France and Germany; enemies of knowledge
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
FT.com / Technology - France to oppose Google book scheme.
Having lived in countries with weak enforcement of intellectual property rights I am by no means of the trendy "Pirate Party" persuasion. There's a reason you can't buy CD's or download MP3s of Russia's rock bands, to give a trivial example. It's because, thanks to widespread piracy, they don't make records. They can only make money from live concerts. That's a loss to us all; one of many such. Envy of the likes of Madonna (whose oeuvre apparently represents the most valuable IP asset on the planet) should not blind us. Ensuring that creative people benefit from their efforts is good for us all.
France and Germany's governments, however, are taking this too far. Google's project to digitise the world's libraries and make their content available online will, when realised, revolutionise intellectual life. It's potentially the biggest thing since Gutenberg. In the US, creative lawyers and judges have found a way to compensate authors still in copyright for their contributions without (such is the genius of the Common Law) any government involvement. Google is looking to find a way to do the same across the world.
Google does not always live up to its motto "do no evil". It cooperates with tyrannical regimes in censoring the internet for example (arguing it's better their populations have half a loaf). On this occasion, however, it is trying to be a benefactor. Imagine the ability to search all of world literature in the same way you can search the trivial burblings of bloggers!! If that doesn't move you, you are an idiot (or a French or German politician). But I repeat myself.
Remember Chirac's hamfisted efforts to create a state-owned French rival to Google because he couldn't bear the thought of the world's main online portal being American? I have no doubt from the tone of the French pronouncements on the subject that they are motivated by the same crude, envious anti-Americanism. These fools will one day be remembered as the 21st Century equivalents of the church officials who suppressed Galileo's writings.
Officialdom has always been the bane of progress.
Posted by: jameshigham | Wednesday, September 09, 2009 at 08:59 PM
Sure, Google is today's IBM, but where is "Big Blue" now? I am sure its Microsoft is in the wings somewhere. So is Microsoft's Microsoft and I, for one, can't wait.
Posted by: Tom | Wednesday, September 09, 2009 at 11:30 AM
My objection to the Google idea is one of power. With the reach and power Google has, effectively any book which isn't on Google wont exist or have ever existed.
Posted by: hovis | Wednesday, September 09, 2009 at 11:08 AM
Perhaps because they think America was meant to be French and so it's a living proof to them of the failure of their Imperial ambitions?
Russian artistic endeavour generally is brilliant. Russian artists could take on anyone if they had IP protection for their works to allow them to build their audience. Such is the laxity of enforcement, however, that only one copy of anything would ever be sold, whether by download or otherwise. It's surely a truism that (a few eccentrics aside) no-one will make their valuable inventions or creations available to the public without some basis for reward. Creativity and inventiveness requires effort, and if you reward other activities more (and some here are proposing no reward for creativity at all!) you must expect energy to be diverted.
I find it strange that usually sensible libertarians and conservatives make common cause with socialists on intellectual property, when they would never do so in relation to more vulgar varieties. IP is far more important than physical property. It is what drives the human race forward. Socialism assumes that people will work and deploy their resources for the common good according to their abilities, without differential rewards. Surely all of us spit on that ridiculous idea, which was tested to destruction on more than half of mankind during the 20th Century, at huge cost to human progress.
Why are inventors and musicians supposed to work for love, when no significant numbers from any other group have ever shown willing to do so? I can't help feeling it's only suggested because they (wealthy musicians in particular) are not popular types. Again, this compares with the usual socialist stance and is an unworthy motivation for a classical liberal or conservative.
Posted by: Tom | Wednesday, September 09, 2009 at 11:03 AM
"There's a reason you can't buy CD's or download MP3s of Russia's rock bands..."
Now I don't have huge experience of Russia's rock bands, but I do sneakingly wonder if the reason has more to do with their affinity to finish heavy metal than Arrr Harrr... pirates.
Little demand? Lordi springs scarily to mind.
I can't help feeling that if they were any good they could take off virtually on downloads alone, like Little Boots did
Why is it that the French great and good seem to loath America so? Because they wish it were them maybe?
Posted by: Moggsy | Wednesday, September 09, 2009 at 07:12 AM
I spend more money on music now than at any time in my life, very little of it on recordings. The availability of free music is the source of my enthusiasm for live music.
Some IP rights clearly need protecting but music, to my mind, is not such an asset.
The music scene has never been more vibrant, festivals are popping up all over the UK. Simon Cowell may be suffering financially because of Pirate Bay but he seems to be baring up well.
I'm sure those russian rock bands would fill bigger venues if they distributed their music more widely.
Posted by: Diogenes | Wednesday, September 09, 2009 at 05:45 AM
I'm not completely convinced. Yes, I do agree that I don't really want music to be a rare treat. I listen to recorded music myself.
But that doesn't mean that I think it is a disaster if all music isn't available commercially. If some bands don't make recordings so that their music can only be listened to live, fine. There will always be others who do make recordings - including those who are not too worried that those recordings will not make money. And there will be music that is out of copyright. So if some popular contemporary music remains unavailable in recorded form, is it such a big problem?
As for IP - well, I may not believe in it, but I am happy to agree that it does bring benefits.
Posted by: Young Mr. Brown | Tuesday, September 08, 2009 at 08:01 PM
Yes it is a loss. I would hate music to be such a rare treat and I am sure that Beethoven would have been delighted his music would one day be available to all, at all times.
Consider that 200 years ago, a square meal would also have been a rare and highly-appreciated treat for many. I am sure you would not suggest turning back the clock on agricultural technology, so we can all enjoy the sublime sauce of hunger.
As for IP, without it we would not be having this discussion. We need to incentivise the creative minority to share with the rest of us. Human progress depends on them.
Posted by: Tom | Tuesday, September 08, 2009 at 12:15 PM
"There's a reason you can't buy CD's or download MP3s of Russia's rock bands, to give a trivial example. It's because, thanks to widespread piracy, they don't make records. They can only make money from live concerts. That's a loss to us all"
That's a serious question. Might there not be something good about the fact that this is music that has to be listened to live? A couple of hundred years ago, the only way to hear the latest Beethoven was to actually go to a concert. That made a concert a huge occasion. It meant going to the concert was incredibly exciting. Music was listened too seriously - instead of something that was always on in the background as you did your shopping. Surely there is something not quite right about the way that we listen to music today?
(By the way, I doubt that I am of the trendy "pirate party" persuasion, having never managed to be trendy in my life. However, I don't believe in intellectual property.)
Posted by: Young Mr. Brown | Tuesday, September 08, 2009 at 09:42 AM