You Can Never Take My Freedom

You can take my life, but you can never take my freedom. ~Sir William Wallace, Braveheart

Photo by MarkyBon on Flickr

You cannot protect intellectual property in the Internet age.

At all. Don’t try.

The idea of increasing protections on the Internet to ensure that piracy, plagiarism and other forms of intellectual property theft is sexy to content producers who attempt to eschew the freedoms provided by the Internet in the 21st century.

Photographers don’t like to have their photos used without permission, often times. Legitimately so. But that doesn’t change the fact that photos are used without the permission of the photographer anyway. Regardless of protections currently in place or employed.

Writers don’t like their articles copied wholesale or scraped from the web an re-purposed or re-published elsewhere. Their writing is valuable and their ideas are their own. Why should someone else gain the benefit? But that doesn’t change the fact that words are commoditized things worth little and that the writers of those words are the silos for the intellect and the ideas. Therefore, artificial protections of articles as intellectual property does little in protecting that actual value… the writer. The writer who cannot be stolen.

Musicians get paid very little money, when signed to record deals, because the labels and distributors end up taking most of the money for “overhead”. So musicians balk at the idea of someone else dipping in and profiting in even the slightest way from their work. Except the artists who have recognized the nature of the 21st century have proved a model of profitability that end-rounds the tired oligopoly of the labels by going directly to the consumer. Try Radiohead, for instance, who in 2007 released In Rainbows directly on their website to consumers. 22,000 records were sold in the first week in the United States 1.

The Internet, for more than 20 years, has survived and thrived based on freedom that levels the playing field for the world.  Thomas Friedman has long been the champion of a flat world where all are socially, economically and technologically on a level playing field and, while his idea has merit, does not entirely pan out as the digital divide still exists with more of a concept of hills than the mountains that existed 20 years ago. Regardless, the Internet (and really technology as a whole, considering consumer electronic progresses) has indeed made it possible for accessibility in technology.

Take, for instance, the hobbyist photographer who can have access to high quality cameras and lenses for under $1000. Cameras that, today, will shoot HD video as well. Instead of requiring expensive film and dark rooms, the art of photography has been opened to the masses for a relatively inexpensive cost.

Musicians can save overhead on production simply by having access to moderately priced software for their Macs, instead of renting costly space at a studio.

Writers can be heard by millions of people worldwide, simply by having a blog. In fact, major media (early nemeses of the Internet-era technologies we use today), now embraces citizen journalism and related platforms like blogs and Twitter.

Photographers like Thomas Hawk recognize that their work will be “stolen” and have come to terms with that insisting that he won’t run away from the inevitable but will embrace it and leverage it.

Freedom can never be sacrificed for the sake of protection. To do so thrashes against the very currents that are already washing away these protectionist ideas.