One of the first violators to run afoul of copyright law was named Johannes Genzfleisch.
He had a house called Gutenberg. Back then people were named after their houses sometimes. He started mass-producing bibles which the church was naturally upset about. They could get really bitchy about it and cast you into hell forever after they peeled your skin off and burned you at the stake. After all it was their intellectual property. They wrote it and by God they wanted to be paid. Sole possession of the knowledge made the people come to them. When the word leaked out they began to lose customers. He spent the rest of his life in and out of court and ultimately was taxed to death. It wasn’t long before other people infringed on poor Herr von Gutenberg's patent on movable type and printing presses started to multiply like rabbits. The quality of the work was of course diminished initially but still readable and what’s more was affordable to the average schmuck with a few cows to trade. People began to learn how to read and therefore think their own thoughts instead of the church’s. This was viewed as dangerous and subversive as it could lead to revolutionary behaviour and a loss of income for the pope. It eventually did. Soon other printed work began to proliferate and the information genie was well and truly out of the bottle, never to be put back in again. In one notable case a cartload of smuggled bibles was caught at the French border and upon examination they were found to be identical. The poor unfortunate bootlegger was accused of witchcraft and summarily burned at the stake as a warning to others. This continued for some time and there was a distinct separate police force established to keep un-authorized printed matter from being distributed. (Authorized by the king of course who demanded his cut) People began to enjoy thinking their own thoughts instead of the king’s. This was viewed as dangerous and subversive as it could lead to revolutionary behaviour and a loss of income for the royal coffers. Eventually it did not end well for the king. Printed matter became the Internet of its day. It was the only means of communicating that people had other than word of mouth and semaphore until the invention of the telegraph by Samuel Morse in 1837. The first electronic transmission of information said "What hath God wrought?" People evidently still believed that God was ultimately to blame for everything. This continued until the first AM radio music broadcast in 1906 by Fessenden. The sheet music publishers that claimed violation of copyright raised a self-righteous uproar. They claimed that now anybody could simply turn on the radio and hear music and not have to buy the sheet music and have to learn how to play it on the piano! Sheet music sales plummeted and there were many lawsuits before the courts, some even attempting to ban radio altogether. They tried to make broadcasters pay royalties for lost sales but had little success. Soon every kid with a toilet paper roll and a few turns of wire hooked up to a battery was happily downloading music for free, right out of the air! People realized that you didn’t have to go to university to study music. You could broadcast your own records on 1000-watt stations. Folks began to enjoy making their own music and distributing it themselves. This was viewed as dangerous and subversive as it could lead to revolutionary behaviour, undermine the very fabric of the music industry and cause a loss of revenue for the large media monopolies. It eventually did. When the Hammond organ was released the musicians union went on the warpath and struck. Somebody looked at the stops labeled Violin or Trumpet etc and claimed that this would put musicians out of work. It was actually the union itself that caused the mass unemployment problem by preventing people from going out to make a living with their tubas and clarinets but that’s another story. Then along came the synthesizer and with it the same argument. It was another tempest in a teapot. Bands were forced to hire a section of string players and set up stations for them off stage complete with ghost charts written in whole rests and pay them not to play! When Kurzweil and Fairlight came out with real samples of actual instruments the unholy bickering became even more intense, only to fade away and die an obscure death un-noticed by the rest of the world. In 1913 the movie industry moved to Hollywood to escape the hounding of Edison’s team of lawyers. Thomas owned the patent on almost every piece of movie making equipment including cameras, lighting and even film and sued Biograph. He lost. Years later Universal sued Sony for “enabling piracy” by inventing the VCR and lost. The right to copy other’s work for private consumption was now enshrined in the law. (Watch out... this little insignificant twist of law will come back to bite you in the ass 30 years later) Cable tvbegan as small substations with big antennae that piped broadcast content directly into the customer’s home at a cost. Broadcast television sued cable television and lost. Analog broadcast TV will soon be a thing of the past along with Morse code and Telegrams. In the 1970’s the music industry screamed blue murder citing the popularity of the compact cassette and FM radio encouraged home taping. Then they fought tooth and nail about the introduction of the digital audio cassette. Now they’re suing satellite radio and randomly selected downloaders. Large drug companies are suing to protect the patents on drugs that could be manufactured much more cheaply than they allow them to be while people suffer needlessly from treatable diseases they can’t afford the medication for. People are now happily sampling other people’s recordings and releasing them as re-mixes of their own work and counterfeiting drugs as well. The prevailing attitude is “sue me if you can afford it, even if you get an injunction I won’t pay”. All they do is go bankrupt and then open for business the next day under another name. This is regarded as subversive as it might lead to revolutionary behaviour and a reduction in revenue to media monopolies and drug giants. Eventually it will. In the years to come only a few generations or so from now kids will ask “Grandpa… is it true that in your day all you had was the Internet?” “Sonny… when I was your age we had to wait almost 20 minutes to download a full length movie that we had to watch on a tiny 46 inch plasma screen and we only had terabyte drives that were as big as a book”. “Grandpa…what’s a book?” © J Jackson 2008
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