Copyright & The 21st Century

From the Volokh Conspiracy:

“We need stronger copyright or else we won’t get the next Shakespeare” is like arguing “We need the designated hitter, or how will we ever get the next Babe Ruth?” In a copyright-free world — not that I’m advocating such a thing, but hey, you brought it up — we’ll get the next Shakespeare the way we got the last Shakespeare, in a copyright-free world. The first copyright statute, the Statute of Anne, wasn’t passed until 1709, long after Shakespeare was a-moulderin’ in the grave. [That’s what we need a name for — this kind of absurdly misplaced historical argument]

It’s a reply piece to the New York Times article calling for a stronger copyright law entitled “Would the Bard have Survived the Web?” Both are worthy of reading, but the NYT piece puts the onus on piracy and assurance of rewards as a underlying rationale for support of the Combatting Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA). The short version is that this act would allow for the seizure of online domains without adequate notice or due process simply by an application from the Attorney General and an assentation of wrongdoing.

Yes, there is something really wrong with that.

I’m reminded of this video of Neil Gaiman talking about piracy and copyright that has been making the rounds on the web lately. In it, he makes quite the opposite case as to how piracy helped his sales in other markets. It’s short and worth viewing.

So, two opposing viewpoints on copyright. As librarians, we are stuck in the middle; we want information access to be as wide as possible but want to encourage authors, poets, and other creative people to continue to produce. What should we do to straddle this divide as best we can? How can we bring copyright into the 21st century?

2 thoughts on “Copyright & The 21st Century

  1. We can bring copyright into the 21st century by acknowledging that it is a modern invention created by business interests to protect intellectual property for the sake of financial gain. Copyright is NOT an inherent, god-given right to any person, corporation or beast. I’m not saying it is evil or wrong, but that it has a limited, specific purpose that has been warped out of all proportion by business interests who have a strong motivation to scare the crap out of everyone by claiming that a world without copyright protection means all artists will starve. As Gaiman (and EVERY single other experiment ever done using the “give it away” gimick) has proven, free and unencumbered sharing leads to sales, not bankruptcy.

    Just as information wants to be free, so do creative works. Artists need them to be free, in fact; and I say that as a published author AND an InfoSci grad student.

    In my idea world (*sighhh*) librarians would not even be having this discussion. Our entire profession is designed to assist and promote the free trade of information, entertainment, and knowledge; bowing to corporate demands about copyright is antithetical to that.

    Of course in RL things are more complicated than that, with distributors and providers etc. so I know that’s unlikely. But damnation, it should be our GOAL.

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