The subject of copyright law is sure to raise hackles. It addresses interesting questions that drive directly to our self-perception as a civilized people, in a lesser, though similar manner as the debate on abortion.

While cogent arguments have been made on both sides of the situation, irrespective of quotation and an individual's agreement or disagreement with great men of letters, the law of the United States of America is quite clear on this subject. I quote from the website, which is one of many one can Google on the topic.

A copyright is a form of intellectual protection that is provided to the authors of “original works of authorship.” The Copyright Act (codified at Title 17 of the United States Code) states that an original work of authorship that is entitled to copyright protection includes literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, regardless of whether they are published and unpublished. A copyright gives the copyright owner the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.

I'm going to type this again, because it's the important part of the American law said simply: An original written work is the property of the copyright holder (initially the creator) who has the exclusive right to distribute copies or display the copyrighted work publicly. The United States is a capitalistic democracy with the idea of personal property as what may be thought of as a sacred tenet of our way of life. We own things in this country. At it's most basic, we own what we create. Protection of the right of the individual to own his ideas, irrespective of their perceived value to others, or the facility by with they may be misappropriated, is a basic human right afforded by this country.

Note that irrespective of an individual's philosophical disagreement with these conditions, they are the law in the United States, and that violating these rules through piracy damages the individual copyright holder by definition. Steal something from Braunbeck, you're breaking the law. You do not get to determine the value. You do not get to distribute his works for your own profit. There is no other interpretation under the current US statues, irrespective of how many cogent points have been made in disagreement.

Recent controversy spawned by Napster and look-alikes have heated this debate. Technology has made intellectual property theft a crime that can be committed unknowingly by kindergarteners. Something has to change. For instance, in this writer's opinion, it is unrealistic for the American recording industry to attempt to enforce its copyright in light of the ease with which their copyrights can be violated--even though it is completely within their right to do so under the laws of the United States. However, as a writer and a technologist, I cannot condone the notion that intellectual property rights have been rendered obsolete by broadband any more than I condone the terroristic acts committed on 9/11/01 because it was easy to hijack and fly airplanes. The fact the crime is simple does not make it correct. The fact the thief perceives a low value to the stolen property is irrelevant.

Some people feel an 8-cell embryo the size of the head of a pin has the value of a blob of pus. Some people think it's a human being.

In the end--it's all about value. If you don't value something, you won't work for money to pay for it. You won't fight for its rights. You simply won't care, and so ownership is meaningless to you. And that's what this idea is about.

At its core, creators of music and film and novels will work to find ways to protect their art for the simple reason that an individual feels he or she deserves to benefit from his or her hard work. Artists value their work. Otherwise they wouldn't do it. Even if they "work for nothing", that effort itself brings value to them. Once there is no value to the individual, the behavior extinguishes. The artist stops making art and becomes a cab driver.

If you have never written a book, or produced a film, or recorded a professional album, you may be gleefully oblivious to the volume of effort an individual expends to produce the output. An author who works 8 hours per day, 7 days per week, for a year to produce a novel has had little time to do anything else. The question he asks the world who might enjoy his work is: don't I have the right to some compensation for my effort, as you would be for the work you put into turning burgers or busing tables at the local diner?

And then how much should Braunbeck be compensated for his hard work?

Fortunately for him, the laws of supply and demand dictate the final value for his effort, not a single consumer.

In Jefferson's utopian society, the inventor would be supported by a strong state infrastructure that would care for his health, feed him, pipe away his sewage, and provide shelter. In reality, an author must provide for these things himself while he persues his chosen profession. Certainly, he could have tried a different profession. He could drive a bus or put tires on tractors. But in your own lifetimes you've witnessed the downfall of societies that did not value individual property, and so free men know instinctively the urge to create and contribute artistically is part of what separates us from the ignorant and the self-destructive. This history teaches us people cannot prosper in a society whose only commerce is theft, piracy, and plagiarism, and that these acts may benefit few, but in the large rob each of us of our essential right to liberty and the free exchange of ideas. For if I cannot be held accountable for my own ideas, then I am likely to put my effort into pursuits that more effectively benefit those for whom I am responsible, and no one else. It's simple personal economics. I have mouths to feed.

As has been the case forever, it will be attractive for simpler minds to convince themselves that theft is right because it's easy. Unfortunately for free men, that's what will change the technology that will make it more difficult to gain access to the art we desire. Copyright protection will become onerous until the technology evolves that allows easy consumption with recognition of ownership. There will always be a plethora of artists who make their work available without any personal compensation. And like all art, some of these will be enjoyable even though they may be consumed by individuals who place no value on the work.

However, if enough of us value an artist's work and are willing to agree to the artist's valuation with money that took our own hard labor to make, it will become our exclusive privilege to consume it. Then you'll have to come to my house to listen to all my CDs and watch my DVDs.

Because my own view is we should support artists by paying them with money that we work for just as as the artist worked to make his art. Exchange of benefit for effort feels inherently, instinctually correct to me. My opinion comes from an individual who works to make a living, and honors others who do. You may have a different opinion.

But if you're American, both of us have the same copyright law to live with, and you'll have an unsatisfactory outcome until the law changes.

I'll go back to writing my book now, which I can only do part time because I need to work to put a roof over my children's heads and food on the table. Unfortunately for me, nobody values my work enough to pay me for it. Cheers.