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Transcript: Eben Moglen - DMCA and You

Transcript of Moglen's statements at the "DMCA & U" panel discussion. An audio recording of the complete panel discussion is available at: http://radio.eff.org/radio_shows/DMCA&u.mp3

Chair: [snip: introductions of other panelists] ...and Eben Moglen from Colombia law school.

Eben Moglen: Yeh, I also make lawyers, I teach something called "Law and The Information Society", I'm not too keen on "cyberspace". I'm the general counsel of the Free Software Foundation, and I'm trying to report on the revolution which is destroying intellectual property. Of which I am entirely in favour.

15 minutes in:

Let's look at where that gets us, so we can stop this nonsense about the DMCA as a copyright law. We used to have a copyright law, and under the copyright law it was copyright infringement to photocopy books and hand copies out to your friends. You never read a case, because there never was a case, in which under the copyright law, somebody was charged with a federal legal offence of any kind for writing a book about how photocopiers work or for distributing blue prints of photocopiers or for manufacturing and selling photocopiers. When you see a legal regime that is engaged in trying to charge people for doing those things, you can be pretty sure it's not the copyright law, it's something else. The fact that they put the word copyright in the title doesn't make it a copyright law folks. It's actually a technology control law designed to build a leak proof pipe from any production studio that the five companies that make music and the eight companies that make movies care to make. A leak proof pipe that goes from there to you eyeball or eardrum, and anything that provides a droplet worth of leak in that pipe is now some sort of terrible legal controversy that is threatening to bring civilisation to an end. It's total bullshit.

31 minutes in:

This would make more difference, if it made any difference at all, but it doesn't make any difference at all, because you are listening to a conversation among dead businesses. About how under certain imaginary conditions - if it only takes long enough for us to recognise that they are dead, they might come back to life. That's not the situation. We now live in a society, where the most important goods have zero marginal cost. Everybody can have a copy of them at no cost. And where everybody on the planet is either actually or potentially connected to everybody else without intermediary. Under those circumstances, some traditional political economy principals don't hold, anymore AND what they are talking about is an economy based on property that doesn't make sense in a world of universal interconnection and zero marginal cost goods. In that world, some kinds of goods like computer programs are better produced by anarchism where nobody owns anything. You cannot prove as I have proved with respect to software, you cannot prove that anarchist music is better music than proprietary music because there's no objective scale of better or worseness for music. What you can prove about music and other such cultural goods with zero marginal cost is that anarchist distribution, that is distribution by people who don't own any right at all in what they are distributing works better than any other solution. So, because they are capitalists, and believe in competition, we can make a prediction, for them. They will be competed out of existence by anarchism which works better - For the purposes of the future of music, and the other digital arts - this means that the sellers who own stuff are going to cease to exist. They will slow that down for a while, and they will earn a few more billions of dollars out of our pockets, but in the end, and I don't mean a long end, I mean a quarter of a century, they're going to be gone. The question that is concerning many of you which is how you are going to get paid, is a really interesting and important question, which nothing being said up here right now is. But you can't answer it because you don't know what the world you are going to be living in is going to be like.

Imagine a conversation at the time of the enactment of the copyright act in 1704 that we were just hearing about before. Some guys are sitting around in a new thing called a coffee shop, and smoking a thing called tobacco which is still largely regarded among English speaking people as a thing you use in whore houses - they are talking about how people are going to get paid for books at the end of the 20th century. My guess is that nothing that they say anticipates Stephen King correctly, in any one of his numerous worthless guises. My guess is that it has not occurred to them that global publishers are going to control a thing called the book trade that they don't understand at all, and they certainly have no idea that books are going to be written and thrown away on a deal where retailers get to return all unsold books 'cause the book trade is really about selling something called "the movie rights". - You don't know what the world you're living in is going to be like but you can guess some things about it: there will be no music companies in it.

Now if you leave them alone to buy more congressmen, in this very corrupt time of ours, they will survive for a little while longer but all of this talk is about the technicalities of the adjustment of the terms of their demise. When we want to start talking about something that matters, we would do better to begin from some basic social propositions. Everybody is connected to everybody else, all data that can be shared will be shared: get used to it.

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Copyright 2005 Ciaran O'Riordan. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.