Proudhon and the Social Media

...both articles are concerned with breaches of copyright and IP abuse...

…both articles are concerned with breaches of copyright and IP abuse…

Barely had I blogged at (ISC)2 about the Proudhonist contention that “(Intellectual) Property is Theft” than I came upon an article by Andrew Orlowski for The Register in which he uses a similar tag line (“Property is theft, man. So we're taking yours”). While both articles are concerned with breaches of copyright and IP abuse, it was, I guess, inevitable that I’d spend some time whining about the damage to my pocket from pirated electronic copies of most of my books.

Actually, I tend to assume that if someone is going to grab a pirated copy, they were never going to buy the real thing anyway, so I’m not as obsessive about it as you might think. But I do find it incomprehensible and exasperating that so many people feel that I (or my publishers) shouldn’t expect any financial return from the expenditure of my creative energy (such as it is) and the many and various costs involved in the publishing process. (This is only one of the many gripes I have about the popular perception of the writing process, but I'll save the others for a more suitable time and venue…)

Orlowski’s article is focused on a slightly different aspect of the problem. I'm not really a visual thinker, as you might deduce from the fact that I rarely use graphics in a blog or paper, and in fact "Viruses Revealed" is notable for being 684 pages long and not containing a single illustration (not even photographs of the authors). (The book credits two illustrators, but I suppose they did the cover.) 

However, as a keen and occasionally published photographer, I have every sympathy with photographers who feel that organizations that presumably regard themselves as legitimate and honest rather than hotbeds of anarchy (say the Daily Mail or the BBC) should not simply swipe photographs from Twitter (or Flickr, or Facebook, or any of dozens of social networking sites that allow or encourage their users to post their work) without credit or, if appropriate, payment.

Orlowski makes several excellent points that dovetail nicely with some of mine. In the age of Web 2.0 (or whatever version we're up to now) we are all creators of content. Not everyone expects to make money out of (all) their work (I regard myself as a professional writer, but I do a lot of writing from which I derive no income at all), but they that doesn't mean that their rights as a creator don't need to be respected.

"Work for hire" where the writer's work belongs to an employer or customer is rather different, but the principle is the same. The writer can agree to assign copyright to someone else by contract, or put it in the public domain, but he or she is making a decision: the right to decide hasn't been stolen from them.

ESET Senior Research Fellow

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