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Goodbye, Copyright. Farewell, Tenured Guilds.

Written by Gary North on February 20, 2016

Copyright law is in its terminal phase. I have known this for over 20 years. The Internet is killing it.

I am going to discuss a remarkable example of a website that today has 48 million stolen scientific articles online. It is beyond the ability of anybody to control. It is outside of copyright protection, despite the fact that academic journals want to defend their turf. There is no legal way for them to do this.

Before I explain what has happened, I want to take you back to 1994.


John Perry Barlow used to be a songwriter for the Grateful Dead. He is also a digital technician. In 1994, he wrote an article for the printed version of Wired magazine, because that was the only way we could buy the magazine. It was published in March 1994, eight months before the release of the original graphic internet browser, Netscape.

Barlow’s article was on the high cost of enforcing copyright in the digital age. The article is still online. Anybody who is interested in the issues of copyright law ought to read it.

It began with a quote from Thomas Jefferson:

“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.”

From the beginning of copyright law in the early 17th century, when England licensed the printing of Bibles by Oxford and Cambridge — academic guild centers — copyright law could only be enforced in the way that it is possible for governments to to control the sale of liquor: by controlling the sale of bottles. Governments controlled publishing by controlling paper, ink, and especially printing presses. In other words, they controlled the bottles. But, in the Internet age, Barlow wrote, it is no longer possible to protect the liquid, meaning digits, by means of limiting access to the bottles, meaning printing presses and bookstores. I remembered this argument for over 20 years. It was a graphic argument, which is what a good debater uses to drive home a point. I searched the article for “bottle,” and I got this:

In other words, the bottle was protected, not the wine.

(For the rest of my article, click the link)

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