The website Copygrounds, which has been interviewing various people involved in various copyright issues, has an interview with the always interesting Henry Jenkins
(who we've quoted
a few times in the past). The whole interview is worth reading, but I wanted to call attention to one key part, when the interviewer asks Jenkins about the European concept of "moral rights," which the US has explicitly rejected:
The current American system rewards authorship rights to corporate owners at the expense of both consumers and authors. The European tradition rewards moral rights to authors at the expense of the rest of the culture. Neither represents the most desirable system, in part because both falsify the actual conditions of authorship. Authors do not create value in a vacuum. All writers are already readers who are processing elements of their culture as the raw material for their own expressive and intellectual output, and in turn, their work becomes the raw materials for the next phase of creative expression.
That line: "Authors do not create value in a vacuum," is a good one, and deserves to be repeated. So much of the debates we have on copyright and related issues seems to center on this belief that they do. In that patent realm, it's the whole "flash of genius" concept, but it certainly applies in copyright as well. The system is designed as if people are creating things entirely from scratch, rather than pulling from the culture around them to put it together in new and creative means. Disney, of course, is famous for taking old stories and making them new again, and yet it refuses to let others do the same to its works. Authors do not create value in a vacuum. And, of course, it goes beyond the idea that authors are building on what's come before. The value
piece is often added by the readers themselves, and how they interact, mold and share the content that has been created. Authors do not create value in a vacuum... but we've built up laws and institutions that seem to assume they do.