Copyright and authorship

Over at Techdirt, there is a good post about copyright and historical conceptions of authorship. The main argument is that all works are derived from other, prior examples (including the copyright laws states create and enforce) and that the notion of an author as a singular creator of an isolated work is a recent and oftentimes flawed one:

It’s nice to see more and more people recognizing and speaking out about these things. The idea that there is a single “author” or “creator” who deserves to get money any time anyone else builds upon his or her works is something that should be seen as increasingly ridiculous as people recognize that all works are created based on the works of others, and it’s inherently silly to try to charge everyone to pay back each and every one of their influences in creating a new work.

There does seem to be good reason for hoping that our present copyright system proves to be an exception that eventually gets corrected. The aim of the whole thing is to encourage creativity, by letting individuals use the might of the state to enforce exclusive claims to there work. There is nothing libertarian about this concept, unless the only kind of liberty you care about is the right to private property and the existence of a state that will defend that claim against others. There is also a growing doubt about whether the aim of encouraging creativity is succeeding. Does it really benefit the public at large to forbid non-Apple companies from using ‘multitouch’ without paying royalties? The bar above with work deserves exclusivity protection from the state ought to be raised.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

6 thoughts on “Copyright and authorship”

  1. “A new Canadian study deconstructs how copyright lobby groups manipulate public opinion by laundering proposals through seemingly independent groups. The study started after the Conference Board of Canada was shown to have plagiarized several of its IP reports and now shows the connections that all lead through the MPAA and RIAA. Michael Geist writes, ‘It is not just that these reports all receive financial support from the same organizations and say largely the same thing. It is also that the reports each build on one another, creating the false impression of growing momentum and consensus on the state of Canadian law and the need for specific reforms.'”

  2. Tourists warned over fake goods

    Holidaymakers could be fined thousands of pounds – or even jailed – for buying fake designer goods when abroad, copyright lawyers are warning.

    Authorities in France and Italy are not just targeting those who produce and sell fakes but also those who buy them.

    In France, the maximum fine is 300,000 euro (£260,000) or three years in jail.

    The UK government has decided against criminalising consumers. Instead it has launched an information campaign aimed at people using markets and boot sales.

    Seizures of counterfeit goods on the continent more than doubled in 2008, with customs authorities seizing 178 million fake items – mostly imported from China.

  3. “Documentaries in particular are property of a special kind. The copyright and contract claims that burden these compilations of creativity are impossibly complex. The reason is not hard to see. A part of it is the ordinary complexity of copyright in any film. A film is made up of many different creative elements–music, plot, characters, images, and so on. Once the film is made, any effort at remaking it–moving it to DVD, for example–could require clearing permissions for each of these original elements. But documentaries add another layer of complexity to this already healthy thicket, as they typically also include quotations, in the sense of film clips. So just as a book about Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Jonathan Alter might have quotes from famous people talking about its subject, a film about civil rights produced in the 1960s would include quotations–clips from news stations–from famous people of the time talking about the issue of the day. Unlike a book, however, these quotations are in film–typically, news footage from CBS or NBC.

    Whenever a documentarian wanted to include these clips in his film, he would ask CBS or NBC for permission. Most of the time, at least for a healthy fee, CBS and NBC and everyone else was happy to give permission so as to be included. Sometimes they wanted to see first just how the clip would be used. Sometimes they would veto a particular use in a particular context. But in the main there was a healthy market for securing permission to quote. The lawyers flocked to this market for permission. (That’s their nature.) They drafted agreements to define the rights that the quoter would get.

    I suspect that most filmmakers never thought for a second about how odd this “permission to quote” was. After all, does an author need to get permission from The New York Times when she quotes an article in a book about the Depression? Indeed, does anyone need permission from anyone when quoting public statements, at least in a work talking about those statements? Ordinarily, one would think that this sort of “use” is “fair,” under the rules of copyright at least. But most documentarians–indeed, most filmmakers–did not care to work through the complexity and the uncertainty of a doctrine such as “fair use.” Instead they agreed to licenses that govern–exclusively, as they typically asserted–the rights to use the quotes that were in the film. So, for example, the license would insist that the only right to use the film came from the license itself (not fair use). And it would then specify the scope and term of the right–five years, North American distribution, for educational use.”

  4. “As American University’s Center for Social Media concluded, “rights clearance costs are high, and have escalated dramatically in the last two decades,” and “limit the public’s access” to documentary film. The consequence of this ecology of creativity is that the vast majority of documentaries from the twentieth century cannot legally be restored or redistributed. They sit on film library shelves, many of them dissolving, since they were produced on nitrate-based film, and most of them forgotten, since no content company or anyone else can do anything with them. In this sense, most of these works have been made orphans by a set of agreements concluded at their birth, which–like lead in gasoline–were introduced without any public recognition of their inevitable toxicity.”

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