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Copyright and Culture: Video Games versus the Rest.

Video games represent a departure on copyright practices from most other mediums.

There’s Twitch and YouTube, both which feature non-gaming content, but both of which are home to huge amounts of gaming content. You can watch thousands of games played in their entirety on these websites, and in many cases developers are not just passive in their support, but are engaged and cultivate this. You do see the occasional developer push back at some of the customs and practices of their audiences, but they are the exceptions. Most studios and developers and artists are happy to have people tinker around unless they cross some pretty major lines.

Contrast that with basically every other form of copyrighted commercial content. A clash of realities, as though there were a dimensional rift between games and everything else. While you can screenshot and share parts of an article on social media, or you can post a reaction clip or make a meme from film or television, there are limits to what you can get away with. You can’t watch a feature film with an audience on Twitch, and generally cannot use your favorite music in the background either, sometimes even the music of the game you’re playing. There are even examples of multi-media franchises with books, films, maybe even comics or a video series, all closed down, and then the video game, openly streamed.

Over time, this distinction of how different types of copyright holders respond to public celebration of their work will shift the public’s attitude toward copyright. The public has never had a strong grasp of intellectual property law, which has been a messy and harmful system of laws that always have sought to protect the wealthy over being functional (this is a leitmotif of law).

This becomes even more apparent when considering how long people spend playing games versus engaging with other media. It’s quite easy to spend hundreds of hours over time playing a game, but even if you listen to that three-minute song on repeat 24/7, it will take 2000 listens to get you to 100 hours. Most books and films and television shows are watched once, and even mainstays like Seinfeld, Friends, or The Office only have two to five days of episodes, which are on par with many games.

The fact that games are interactive further departs from other media. Yes, people tap their feet or sing along, or they engage emotionally with the story, but they don’t affect it. They aren’t in control of the camera, they can’t throw in an extra chorus to the song.

Between that interactive engagement and the ability to further engage with new content from streamers, video makers, modders, and multiplayer experiences, games have a lot of hooks to get into the culture of their audience. These experiences add up to the conclusion that gaming will have a major impact on how copyright will develop in the next decade.

There will be a push toward making other forms more interactive, where possible, which will include relaxing some industry attitudes toward sharing of their content. Music can be made interactive. Film can be, too. It’s not clear how long-form text would work, but perhaps. An interactive song might work somewhere between full-on remixes and the static track you listen to on a music site. Remixing film and serial video content might include offering cut-lists up so that people can focus on one character or story arc. With technologies like virtual reality, it might even include being the camera in a space, with different people offering up different takes on a story by shifting the viewpoints.

At the same time, there will be a pushback against current copyright laws. The inability to share some types of culture effectively will frustrate a people who are used to sharing their gaming experiences. Surely some enhancement of fair use makes sense, as does shortening length of copyright. Practically everyone who graduates high school has read some subset of around 100 books, and most of them are still under copyright despite a universal role in education.

In the meantime, games will continue to be more familiar and friendly to many as an art form, as it represents something nearer to open culture.

Reading the TPP

Some notes from a skimming of the Trans-Pacific Partnership text.

Probably not much use, but I skimmed the TTP and noted some things along the way.

