California über alles? Is MEP Reda flushing Euro copyright tradition down the pan?

Barriers, rights and a bit of a squint

Barriers and rights

From this idea of copyright as a barrier or impediment, most of Reda’s more harmful ideas flow. The Pirate MEP prejudged the question in her report, Levine points out.

“You’re determining the outcome by your questions. What do you do with a barrier? Well, obviously, you reduce the barrier, or remove it altogether, and Reda says she’s trying to reduce the barrier without creating negative externalities. But looking at it like a barrier might not be the right way."

“Similarly, if you only look at copyright as a property right, you might be missing the point too.” For example, Levine is troubled by the implication in her draft that only a few people should enjoy copyright protection.

“Reda thinks copyright is a kind of handout, that artists need this extra special ‘thing’ because they’re extra special people, and we need to protect them like extra special flowers. If we’re all creators now, shouldn’t everyone have creator’s right? Copyright is a right for everyone: everyone has a right to protect their work.”

“Many people may never exercise that human right, but there may be a day when they need to. That’s not a justification for removing that human right," Levine said.

Julia Reda

Julia Reda, Europe's only Pirate Party MEP

Social justice warrior

Levine is also troubled that Reda also says rights should be withdrawn as a kind of social justice punishment, harking back to the way laws were devised in medieval times.

"She’s saying that: ‘We don’t like the way people are using rights, so we don’t like the rights, and we’ll get rid of them.’ But people will do that if you give them rights."

"Take free speech," continued Levine. "People will use their right to free speech in ways that are creepy or undesirable. A lot of free speech has led to people being idiots. But we don’t question the underlying logic of the right to free speech — we accept that in general this is a good thing. In copyright industries, a lot of people who own a lot of copyright may not be likable people, but that’s neither here nor there. It just isn’t relevant," said Levine.

People who want copyright reform should look at market power, and do so fairly, he advises. “I find it hard to accept that media companies are out of control but Google doesn’t. Let’s at least be consistent.”

But the main consequence of discarding European philosophical tradition for the US one is the monomaniacal idea that the right isn’t actually a right, but a barrier. This is reflected in the child-friendly iconography that illustrates her proposals. Her draft website contains pictures of barriers, constraints, exclusion and obstruction. Authority is stopping you doing something. Boo to authority!

Here are three examples:

"Reda has obviously gone to great efforts to come up with proposals that — in rhetoric at least — look balanced," said Levine. "But her world view is that copyright is inherently a barrier and a problem, not a right. And I think that’s a fundamental misunderstanding."

“That doesn’t mean a barrier can never be a barrier — by definition, every right is a barrier to someone else. If you walk across my field, my property may be a barrier to you. But that’s not unique to copyright."

“There’s also a great line about how ‘copyright laws are hard to understand’, but that’s the nature of all laws. Have you ever bought a house? Do you know how many contracts there are there? For someone who works in Brussels to complain about complexity is um, interesting."

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