Sunday, May 27, 2007

Copyright, copywrong, copywrong; copywrong, copyright, copyright

Maud Newton reports that the American authorities, heavily bribed by the big intellectual-property-owning companies, want to strengthen the laws against breach of copyright.

Sorry, sorry, strike that bit about politicians being bribed. Big companies give campaign funds, don't they? All in the interests of democracy, freedom, guys in white hats and all like that. Greedy self-interest would be a totally false description of their noble stand on matters of principle.

Speaking of copyright, do you ever get the feeling that this is a subject on which 99% of the people in the world are very fuzzy thinkers? To find a a classic example of such fuzzy thinking, nip over to the New York Times (if they'll let you in; the man at the door is very picky) and read what Mark Helprin has to say about copyright. He thinks it should last for ever. And if it doesn't, that's slavery. He says. (Link from Galleycat.)

Well, when an article like that appears in a prestigious place, then I suppose somebody has to sigh deeply and take it seriously; and that somebody, naturally, is Professor Lawrence Lessig.

Lessig was written about here very early in the life of this blog, and often since; he is one of the main thinkers behind the Creative Commons movement. In response to the Helprin 'contribution', Lessig has set up a wiki page which deals, in considerable detail, with the matters raised by Helprin. The slavery nonsense is dealt with in section 10.

Look, I have a modest proposal to make about this. Why don't we just pass a law, applicable in every country in the world, which says that the copyright of everything ever written or created, past, present or future, belongs for ever and ever amen to the Walt Disney Corporation? Hm? That would make everything perfectly simple and straightforward, wouldn't it?

Everyone would know that, if they wanted to quote three words of anything, they would have to pay the Disney Corp $500. Per word. And then we wouldn't have all these pointless debates about how long copyright should last, and who owns it.

Who could possibly object to that? Eh? Who? Macaulay? Who he? He's dead, isn't he? What do dead guys know about anything?


John A said...

This might bring a smile to your face!

Martin said...

Helprin's 1983 novel Winter's Tale is actually strangely beautiful and quite memorable. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Anonymous said...

I very much like your suggestion. Lessig does an excellent job of shooting Helprin's absurd logic out of the sky. Copyright law is already absurd and impossible to even decipher--three cheers for Creative Commons as one voice of sanity in it all.

Art Durkee said...

And then let's talk to the music recording industry and the RIAA . . . who by the way are already losing the battle, because the internet distribution of music has already let the cat out of the bag, and there's no way to get it back in . . .

I will be citing Lessig in future conversations re: copyright. Thanks for the links.

P.S. I far prefer Helprin's short stories, for example, in the collection "A Dove of the East."

Anonymous said...

ideally all languages would be copyrighted to Disney or perhaps ESSO or Shell, and so any use of English or Dutch or Chinese, or any future language, would land you in prison unless you pay a modest fee - say, 50 pence per word, to those who own the language.

We've already polluted water so badly that we need to pay to drink; soon it'll be that way with air, no one daring to breathe what's naturally there anymore than i'd drink from the Thames - and soon enough language will be metered: we'll all go about with word-meters on our mouths, feeding it coins so we can use Disney/ESSO's property. That seems fair and reasonable to me.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should just attribute everything to Joseph Campbell and "The Hero With A Thousand Faces."