Copyright Expansion Through Misinformation Has Gone On A Long Time… And It Involved Pimps & Ferrets

from the pimps-and-ferrets-and-copyright,-oh-my dept

Nearly three years ago, we mentioned a dissertation by Eric Anderson, called “Pimps and Ferrets: Copyright and Culture in the United States,” which looked at copyright in the US from 1831 to 1891 — a little-studied period of time when it comes to copyright issues. There’s plenty of coverage of everything from about 1900 onwards, starting with the debate around the 1909 Act. There’s also a fair bit of research about the founding fathers initial intent with copyright. But not much attention has been paid to that in-between time.

Anyway, Alan Wexellat points us to the news that Anderson has now redone the paper as a book, and has released Pimps and Ferrets: Copyright and Culture in the United States under a Creative Commons license. He’s using a non-commercial license, which we just discussed has some problems, but it really is a tremendously worthwhile read. It basically shows that, as we see today, many people don’t really understand the purpose and intent behind copyright — and that includes some of the folks in charge of making the law. That allowed some special interests to co-opt the process and expand copyright to their own benefit. Sound familiar? Well, history seems to repeat itself…

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Comments on “Copyright Expansion Through Misinformation Has Gone On A Long Time… And It Involved Pimps & Ferrets”

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out_of_the_blue says:

The "Information Age" makes near total control possible.

While some think that automated spying, DRM, ACTA, COICA, rabid lawyers, $1.5M damage awards for file-sharing 24 tunes, and the increasing amount that the hardware, firmware, or software in your hands isn’t actually yours to control (as in the locked-down Ipad or the Sony PSP) won’t result in a *draconian-enough* police state to control practically all net access besides content, I’m not so sanguine.

My point is that what happened over a hundred years ago is totally irrelevant.

The Rich have a decades long plan — just read “1984”, from 1948, and it’s all there — for precisely the automated society we’re moving into, based on constant fear, perpetual war, Panopticon spying. Even if doesn’t work “long term”, it’ll be unpleasant. One more little “terrorist” incident, staged a bit more cleverly or effectively than the last, and you’ll see police with machine guns on every street.

Anonymous Coward says:

From the book description: “The 19th century United States was rife with copyright-related controversy and excitement, including international squabbling, celebrity grandstanding, new technology, corporate exploitation, and ferocious arguments about piracy, reprinting, and the effects of copyright law.” Which all sounds pretty contemporary to me….

misterdoug (profile) says:

Misinformation is the name of the game

The history of intellectual property is a history of misinformation. Even the basic terminology is misleading. Copyrights and patents don’t confer rights, they impose restrictions. Throughout history people freely re-used anything they saw and heard, from engineering principles to music. Civilization somehow developed a vast array of technology and culture in spite of this freedom. Then patents and copyrights came along and defined this normal, customary, intuitive human behavior as Evil. Taking it a step further, the rights industry has redefined rights as property, which reduces the concept of infringement to a purse-snatching and lets them play the part of the little old lady. Predefining yourself as the injured party in a way that’s highly intuitive to the average person is a lot simpler than debating a concept such as Fair Use. How can it be fair for someone to, for example, drive your car whenever they want?

Rights and property are two different animals, or at least they used to be. I’m not even sure myself anymore.

Darren (profile) says:

Historical perspective quite valuable

A basic way in which looking at historical perspectives with anything – copyright included – is to provide comparable cause and effect scenarios (among other ways).
So that, when making an argument about the uselessness of certain laws, restrictions, tactics, etc, one can refer to how they were used historically and either failed or succeeded. The digital age is faster-paced than the time covered in this book, but there are indeed fundamental similarities to how information is handled today.

Anonymous Coward says:

History is full of stories of great man who didn’t share anything or had their work locked away.

Arquimedes texts where lost and made no contribution to humanity, by the time people discovered that he used calculus long before anyone and we could be on mars by this time nobody cared, Da Vinci hide all of his discoveries so well that only now we know what he has discovered at the time, but those are extra-ordinary men that made some very serious discoveries to problems they faced, the kind of people that comes once in a thousand years but not even them were relevant to humanity, why? Because nobody knew anything about it, because nobody could use anything and people discovered those things on their own, they had no impact on the evolution of societies everywhere, but are great inspirational material.

Can anybody see how things would be today if calculus was copyrighted forever, how many people would we have to pay to use something others could have made themselves but by chance somebody discovered first?

That is why “eternal copyright” is stupid, and even copyright is stupid, it creates a fertile environment for all kinds of abuse that serve no one, but some people think they can own ideas, expressions of said ideas and everything else, this of course will lead to people disregarding those silly rules, you can enforce rules on companies they are an artificial construct that needs the state to exist, the same is not true to individuals, people don’t need permission from anyone to do anything and they will find a way to do what they want, in one form or another.

Eric Anderson (user link) says:

Pimps and Ferrets

The “Pimps and Ferrets” line refers to an outraged editorial writer in Scientific American, who thought a proposed copyright law would have the US customs agents and postal workers going through everything (luggage, the mail) looking for books that violated copyright. Which is not that different from some more recent proposals for searching laptops (customs) and e-mail….

As for the non-commercial license, I’ll probably approve all uses — but by making someone send an email to ask for permission, I get the opportunity to let them know about more recent/updated/corrected versions, if any. I’ve already seen one typo (“t2he”), and will do an updated version of the book if/when necessary or desirable.

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