inside the man

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Copyright and amnesia

Good ol' slashdot has this post about a potential music copyright extension in the UK:

"According to TimesOnLine, the UK is considering doubling the copyright term for popular music to 100 years. That means the Beatles' 'Love Me Do' and 'Please Please Me,' scheduled to go into the public domain in 2013, would earn royalties for record companies until 2063."

These days the copyright debate has become highly polarized. On one side there is the corporate interest that would have everyone pay every time someone listened, looked, backup up, ripped and put on their mp3 player, sampled, used as a cell phone ring tone, shared with their children, brushed up against, or smelled their IP. On the other side is the "all information must be free (free both like beer and Willy)" crowd. This faction is of course known to the other faction in public discourse as "pirates."

We, as a civil society, are in dire need of a re-examination of the roots of copyright law and what exactly it was originally trying to accomplish, because we have clearly forgotten. Robert Thibadeau in a 2004 paper frames the starting point of the discussion quite well, at least from an American stand point. Copyright law needs to balance the following two competing perspectives with the goal of obtaining the greatest possible good for society as a whole:
  1. [Congress shall have the power] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. (US Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8)
  2. If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. (Thomas Jefferson, 1813)
Considering these two quotes in light of current events, it is possible to create some striking juxtapositions. It becomes possible to paint American big media, the self proclaimed voice of all that is truly American, as anti-constitutional for seemingly desiring unending exclusive rights to the creations that they own. Similarly, if the earlier mentioned former president uttered his thoughts on ideas today he would be branded a supporter of IP piracy in the public discourse along side of Lawrence Lessig. It goes without saying that neither of these gentlemen deserve this title. To me this indicates that somewhere, somehow, we have gone down the wrong path.

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Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Returned to working as a Management Consultant, specializing in risk, security, and regulatory compliance, with Fujitsu Canada after running the IT shop in the largest library in the South Pacific.

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