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Opinion: Copyright law change will be slow, like drug law reform

It’s quite clear from looking at the current state of copyright law, that it’s being massively abused. Whether you consider stories of little girls having their laptops confiscated by the police, or Apple and Samsung going at one another in court rooms over minor patent disputes that could block the sale of entire product lines, it’s all pretty ridiculous and looking at your comments and those of many in the younger technological generation, you, and they see the fallacy and idiocy in current copyright legislation. So surely, it won’t be that long before people of the generation that understand these problems at a fundamental level, because they’ve grown up with them, will begin entering positions of power and take the fight back to copyright law makers, ending the tide of ever increasing restrictions and pushing for a much more open society. That’s certainly what some people are hoping for and it’s an understandable dream, but is it likely to happen?

As Mr Falkvinge over at TorrentFreak points out, laws have to be supported morally by the people, in order to continue to be followed; and he’s right. The current state of piracy and its decade long love affair with media consumers is a great indicator of how regardless of the legal threats and real world legal action of copyright lobbyists and media companies, the vast majority of people don’t care and will continue to download in the most affordable, simplest and convenient ways. The new OfCom study of 2012 backs that up. But does that mean that we’re moving any closer to changing the laws for good?

While we could look at the surge of protest against bills like SOPA, PIPA and ACTA as an indication that the world is waking up to privacy invasions, copyright infringement abuse and sneaky government tactics, I don’t think that means we’re any closer to changing the actual laws. While in a few years time we might have pro-copyright legislation reform people moving into the political meat grinder, it’s going to be a long time until they’re in any sort of position of power to do anything about it. On top of that, just look at the age of media moguls like Rupert Murdoch (82). These old guards of information dissemination and manipulation can last a long, long time. It takes a combination of media, government and the public to get things done, but nobody is knocking on Mr Murdoch’s door with a more open minded agenda.

law1
Both have a much closer legal relationship than you might think

Drug laws are a great example of why any change in the law won’t be swift. I know various generations of people who thought drug laws were set to be completely overhauled “within five years” of a certain date and in most instances, that thought of theirs occurred decades ago. Perhaps it was during the 60s with the summer of love and the popularisation of LSD. Perhaps it was in the 70s, when despite President Nixon’s call for a “War on Drugs,” people were still able to get ahold of their favourite illegal substances.

But of course, without the political leaders taking a stance against draconian drug laws, there was never going to be legitimate change, no matter how many smoke outs or protests occurred. Likewise, without the media support. So you’d expect that when the drug users from the 60s and 70s eventually made their way to positions of power, we’d have big sweeping changes, right? Wrong. Bill Clinton famously didn’t inhale, but admitted to sampling cannabis at a point in his life, but did that mean he was going to suddenly turn around and buck the political trend? Nope. What about Obama? Famous member of the Choom Gang? He’s used federal agencies to target medical cannabis dispensaries more than any other previous president.

hippies
Honest, we never inhaled. Maaaaan

However, Mr Clinton, the man who didn’t do much for cannabis law change while in office, has come around big time in recent months; you know, now he’s not even close to being in office. Former presidente of Mexico, Vincente Fox has also been gunning hard for cannabis law reform in his home country – now he’s not in office. Combined with the support of media moguls like Richard Branson – interestingly the power hitters within media are more able to use their power while they have it to influence law reform than those in political positions – it looks like in America and even in the UK, drug laws are beginning to change.

branson
Media support is a big part of law reform. Source: Jarle Naustvik

My point is, the same will no doubt be the same for copyright law. It’s not going to change any time soon, because the old guard who see it as important to maintain their status quo are still in power. But even when they’re gone and the new generation comes through, there will still be enough of the old dogs to make sure nothing big happens. It’s when those digital hippies become the out-of-power influencers, that we’ll see change, because there will be no mangy hound leaning on them from the shadows. When it’s safe to do so, out of work politicians will stand up for public opinion on copyright law, just as they are they beginning to do with drugs.

And then after a few more years, current politicians will probably come on board too. But not until it’s safe for their careers to do so.

Big law changes take a long time to ferment and come to the public fore. I don’t doubt that one day we’ll see them in how copyright is handled, but unfortunately that probable means we’re going to be waiting on a lot of political funerals before it happens for real.

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