The great copyright debate
Padraig Reidy: The great copyright debate
16 Aug 12

The sentencing of Anton Vickerman, the 38-year-old founder of for conspiracy to defraud has opened up the debate on copyright once again – and it’s a debate that’s not going to go away any time soon. The question at the core seems to be one that goes to the heart of how we communicate online: the web depends on people being allowed to move back and forth, link and share. Paying for content seems to be anathema to this.

But, the counterargument goes, someone, somewhere, has to pay for all this stuff. The films and music into which people put huge amounts of effort cannot simply be endlessly shared and viewed without any return given to the creators.

This is not the universal view of creative people. Back in 2010, Simon Indelicate of independent label Corporate Recordstold Index:

“The Record Industry has always exploited the expense involved in recording, promoting and distributing music to offer terrible, bankrupting deals to all but a vanishingly tiny minority of musicians. The Internet has nuked their business model by making these once scarce resources abundant – artists should be celebrating the opportunity this offers…[F]ilesharing has directly benefited me as a promotional tool.”

It could be argued that music is an exception in this model: people often “follow” bands in the same way they follow football clubs, displaying their loyalty by paying to download the records, buying the t-shirts and going to gigs. The film and TV industries do not really experience the same devotion.

We are left with a lot of questions: Are “traditional” creative industry models sustainable? Is posting links, even for profit, genuinely a breach of copyright? If so, what is the correct sanction? And what about those who download files? Is it desirable, or even realistic, to pursue every single downloader? There are free speech arguments on all sides of this debate, and Index will be exploring them in the coming weeks.

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.