So the upshot is, a copyright-free environment has simply enriched large businesses at the direct expense of individual authors. But shouldn't the little guy enjoy the same protection of copyright law that the big corporations do?
We can't afford to. Suing for multiple copyright theft is simply not feasible for individuals. There have been some signs of collective policing. For example, photo agencies in the US recently ganging up to sue the celebrity blogger 'Perez Hilton' for hundreds of thousands of dollars for unauthorized usage for their pictures placed on their websites, and software companies like PicScout have spotted a market for software which tracks illegal photo uses.
(Perez Hilton generates lots of advertising revenue which isn't passed on to the photographers whose images have been stolen, and are used on the blog.)
Only the big money corporations have the means to enforce their ownership rights, so the widespread theft of individual authors rights benefits them the most, and this has a chilling effect, as it discourages authors from placing their work on the Web.
Instead of fighting the big corporations, the technology utopians have decided to fight the law that protects the little guy.
The Orphan Works Bill that the US Congress almost passed earlier this year had clauses that would have devastated individual artists, weakening their ability to pursue fine violators of 'their' content. If it goes into law, it will much make all content on the web easier to steal and much harder to pursue and stop.
So in practice, it discourages professionals putting high quality images on the web and creates the very cultural barrier which Copyleft and Creative Commons advocates seek to abolish. Advocates who put out material under a "copy me" license or in the public domain usually have a day job. I don't. My photography is my job. Authors who do this it's usually a publicity gimmick or a loss-leader.
To throw the baby out with the bathwater and abolish copyright altogether, or to behave like it doesn't exist is equally short-sighted, and brings us the very cultural atrophy that anti-copyright advocates claim to be against.
Most anti-copyright arguments are based on a distaste for unfairly held "property". But for individual authors, it's not, and never really has been a property issue - it's our labour we're talking about. Copyright exists to allow us to earn a living, but routine flouting of this law simply strengthens the ability of large companies to seize that labour and sit on it for profit – as their property.
In reality, what is happening on the web is the transfer of the authors' labour to large corporations for nothing. Anti-copyright lobbyists have become either unwitting allies, or shills, for big business. ®
© Sion Touhig. Sion Touhig is a photo journalist who has covered the conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Palestine. He was News Photographer of the Year, 1999, and featured in Life/Time Magazine's "Pictures of the Year" for four years. He blogs at SionPhoto.