of the American political system. Mander declares that the medium cannot be reformed and must be terminated. He writes, “technology can produce its own subordinated society, as though it were alive” and that TV lacks “democratic control.” Americans believe that they are deciding what to watch simply because there is access to hundreds of channels, but Mander points out that a small number of corporations actually decide what is broadcast and what is not. To further elucidate the feeling of democracy, $41.8 billion dollars were spent on advertising in 2001 so that Americans could choose between McDonald’s and Burger King, Sears and JC Penny, Republicans and Democrats. “Scientists, technologists, psychologists, industrialists, economists and the media which translate and disseminate their findings and opinions became our source” of information and source of decision. Yet, we forget that there are choices beyond what is presented. Two thirds of Americans receive most of their information about the world from the television. Americans champion themselves as independent, free-thinkers; yet we all rely on the same source of information—how diverse and free can our ideas then be? The media generates a façade of democracy through the illusion of choice, but how do we know what choices we are never allowed to make? What is not seen, heard, or experienced?
The free exchange of ideas is crucial to the government that Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and Framer of the United States Constitution, foresaw. That is exactly why copyright law is not and should not be the dry subject of textbooks. It is as essential to democracy that intellectual property be seriously reconsidered as it is important to address economic strife, failures in public education, and jumps in criminal activity. In a technological landscape where ideas and media are inseparable, copyright law ought to be paid attention to because it “imposes substantial risks of harm to democracy and individual autonomy.”