The term Anti-copyright describes both the opposition to copyright law and specific statements that are added to works in order to encourage wide distribution. The anti-copyright movement is a part of the broader copyright social conflict.
The opposition to copyright law per se is not strictly limited to anarchists. The term “infoanarchism” was coined in recent years (starting with a July 2000 TIME Magazine article about Ian Clarke called “The Infoanarchist”) to describe specific opposition to intellectual property, often including patents. The classic argument for intellectual property is that protection of author and creator’s rights encourages further creative work by giving the creator a source of income. Those against copyright suggest that income to a creator must be generated by ancillary means, for different reasons:
- Intellectual “property” does not behave like material property. If I give you a physical object I may no longer have use or control of that thing, and may ask for something in return — some payment or barter. But when I give you an idea, I lose nothing. I can still use that idea as I wish. I need ask nothing in return.
- Making the creator dependent on a system that requires enforcement directly ties them to large corporate entities which are able to carry out this enforcement, but may at the same time limit creative output to that which is compatible with the mainstream.
- Information in modern digital networks can be reproduced at a very low cost; this makes it possible for people with low income to participate in the “information society”, unless copyright is strictly enforced.
- The need to enforce copyright requires the creator to act directly against his audience; for example, in the wake of Napster, several artists such as Metallica strongly condemned fans who shared their music.
- The enforcement itself may become so difficult that it endangers free expression. The same methods used to prevent the distribution of copyrighted works can be used to prevent the distribution of undesirable speech.
- Enforcement mechanisms such as digital rights management endanger existing consumer rights like fair use and can be used to further tie creators to the corporate entities that control this technology. “Trusted computing” platforms may refuse to play, display or execute content that is not properly “certified” by central authorities.
- Little-known creators depend on distribution to become popular — for them, copyright limits their potential outreach, and donations may be a better option. Well-known creators can always ask for money from their fans upfront (Street Performer Protocol).
- The Berne Convention Article 8 may have a chilling effect on free speech and may force an overseas audience to learn the language that the medium in the question is published in, and can cause a foreign company to act against its overseas audience. International copyright law is controversial for the American and European video game, anime, and manga communities. (See also Fan translation, Scanlation, and Fansub)
- The socialist anarchist perspective on anti-copyright is that ideas and knowledge should not be owned or controlled. This is perhaps best summed up in Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s slogan Property is Theft. These anarchists do not consider plagiarism and theft of other people’s ideas a good thing. They and others who do so would be looked at as dishonest and untrustworthy. What is more important to anarchists is the refusal to “own” ideas and knowledge as such things are not capable of ownership, being part of the patrimony of our common heritage.
- The loss of revenue and loss of value of copyrighted assets by individual and corporate vested interests caused by the advent of file sharing has led to legal action by representatives of copyright holders against consumers who violate copyright laws. Other vested interests, including the manufacturers of MP3 players and broadband internet suppliers, have benefited from the file-sharing movement, and are likely to protect their business by encouraging the relaxation of copyright restrictions for the benefit of their customers, who vastly outnumber copyright holders.
- The European Renaissance saw a burgeoning of creative talent, the like of which has not been seen since. It occurred before intellectual property had been invented, and was spurred by artists copying each other’s techniques and works without legal restriction. The argument that copyright law protects and encourages creativity is seen by many as hype intended to provide moral justification for laws which in fact are there to protect the incomes and wealth of copyright holders, many of whom are not the original artists anyway. The ease and convenience of being able to obtain and preserve many creative works across the internet it is argued will lead to greater creativity if copyright law is abolished. Whilst it may not be possible for popular artists and their agents to make so much money in this scenario, it is likely that popular artists will still be able to make a living by means of advertising and product promotion, as they do at present, or perhaps by busking, if that is the only option open to them.
Such statements are legally required because, under the Berne Convention in international copyright law, works are protected even if no copyright statement is attached to them. However, “anti-copyright” statements typically do not take the form of either sophisticated open content licenses or a simple dedication to the public domain; instead, they usually just encourage wide distribution. It is possible to denounce all claims to copyright in a work including moral rights in a written disclaimer.
An example of an anti-copyright notice is the following:
: Anti-Copyright! Reprint freely, in any manner desired, even without naming the source.
Where such notices are attached depends highly on the type of work. They are often found in socialist anarchist magazines and books.
A copyright waiver might state the following:
: The author of this work hereby waives all claim of copyright (economic and moral) in this work and immediately places it in the public domain; it may be used, distorted, or destroyed in any manner whatsoever without further attribution or notice to the creator.
Most people would regard “anti-copyright” notices as being equivalent to a dedication of material into the public domain (as in the second example above). Some of these disclaimers, however, are less accurate and need to be interpreted individually as the term anti-copyright has no accepted legal meaning. For example, if just free distribution is encouraged, modification or lack of attribution is still illegal, making the material ineligible for collaborative writing projects like Explore. In such a case anti-copyright is not a true denial of copyright, but just a modification of the protection it affords copyright holders.
- “If creativity is the field, copyright is the fence”. –John Oswald
- “If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. 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. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.” –Thomas Jefferson