I. How We Got Here
I recently wrote an academic paper on the topic of copyright. Over the next five postings, I will outline the history of how we have gotten to the current state of affairs regarding copyright, three significant copyright issues in terms of creating a balance between creator rights and the public good, the development of the copyleft movement and the influence of the Open Source software movement, and finally, a few current implications for students and educators.
First world nations have been instituting copyright laws since the Statute of Anne in Britain in 1710 which was the first law protecting writers from their works being reprinted by other publishers—namely the few who owned and made a living using a printing press. There was great concern with this new technology and the threat it posed to those who made a living through writing. The spirit of this first law of its kind was not primarily monetary in focus: It was “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning.” Writers would retain rights over their works for 14 years at which point their creation would enter the public domain unless the writer requested an extension of another 14 years, which would be preferable if the work was still in demand and could continue to provide financial support to the writer. Although there was a monetary aspect to the law, its purpose was to provide writers the means to engage in higher pursuits in order to further knowledge in the Arts and Science. Thus, its focus was academic in nature. The time limit was to create a balance between author rights and the public good. A writer could be assured an income in order to pursue further knowledge, but then their work entered the public domain and others could build upon the original writer’s work.
There is a long, detailed history of how copyright has progressed in the first world nations. The United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU), the United States (US), and Canada have all developed modern copyright laws for publishers that have been amended numerous times to reflect the changes in how we develop what we now call Intellectual Property (IP). It’s no longer only printed text that is printed by a publisher in a finalized copy of the author’s ideas. In addition to books, it’s also audio, video, and public performance. And in addition to book publishers, there are also professional publishers of music, audio books, films, and television programs. And in addition to all these different types of professional publishers, we have the Internet which affords the capability of every individual to be a sharer of content and a publisher of content. The concerns of publishers over the availability of copying technology like the photocopier or the VCR are dim now in comparison to the concerns of the copying capability of the Internet!
Current State of Affairs
In 1710, there weren’t any multinational corporations who significant interests in maintaining control over the media they create in order to maintain their multi-million to billion dollar profits. These businesses are singularly concerned with their interests, and thus, they have lobbied government to pass laws that will ensure their continued success. Their main concern is the ease with which the average person can copy and distribute their products online which they believe affects their profits. They coined the negative phrase ‘piracy’ to describe the action in a negative light—to say that all who share their music and movies are pirates, thieves of the worst kind. Using such loaded language slants the argument in their favour, strongly stating that there is no room for even questioning the current state of affairs regarding copyright.
What if we took the time to question whether the current system is actually fair?
What’s Up Next…
The next posting will present a few copyright issues that question whether we currently have an appropriate balance between creator rights and the public good.