Sunday, April 25, 2010

History of the World, Part I

I love Mel Brooks.  Who doesn't?  When you can turn the entire Inquisition into a musical number complete with synchronized swimming nuns, you are truly a genius.

But what I've noticed is that his brilliant History of the World: Part I movie lacks any reference to copyright or copyright law, other then in its own credits.  Mocking history is ok for Mel, but don't you dare try to steal his own creation.  So I thought I might go ahead and create the following document for our educational interests:

A Brief History of Copyright Time -

In the beginning, there was the word.  And the word was without form and lifeless, unless you were William Shakespeare and could write something a bit more intelligible then the Canterbury Tales (thank you high school humanities department for my rich knowledge of world literature). 

Copyright law began as an expression of government control over the printing and distributing of dissent and criticism of both government and church.  Sounds relatively familiar, this basing of the law in some sort of government intervention.  Of course in the 16th century, we are talking about being burned at the stake for illegally printing without government permission, not just going to jail.  As a result, printers and writers fled en mass to the Netherlands, which helps to explains why that country is wildly liberal.

This situation changed in 1710 with the "Statue of Anne" being created in Britain.  It created the first system where an author owned his or her works for a set period of time (14 years in this case).  It ended the more onerous government censorship rules.  While it eventually expired leading to a protracted dispute, it became the basis for all future government laws on copyright, including the Copyright Clause of the United States Constitution.

So, the earliest copyright laws secured the rights to ones creations for ten to fourteen years (the original US federal law gave authors the right to renew for an additional fourteen years).  After the introduction of the Berne Convention Treaty, those rights were granted for a minimum of "life plus fifty years" (in the US its life plus seventy).  This is approximately for me where copyright laws go off the rails entirely.

Patents are granted for seven years.  A patent can only be extended if you make some significant change to the product in question, and then for only another seven years.  That's why there are so many generic versions of products like Viagra on the market now (because sex always sells of course).  So someone who creates a cure for cancer can only secure profits from that hard work for seven years.  Conversely, a trashy novel by Joan Collins will survive her death and you could be sued by her estate for trying to republish it 48 years after she was placed in the ground.  Say what???

Things become infinitely more complicated the more easily one can copy and distribute information.  And what does a computer do best?  Run copies of programs.  Couple this fact with an easy method of distribution (the Internet is really wonderful... for porn), and you have copyright infringement on scale that would slow down a mongol invasion.  Although I doubt Genghis would really care if he was stealing your copy of Watership Down.  He just loves fluffy little bunnies.

So that brings us to the present.  As game designers, we are faced with competing needs.  The needs of our consumers to have easy access to a game that works the way they expect out of the box, versus our need to actually manage to make a living doing what we do.  How best to meet these competing needs and thrive in a digital marketplace? 

At this point I have to punt... I'll get into what we can do in more detail later, although clearly the idea of giving things away does not work for me any better then the idea of stomping on my consumers like a pixellated version of Big Brother does. 

Giving it away, restrictive DRM.... oh the places we'll go.... more from Whoville later.... right now I'm going to go watch my copy of Blazing Saddles.  Excuse me while I whip this out.....

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