Lakoff and the copyright wars

After reading both Lessig and Lakoff and then putting them together, it struck me that part of what we’re up against here is a framing tactic used by the copyright cartel: By consistently using the term “property” in connection with copyright and patents, they’re reinforcing the notion that stealing music is like stealing a can of coke. They’re subtly but effectively making people think this is a moral issue and not a utilitarian one.

And this is the key: I find that once I convincingly make the case that copyright and patents are something we as citizens in a society have decided to put in place to serve our own needs, namely to spur more creation and innovation, and that the design of copyright and patent laws should be judged empirically on how much creation and innovation they generate versus how much they inhibit, the game is won. People agree that it would be beneficial to limit copyrights and they become skeptical of patents.

But this argument is made at the intellectual level, and the copyright cartel is playing on people’s emotional understanding of ownership, of “my car” and “their music”. The word “property” invokes the moral frame. We need a word that invokes the utilitarian frame.

I asked Cory Doctorow about this yesterday at reboot7, and he said they were aware of the problem, that they are consciously using the words copyright, patents, trademarks, etc., instead of the blanket IP word—with the added advantage of letting you highlight the differences between those. That surely helps, but can’t we do more? I would love to hear George Lakoff’s thoughts on this problem and what we can do to fight it. Maybe Cory or Doc Searls could run this by him?

1 comment

Aaron Swartz

They're not always subtle about it. I once visited Canada, where it's legal to get US satellite television signals without paying, and on the television there were repeated ads which claimed that if your family got satellite TV without paying then your children would become shoplifters -- you were teaching them it's OK to steal. Less famously (or more, I guess, in these circles) Jack Valenti will say "you wouldn't go into Tower Records and walk out with a CD under your coat, so how can you justify downloading that CD?"
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