Are advocates of Free Culture, Creative Commons, Open Knowledge, Open Access, and related, anti-Copyright?
But first …
What is Copyright?
Copyright is a type of intellectual property that gives its owner the exclusive right to copy and distribute a creative work, usually for a limited time. The creative work may be in a literary, artistic, educational, or musical form. Copyright is intended to protect the original expression of an idea in the form of a creative work but not the idea itself.1
Abuse of Copyright for the few
Believe it or not, the Copyright Law is being abused to this very day, rarely by the owners and more often by groups. A good example is in the publication of research papers in Journals. The desire to recuperate the funding given by the institutions who funded a research, the researchers are obligated to publish their papers behind a paywall, or for a fee, regardless of how useful it can be for everyone. At the same time, reputable Journals also need to earn to keep them running (and reputable?) so they have extravagant fees.
These are all fine to an extent, the practice itself is not wrong. In fact, the Copyright Law does protect two Rights: Economic Rights and Moral Rights, and this falls under the former.
What is Economic Rights?
With any kind of property, its owner may decide how it is to be used, and others can use it lawfully only if they have the owner’s permission, often through a license. The owner’s use of the property must, however, respect the legally recognised rights and interests of other members of society. So the owner of a copyright-protected work may decide how to use the work, and may prevent others from using it without permission.2
The use of this protection has reached the point wherein the the economic rights granted by Copyright is no longer helping our society. For example, a group of young scientists have a revolutionary idea on how to cure disease A but because they are not funded they can not access research papers which may help them. If those papers were accessible, they could have developed a cure for disease A already, or their own research may help another group to develop the elusive cure.
This is what Open Access is about, promoting and pushing for the use of Creative Commons licenses for research papers.
Use of Copyright for the many
Familiar with Permissive and Copyleft licenses? These labels are usually used in the Free/Libre Open-Source Software and in Creative Commons. We are not going to define these two types of licenses, just remember that these licenses grant some Rights to the users of the owner’s or Rightsholder’s work. This can only work if the Copyright Law is used.
The owner or Rightsholder of a work can only grant some Rights if they retain their ownership. This is Copyright at work. Through Copyright, we who support everything related to Free Culture, can grant some Rights to other people and at the same time go after those who breaks the agreement of the license chosen.
While many are abusing Copyright for their own benefit, Free Culture advocates exploit it for everyone’s gain.
In our earlier example, Copyright is used to ensure that research papers are accessible. It does not necessarily mean the research papers were made available free-of-charge, under the Open Access program there usually is still a group or an individual who pays for the fees to get a research paper available publicly under a Creative Commons license. This ensures that everyone have access to the research data, no matter if they were funded or not, wealthy or a student.
Back to our question, are advocates of Free Culture, Creative Commons, Open Knowledge, Open Access, and related, anti-Copyright? You could say that we are but for a different reason than what those who are against a free, open, and sharing culture voices are branding us.
It is good to protect works, be it fiction, a music composition, or an art. Unfortunately, Copyright is primarily being used to ensure one’s monetary gain instead of being about the protection of one’s intellectual property. The latter is just an added benefit, a by-product of the Copyright Law, instead of it being the be-all end-all. There is nothing wrong with getting paid for your hard work, or to recuperate one’s investment and payment of publication fees, even without Copyright, it is the creator’s right to do that. A free, open, and sharing culture does not mean works are free-of-charge and no one should get paid for their hard work and/or the cost of publication.
All things considered, maybe we are anti-Copyright but it was because the Copyright Law is being abused for the benefit of the few. In response, advocates of Free Culture are using Copyright for everyone’s gain, to push creativity, development, and our global culture and society forward. Are we also endorsing Copyright infringement? Certainly not! As was explained, we can use Copyright to push for a free, open, and sharing community which is beneficial for everyone and promotes growth in all aspects of our society. That is what Free Culture is all about.
One final example
This material is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) 4.0 International License. It means I have granted the Rights to create a derivative work, re-publish, re-distribute, even for commercial purposes, to anyone for as long as  Attribution (BY) is given;  the license of your derivative work is also under the same license (ShareAlike); and  all other requirements under the said license are followed.
To put it another way, anyone can make translations of this article, re-post it in their own blogs, include it in your next paid e-Book, or put this work behind a paywall, without asking for my permission. It is not stealing and it is not Copyright infringement because I have granted you the Rights to do so for as long as you do not violate the conditions of the CC-BY-SA 4.0 International License.