by Mike Masnick
Tue, Jul 21st 2009 4:45am
A few months back, I wrote about attending an absolutely fascinating one-day conference all about the 1909 Copyright Act, which hasn't been the law of the land in about 33 years. And, yet, one thing became clear throughout the session: there was plenty in that law that made a lot more sense than what we have today. There were a few "old timers" who complained about the way it was before 1976, but their complaints were a lot more about the specific implementations (and, at times, oddly, a massive desire to keep content out of the public domain, which they found to be a fault of the 1909 Act). Law professor James Boyle has been looking over the legislative history that resulted in the 1909 Act and notes that we seemed to be a lot smarter about copyright law back then. Among the points raised: the recording industry was actually the one defending new technologies against being covered by copyright, noting that the innovation itself (in this case, the player piano) didn't actually take away anything from artists, but helped promote the goods that they sold (in this case, sheet music). But, what struck Boyle most was that unlike today, the legislators writing the law seemed to actually understand the real pros and cons of extending copyright, and didn't get sucked into misleading arguments about how copyright was "property." Even more amazing, legislators didn't automatically think that "more" copyright was a good thing -- but that it had potentially some benefits and some downsides. These days, of course, politicians have been taught that copyright is a universal good, and they rarely seem willing to recognize the potential downsides (or, even worse, the actual evidence of downsides) to extending copyright so far.
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