Do You Actually Understand What Copyright Is For?

from the most-people-don't dept

One of the more amazing things I've discovered in discussing copyright, patents and trademarks with people is that very few people seem to know what each of those three sets of regulations are actually intended for. It certainly makes reasonable discussion and debate on any sort of reform difficult when a large percentage of people involved in the debate (or, tragically, writing the laws around those regulations) seem to believe the purpose of them is entirely different than it actually is. That's why we've tried to point to some historically interesting discussions on these regulations. Two recent blog posts pointed out something interesting related to all this. The first, comes (again) from copyright expert William Patry, who points to a seven minute video of ordinary people explaining why they think copyright exists. The video itself is by Karl Fogel, who also runs a site called Question Copyright. What the video pretty clearly demonstrates is that most people have no clue why copyright exists, and many assume (as we see in the comments around here) that it's there to "protect" the content creator or to prevent plagiarism. No one seems to note that its true purpose, as per the Constitution, is to promote progress (amusingly, many believe copyright is a much more recent creation).
While it may seem a bit simplistic to ask a bunch of random people in a park why they think copyright exists, it's actually fairly important when the vast majority of folks don't fully understand the purpose of copyright -- as that's what allows copyright to be extended and turned into something that goes far beyond its original intentions, as we see today. William Stepp, over at Against Monopoly, highlights this by pointing to a new dissertation called Pimps and Ferrets: Copyright and Culture in the United States. It's 231 pages of copyright history goodness, basically describing how this lack of knowledge and understanding of copyright in the 19th century is what allowed continual copyright expansion in that era as well. What started out as something that could only be held in very, very rare cases (as per James Madison's belief that copyright and patents should be quite limited to avoid abuse) was continually expanded to cover much, much more over time. There have been plenty of stories about how copyright has been expanded and lengthened greatly over the past one hundred years, but it happened for the preceding 100 years as well -- thanks in large part to a near total lack of understanding of the true issues at hand by many of the people involved.

Filed Under: copyright


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  1. identicon
    Capi, 15 Jan 2008 @ 7:50am

    What Copyright Is For

    Copyright was created as "An Act for the encouragement of learning."[1] It did so by guaranteeing the public ACCESS to the work of "learned men." You can see the clearly by the requirement to donate FREE copies to the nations archive for public use.

    "no person shall be entitled to the benefit of this act...unless he shall first deposit" Only AFTER you have given the public access to your work, can you subsequently claim the limited exclusive right to TRY to profit from your work. Original US law requires at least two copies be deposited, original British law requires copies be sent to every major library (nine) which was later increased to twelve.

    The US copyright act itself, is clearly derived from the British "Statute of Anne". (Almost as if by a plagiarist.) Direct statements can be found there as to the intention of the concept.

    "Whereas Printers, Booksellers, and other Persons, have of late frequently taken the Liberty of Printing, Reprinting, and Publishing, or causing to be Printed, Reprinted, and Published Books, and other Writings, without the Consent of the Authors or Proprietors of such Books and Writings, to their very great Detriment, and too often to the Ruin of them and their Families: For Preventing therefore such Practices for the future, and for the Encouragement of Learned Men to Compose and Write useful Books;"[2]

    Clearly, copyright was NEVER intended to protect the authors and/or publishers from the public. It directly addressed the problem of PUBLISHERS cheating authors, and thereby discouraging them from writing any of their learnings down. Since most people did not have direct contact with these "learned men" there was no way to pass on this knowledge to the next generation.

    By vesting the work in the author, the act gave the learned men incentive to write their work down. By requiring deposit in libraries and archives, the act encouraged learning by enabling ACCESS to that knowledge.

    (Everything else is a corruption of these basic principles.)

    [1] http://www.copyright.gov/history/1790act.pdf
    [2] http://www.copyrighthistory.com/anne.html

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