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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is Copyright a Relic?

Copyright a relic?

Many, especially since the birth of the internet, believe that the copyright concept is passé...

Excerpt from New York Times article: "They (John's note: the copyright non-believers) are abetted by a handful of law professors and other experts who have made careers of fashioning counterintuitive arguments holding that copyright impedes creativity and progress. Their theory is that if we severely weaken copyright protections, innovation will truly flourish (John's note: this is pure bull shit!). It’s a seductive thought (John's Note: I don't see how!), but it ignores centuries of scientific and technological progress based on the principle that a creative person should have some assurance of being rewarded for his innovative work."

Ok, so I editorialized the excerpt a bit.

I found this NYTimes article by Scott Turow, Paul Aiken and James Shapiro intensely informative about this modern copyright issue and it also provides historical background facts that are quite entertaining:

Would the Bard Have Survived the Web?

ARCHAEOLOGISTS finished a remarkable dig last summer in East London. Among their finds were seven earthenware knobs, physical evidence of a near perfect 16th-century experiment into the link between commerce and culture.

When William Shakespeare was growing up in rural Stratford-upon-Avon, carpenters at that East London site were erecting the walls of what some consider the first theater built in Europe since antiquity. Other playhouses soon rose around the city. Those who paid could enter and see the play; those who didn’t, couldn’t.

By the time Shakespeare turned to writing, these “cultural paywalls” were abundant in London: workers holding moneyboxes (bearing the distinctive knobs found by the archaeologists) stood at the entrances of a growing number of outdoor playhouses, collecting a penny for admission.

At day’s end, actors and theater owners smashed open the earthenware moneyboxes and divided the daily take. From those proceeds dramatists were paid to write new plays. For the first time ever, it was possible to earn a living writing for the public.

Money changed everything. Almost overnight, a wave of brilliant dramatists emerged, including Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson and Shakespeare. These talents and many comparable and lesser lights had found the opportunity, the conditions and the money to pursue their craft.

The stark findings of this experiment? As with much else, literary talent often remains undeveloped unless markets reward it.

At the height of the Enlightenment, the cultural paywall went virtual, when British authors gained the right to create legally protected markets for their works. In 1709, expressly to combat book piracy and “for the encouragement of learned men to compose and write useful books,” Britain enacted the world’s first copyright law. Eighty years later, America’s founders expanded on this, giving Congress the authority to enact copyright laws “to promote the progress of science and useful arts.”

Copyright, now powerfully linking authors, the printing press (and later technologies) and the market, would prove to be one of history’s great public policy successes. Books would attract investment of authors’ labor and publishers’ capital on a colossal scale, and our libraries and bookstores would fill with works that educated and entertained a thriving nation. Our poets, playwrights, novelists, historians, biographers and musicians were all underwritten by copyright’s markets.

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