Your Brain, Copyright, and Lossy Compression

Last week, the New Zealand government passed a controversial copyright law related to file sharing. This was partly outrageous because of the use of urgency to pass these laws without due consultation. If you watch any of the videos from that particular debate, it will shine a light on just how clueless the majority of NZ’s politicians are. The notable exceptions are Clare Curran and Gareth Hughes. However, this isn’t a post about the politics! Instead I want to talk about the philosophy behind copyright and how as technology becomes an intrinsic part of our intelligence, the less sense it makes to challenge the personal dispersal or storage of information.

For a good introduction to the topic, read this post on the “colour of bits”. The post outlines the conflicting viewpoints on information: How computer scientists can’t academically differentiate between one copy of a copyrighted piece of data and another, but the pressure from law to try to make something up regardless (e.g. DRM). It also discusses how, if you perform a reversable mathematical transformation of the bits you are fundamentally changing the data but can restore it at any moment. If you can do that, is the transformed version copyrighted too? Given that with the right transformation you can turn any sequence of bytes into any other. That means there is only one copyright holder: the universe.
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