I’ve written here before about the modern excesses of copyright law. Today, I came across this interesting article in the Boston Globe– it appears that legal scholars have found interesting models for the protection of intellectual property that doesn’t involve the expensive and litigious system now used by record companies and film studios. Have a read and see how stand-up comedians, chef’s and magicians handle issues of creativity without the courts. Also included in the article is an interesting historical overview of the evolution of copyright law:
The question of what level of intellectual-property rights should be extended to creators has dogged America from the start. Even as prodigious an innovator as Thomas Jefferson was reluctant to protect ideas too stringently, maintaining as a point of principle that “ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man.” Yet Jefferson also realized that, in a world where original creations take time, money, and energy to produce but are easy to copy, creators need to be offered “incitements to ingenuity” if they are to keep contributing to the economic and creative health of the nation.
The Constitution was written to maintain this balance between private wealth and commonwealth, allowing Congress to grant to creators – authors, musicians, inventors, and so on – “exclusive Rights” to their creations “for limited Times.” This formulation, the author Lewis Hyde writes, “allows a market in cultural property but also puts an outer boundary on that market.”
For much of the country’s history, that boundary held relatively fast, and led the country through successive waves of innovation.
Yet in the information age, where ideas play a dominant role in the marketplace, the boundary has shifted markedly in favor of private interests. This is clearest to see in the case of copyrights – along with patents and trademarks, one of the three major classes of intellectual property. In 1790, copyright protection lasted a maximum of 28 years, after which the property reverted to the public domain, where anyone was free to make use of it. Between 1831 and 1909, the term was doubled to 56 years. Today, after successive extensions passed into law by Congress – most notably, the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, which tacked on 20 years – copyright protection lasts on average more than a century.
Why should we be worried about this? Perhaps because the maniacal greed of oligarchial mega-corporations controlling the mainstream media know no boundries? If you think I’m exaggerating, read this (from the Washington Post)!
Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.
The industry’s lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are “unauthorized copies” of copyrighted recordings.
Special thanks to Steve Layton at Sequenza 21 for bringing this to my attention.
c. 2007 Kenneth Woods