  1. Rules of origin decide whether and how much of a product came from a country. Important because stuff gets made over many steps and things like tariff classification may depend on it. Often companies try to cheat on this, so that they can avoid tariffs. The cheating, in some circumstances, is referred to as a spaghetti bowl effect, due to the criss-crossing and subterfuge involved.
  2. The obvious remark that legal documents themselves often suffer from the spaghetti bowl effect, insofar as they (see annex IV.3 of subchapter 0x0b9) are half-constructed of references to other sections, documents, etc. Reading any legal document (law, treaty, or otherwise) often requires reading every other legal document in existence (in triplicate).
    I do wonder whether there are any formal studies done of this, and whether there is some sort of mathematical law describing the length of a document to the length of a document’s references/incorporations.
  3. The amount of effort involved in tracking the origin of goods would seem to suggest that the system is ripe for augmentation with information such as the wage-of-creation-to-poverty-level information that could result in economic pressure for better wages across the globe.
  4. Emergency measures for a variety of causes including large swings in volume of import/export of food and other goods in cases of famine, ability to protect in cases of health, safety, civil war, etc.
  5. “For Peru, all distilled spirits with less than 10% alc/vol must have a date of minimum durability.” That’s a footnote which seems to contradict the language it’s noted on (that “[n]o Party may require… a date of minimum durability… except… on account of their packaging… or the addition of perishable ingredients…”). Shrug.
  6. Can’t require a producer of commercial software to give up their private key as a condition of sale (unless it’s being sold to a government). But: doesn’t stop law enforcement from requiring they decrypt, either.
  7. Can’t require sale or financial data on pharmaceuticals (and should “endeavor not to require pricing data”) when determining whether drugs can be sold.
  8. British English: “programme” keeps coming up, which I always read as an invitation to brainwash the writer.
  9. Some anti-spam stuff (among other consumer protection measures), but we’ll see how much it helps.
  10. Can’t require source code for importation, except for critical infrastructure.
  11. “The Parties recognise the importance of a rich and accessible public domain.” And yet, they do nothing to strengthen it. They even use the cliche “fallen into the public domain” instead of something more appropriate like, “lofted up into the public domain, now unfettered by the mortal whims of the fools that created it.”
  12. Chapter 20, “Environment,” mentions the ozone layer, but nothing about climate change.

Well, that was fun.

The Great Gatsby: Copyright 1925

The public domain matters, damn it.

EFF: Why Isn’t Gatsby in the Public Domain? raises some good points about the dire need for copyright reform. I’m just going to throw some other ideas out here.

A growing public domain could have changed the 20th century. Small publishers could have subsidized the publication of works that did not meet the demand of the large publishers. That is, by publishing old, popular works, many new works could have been published.

One of the key things we must think about with copyright: why do we pay at all for any creative work? One reason is to support the artists and thinkers. Another is to avoid lawsuits, I suppose. But is not one of the reasons for us to pay for these works the expectation that we will one day have them in the public domain? We lose part of our payment to the wind, as it were. We see part of our payment be in vain.

Another thing to consider, what happens to the copyright of a work if everyone owned a copy? Would it be enforceable to take someone to court for giving a copy to someone that already had one? Or if there were no copy of a work, other than inside someone’s head (eg, The Book of Eli), could that person be held liable for making a copy where no tangible copy existed?

As for The Great Gatsby I find it inappropriate to consider that work to be copyrighted. With works like it, we certainly move toward a place where we as society should simply ignore the law. Take the opening of the book:


One advantage that Fitzgerald had in his life, which has dissipated since, was a bountiful public domain. How many works have been lost due to the lack of the inspiration and free-flow of information that the public domain should offer? How much drier would Wikipedia be without the public domain?

Should we continue to play the role of Gatsby, trying to our death to win the affection of the money-filled voices of the owners of fine art? That is the path we are on today.

How many pieces of art do you engage with per day? The music you listen to, the clothing you wear, the screens and frames in your life, movies, television, theater, all around you art is pervasive.

But what if the leaves never fell in the fall? How quickly these great trees would splinter and thrash to dust under their own weight.

The lack of a public domain is the societal equivalent to wearing earplugs and nose plugs and a coating of plastic on our tongues. Thick gloves and cataracts.

We deprive ourselves of the discoveries and connectedness, the intertext. How would religion be impacted if all of the variations of the various holy books survived intact? Would we find a version of the myths that contained humorous incidents long forgotten?

The minimal money being made off such old works pales the amounts to be made if the rest of the works enter the public domain before they are lost for good. We live in an world of information, our economies rely on it, and yet we do not embrace its spread, ever fearful of losing control.

We must stop being Jay Gatsby, or we will be floating before we know what hit us.