Yet more examples of how copyright destroys culture rather than driving it [Updated]

One of the supposed justifications for the intellectual monopoly called copyright is that it drives creativity and culture. In the last few weeks alone we have had multiple demonstrations of why the opposite is true: copyright destroys culture, and not by accident, but wilfully. For example, the MTVNews.com site, along with its sister site CMT.com, has just been wiped from the face of the Internet by Paramount Global. Variety explains what this means:

The now-unavailable content includes decades of music journalism comprising thousands of articles and interviews with countless major artists, dating back to the site’s launch in 1996. Perhaps the most significant loss is MTV News’ vast hip-hop-related archives, particularly its weekly “Mixtape Monday” column, which ran for nearly a decade in the 2000s and 2010s and featured interviews, reviews and more with many artists, producers and others early in their careers.

That’s a significant chunk of modern culture that has just been erased. Shutting down those sites is deeply problematic because of copyright. Given the historical importance of much of the now-deleted material, institutions and individuals would doubtless have been willing to make multiple backup copies to ensure its preservation. But copyright forbids that, which means that there are now no official backups. There may be some unofficial ones that people have made, but these are likely to be fragmentary and will be hard or even impossible to find, rendering them useless for research purposes. As if to hammer home the point that copyright harms culture, another massive holding of modern material has just been removed from the Web by Paramount Global, reported here on the LateNighter site:

ComedyCentral.com had been home to clips from every episode of The Daily Show since 1999, and the entire run of The Colbert Report, but as of Wednesday morning, those clips (and most everything else on the site) are gone.

Instead, visitors to the Comedy Central site are greeted with this message: “While episodes of most Comedy Central series are no longer available on this website, you can watch Comedy Central through your TV provider. You can also sign up for Paramount+ to watch many seasons of Comedy Central shows.”

Unfortunately for those in search of older episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, neither can be found on Paramount+.

As that explains, the reason for this digital vandalism was money: the Web site was deleted in order to force people to take out subscriptions to a streaming service. But in the process, older episodes of some shows have been lost, because the company responsible cares about maximising profits, not about preserving culture.

One of the clearest demonstrations of how copyright is actively harmful is the lawsuit that four of the biggest publishers brought against the Internet Archive. As a result of the judge’s decision in favour of the publishers – currently being appealed – more than 500,000 books have been taken out of lending by the Internet Archive, including more than 1,300 banned and “challenged” books. In an open letter to the publishers in the lawsuit, the Internet Archive lists three core reasons why removing half a million ebooks is “having a devastating impact in the US and around the world, with far-reaching implications”. One is because of the educational impact this has:

removal of these books impedes academic progress and innovation, as well as imperiling the preservation of our cultural and historical knowledge.

Another concerns equity and accessibility:

removal of more than 500,000 books from public access is a serious blow to lower-income families, people with disabilities, rural communities, and LGBTQ+ people, among many others.

The final one is cultural preservation:

Libraries’ digital preservation of books ensures that our cultural heritage is maintained for future generations. In order to preserve digital books, libraries must be allowed to own them, not just license them short-term.

The recent loss of two key Web sites holding large stores of modern digital culture underlines why organisations like the Internet Archive must be allowed to make backup copies – and how today’s copyright extremists want to make that impossible.

Update: Rolling Stone reports that the Internet Archive has created a searchable collection of the old MTV News site through the Wayback Machine. However, the Internet Archive’s Brewster Kahle, whose Kahle/Austin Foundation supports this blog, warned that the collection “may not be complete.” This underlines the need for a more formal system of creating complete backups of these important digital holdings.

Featured image by Stable Diffusion.

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