Sayings > Government > Copyright

2001: In 1930, there were 10,027 books published. Today, 174 of those books are still in print. Yet it would be illegal because of copyright law for Michael Hart of Project Gutenberg to take those 9,853 books not in print and make them available on the Internet for free - at least without tracking down the present owners of those copyrights and getting permission.

How hard is that?

Almost impossible. There is no requirement that copyright holders register. To track down the current holder of a copyright from 1930, therefore, would require first determining whether the author was alive, and if not, then which of his or her relatives were alive, and one once you found a relative, who among the relatives received the copyright at issue, and then whether they'd be willing to let this decaying book be digitized. Bottom line: without an army of lawyers, it is impossible to imagine making these books available because of the regulation of copyright.

What justifies this? If the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (passed in 1998, adding 20 years to existing copyrights) had not been passed, then all work through 1943 would be now be in the public domain. Project Gutenberg, Eric Eldred's Eldritch Press, Brewster Kahle's Internet Archive could all make this stuff available to others for free or, as Dover Press does, for money. But as it is, because of the law, this stuff will fall into a black hole of legal regulation. As Brewster Kahle said in his Amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the Eldred case, we are at a point where we could put all human knowledge onto the net. Yet legal regulation stops us. Why?

-- Lawrence Lessig, Slashdot interview; [Links added]

1971: If it is correct, as I believe it is, that a fundamental element of human nature is the need for creative work or creative inquiry, for free creation without the arbitrary limiting effects of coercive institutions, then of course it will follow that a decent society should maximize the possibilities for this fundamental human characteristic to be realized. ... And it seems to me that it is the appropriate form of social organization for an advanced technological society, in which human beings do not have to be forced into the position of tools, of cogs in a machine.

1918: The general rule of law is, that noblest of human productions - knowledge, truths ascertained, conceptions and ideas - become, after voluntary communication to others, free as the air to common use.
-- Justice Louis Brandeis, dissenting opinion

1841: I will only say this, that if the measure before us should pass, and should produce one-tenth part of the evil which it is calculated to produce, and which I fully expect it to produce, there will soon be a remedy, though of a very objectionable kind. Just as the absurd acts which prohibited the sale of game were virtually repealed by the poacher, just as many absurd revenue acts have been virtually repealed by the smuggler, so will this law be virtually repealed by piratical booksellers. At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot.
-- Thomas Babington Macaulay, A Speech Delivered in the House of Commons, February 5, 1841

???? On the planet Tranquille around KM 849 (G-O) lives a little animal known as a "knafn." It is herbivorous and has no natural enemies and is easily approached and may be petted -- sort of a six-legged puppy with scales. Stroking it is very pleasant; it wiggles its pleasure and broadcasts euphoria on some band that humans can detect. It's worth the trip. Someday some bright boy will figure out how to record this broadcast, then some smart boy will see commercial angles -- and not long after that it will be regulated and taxed. In the meantime I have faked that name and catalog number; it is several thousand light-years off in another direction. Selfish of me.
-- Robert A. Heinlein, Notebooks of Lazarus

Essays and books on Copyrights and Intellectual Property:

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas. -- George Bernard Shaw

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