The copyright cycle: originally a censorship tool, attempted as an incitement tool … Return to a censorship tool
of the-inevitable-return department
If you want to understand copyright law, its history, and how it has been abused, you should really read this excellent overview from law professor and intellectual property lawyer Lydia Pallas Loren called The purpose of copyright (found via Teleread). The article begins with a point that we have said over and over again here, which is that many people mistakenly believe that the purpose of copyright law is to protect creators. Unfortunately, this false belief permeates many people in society, including copyright lawyers:
Copyright permeates our lives and yet, despite its impact on our lives, relatively few people, including lawyers, have sufficient knowledge or understanding of what copyright is. And far too many people, including lawyers, have misconceptions about copyright. These misconceptions are behind a dangerous shift in copyright protection, a shift that threatens the advancement of knowledge and learning in this country. This change that we are experiencing in copyright law reflects an abandonment of considering copyright as a monopoly that the public is willing to tolerate in order to encourage innovation and the creation of new works to consider the copyright as an important asset to the economy of this country. The most recent example of this change is the new Digital Millennium Copyright Act, signed by the President on October 28, 1998.
Understanding the root cause and dangers of this change requires exposing the most basic and common misconception about the underlying purpose of the monopoly granted by our copyright law. The primary purpose of copyright is not, as many believe, to protect authors from those who steal the fruits of their labor. However, this misconception, repeated so often that it has been accepted by the public as true, poses serious dangers to the primary purpose that copyright law is designed to serve.
From there, the article delves deep into the history of copyright, long before the Statute of Anne, at a time when copyright was a private agreement between publishers, designed to maintain monopolies, act as censors and generally control the publishing market. It was certainly not a question of protecting the creators, who had nothing to do with it. From the start, they were middlemen and monopolies. What is unfortunate is that our founding fathers, who knew so well the problems of monopolies and the damage they cause, still seemed to believe that a limited version of such monopolies could encourage better learning and better education in the world. the field of science. In fact, they specifically added the “promote progress” clause, to make it clear to Congress that these monopolies were only to be used if they achieved that goal:
The drafters of the Constitution of the United States, initially suspicious of all monopolies, knew the history of copyright as a tool of censorship and control of the press. They wanted to make sure that copyright was not used as a means of oppression and censorship in the United States. They therefore expressly provided for the purpose of copyright: to promote the progress of knowledge and learning.
While the courts and Congress initially took safeguarding this point of copyright law seriously, that eventually changed. From the start, however, Congress and the courts have actually focused on whether the public at large benefits or is harmed by certain aspects of copyright law. However, before too long the whole concept of copyright law was bastardized in having nothing to do with the benefit of the public, and pertaining only to copyright holders (again, often intermediaries) benefiting to the detriment of the general public. In other words, it’s come full circle to get back to what it once was: a tool for middlemen to limit and censor expression.
Today’s copyright has a dark side. The misunderstanding of many who believe that the primary purpose of copyright law is to protect authors from those who would steal their work threatens to upset the delicate balance of copyright law . This misunderstanding obviously benefits the industries that own content, such as the publishing industry, the music and film industries, and the computer software industry. This fundamental misunderstanding is perpetuated by the FBI’s stern warnings at the start of the videotapes, by overbroad assertions of rights in copyright notices, and by the general lack of public discourse on the balance required in copyright law. copyright if copyright is to fulfill its constitutionally mandated purpose of promoting knowledge and learning.
This dark side, this pervasive misconception, turns copyright into what our founding fathers tried to guard against – a tool of censorship and monopoly oppression. It may sound extreme to some, but consider the beginnings of copyright in this country. The first copyright law in the United States granted only the exclusive right to print, publish and sell a copyrighted work, and this lasted only fourteen years, with the possibility of a second fourteen-year term. No exclusive right to perform the work or to create an adaptation of the work has been granted, only the right to print, publish and sell for a maximum period of twenty-eight years.
Under current copyright law, not only do copyright owners have the right to publish and distribute the work, but copyright owners also have the right to control the work. public performance of a work, to control the making of adaptations of the work and to control the reproduction of the work regardless of what is done with this new copy. And, as a result of the Copyright Term Extension Act passed in October 1998, the copyright term now lasts for the life of the author plus seventy years. This new duration is far removed from the initial maximum duration of twenty-eight years and results in a much greater monopoly and a much longer period during which the public must wait for a given work to enter the public domain.
These are just a few small snippets, but it’s a great read. Many of you may already be familiar with these points, but whether or not you have read similar things before, I highly recommend this article.
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Filed under: copyright, history