In my recent blog “A Reader’s Guide to Copyright,” one commenter suggested that we should get rid of copyright completely. This comment started my writer “what if” train of thought so here are my thoughts on what would happen if copyright were abolished.
When copyright is abolished, publishers will use even stricter security measures to protect their ebooks, but the books are soon available for free, courtesy of hackers. Paper books are scanned and put online as fast as they come out. With almost no profit, publishers go out of business.
Unable to earn a living, professional writers stop writing.
There is now no hope of another book by Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Stephanie Meyer, or J.K. Rowling.
Amateurs fill in some of the gap for new material, but they have little incentive to improve their craft, and most fiction is so horrible that readers long for the days of mediocre fan fiction.
Some new writers put famous authors’ names on their works to encourage reading.
People with maturity problems or a political, religious, or social agenda change others’ works so that the books available online often no longer resemble the original work. Scientific and historical works are particularly hard hit as are the works of popular genre writers.
Serious readers will be forced to find paper versions of these books. Unfortunately, in the first years of no copyright and an abundance of good electronic readers, many readers scanned then destroyed their paper books, many public libraries have closed, and paperback books have disintegrated with age.
Some lovers of good books will offer clean, correct copies of various classics at their sites, but most popular fiction will no longer be true to its original content.
Text books will no longer be published so school systems and teachers will have to cobble together information on their own.
The only way singers and musicians can make money is live performances. Song writers can’t make money unless they perform their own songs quite well. Most are unable to make a living because the “name” performers grab their best songs so they stop writing.
The moment a TV show is seen, it is in public domain, and the characters and series are up for grabs to anyone who wants to make their own version. Series like CSI disappear in favor of reality shows and one-shot dramas. Cheap production is absolutely necessary since the production companies can’t make money by syndicating reruns so profit is only made on the first run of the show.
Since a movie will go into the public domain the moment it is released in any digital format, new movies are only available in theaters. Theaters have strict policies to prevent movies from being taped from the audience. Even with precautions, movies end up in public domain too often to warrant vast sums spent on productions.
Big budget movies and multimillion-dollar movie stars disappear in favor of small intimate films with low budgets.
Broadway and live theater are the least hurt by the loss of copyright although rival versions of the same play in the same town is a constant hazard. Over the years, though, the vitality of live theater is lost because no new plays have been written in years, and everything is a remake.
New professionally-written computer software, with the exception of software hard-wired into specific computers and digital equipment, will all but disappear. Some computer communities will fill some of the gap, but even their software is plagued by viruses. No companies now write or upgrade virus detection software because their work becomes pubic domain the instant they offer it.
The loss of copyright would cost millions of jobs and billions of dollars, just in the US, but more importantly, it would hamper creative expression, innovation, scholarship, and the pleasure of those who enjoy a good book. That makes the “what if?” of the loss of copyright a horror story.