Blaise Alleyne technology, music, bioethics, theology

Is There A Better Word Than “Balance” In The Copyright Debate?

Mike Masnick questions the word “balance” in the copyright debate:

I’ve long thought that balance is the wrong way to look at it. The purpose of copyright law is to incentivize the creation of new content, and thus the standard on which copyright law should be judged is one where the [benefits of the] creation of content is maximized. As such, there shouldn’t be a question of balance, because the ideal situation where content is maximized should make everyone better off. Talking about balance is figuring out how both sides should compromise to meet in the middle. Talking about maximizing content creation, on the other hand, is talking about ways to improve the marketplace of options for everyone.

He links to a paper by Abraham Drassinower of the U of T Law School arguing that balance is the wrong way to view copyright policy. “Balance” as a concept in copyright suggests that the law is designed to reward a content creator for their labour (the “sweat of the brow” argument), Drassinower argues, though Masnick has to tease out the main point: “Balance” falsely implies that this is a zero sum game, when “the goal of copyright should be maximizing the [benefits of the] creation of content overall, such that everyone is better off.

I’m sold. I tried to use this point at the Toronto Copyright Townhall and in my submission to the consultation.

But, if not balance, then what?

Words like “balance” are used often to make sure that the interests of the public aren’t forgotten in the face of copyright holders’ interests. I strongly support the group, Fair Copyright for Canada, but “fair” has similar problems to “balance.” What words might serve to include the public interest without suggesting a zero sum game? Mike described it as “maximizing [the benefits of] content creation,” but that seems more useful in explanation than at the sound bite stage.

What about “calibrate?” I notice that Mike used the word in a subsequent post on why morality isn’t relevant in copyright: “A properly calibrated system is one where there’s the greatest overall economic good and everyone has the greatest opportunity to benefit” (strongly related — if it’s an economic question rather than a moral one, rights holders interests are not necessarily opposed to the public interest). “Calibrate” seems like the most accurate word. It doesn’t directly conjure up the notion of the public interest, but it does so indirectly by suggesting an approach that’s about more than “protection.” But it’s too technical for a mainstream audience.

Is there a more accessible synonym for “calibrate?” Optimize? It works, but “optimizing copyright law” seems a bit too vague, and doesn’t really capture the non-zero sum game and the public interest. doesn’t help much either.

So what else? I’m not sure. I like “calibrate,” but it won’t work with all audiences. “Optimize” is nice to use in passing to reinforce the point, but it doesn’t introduce it. “Balance” and “fair” are still useful for drawing attention to the interests beyond that of rights holders, but I won’t offer those terms without a caveat or disclaimer.

Other suggestions?

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