We've seen all sorts of ridiculous claims about copyrights lately, with various people claiming that copyrights give them a lot more control
than they really do. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I got to visit Chicago's Millennium Park for the first time and see the infamous "bean" sculpture. Last year there was a big discussion
over the sculpture, after security guards told photographers (mistakenly) that they could not photograph the statue, because it was covered by copyright. I also recently attended a play where all attendees were told not to photograph the set, because of copyright issues. It seems like something similar (but even more ridiculous) may be happening down at Monticello, the historic home of Thomas Jefferson. David Pescovitz, at Boing Boing, posts about the experience of a friend who visited Monticello, only to be told that no photographs could be taken, because the estate does not own the copyrights
for some of the artwork in the house. This leads to a variety of responses. First off, assuming the artwork in the house is from the time when Jefferson lived there, the copyright is long gone. Second, even if the works were covered by copyright, that does not
prohibit taking photographs of them. Third, the individual tried to take a photograph of Jefferson's copy of the Declaration of Independence, over which there clearly is no copyright. It may be that photography is banned to avoid having a camera's flash hit the artwork, but to blame copyrights is wrong and misleading. It's made even worse because of Thomas Jefferson's well known views on intellectual property (which we never get tired of posting
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.
That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
Apparently, the folks working at Monticello never bothered to learn much about Jefferson's own view on copyrights and patents -- and it's a shame that they would stomp on his words by misusing the concepts even further.