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Related: author - exploitation (economics) - information - plagiarism - reproduction


A copyright provides its holder several exclusive rights to control the reproduction, import and export of a work of authorship (e.g., literary work, movie, music, painting, software, mask work, etc.) Copyrights are often held by a work's author, although, for reasons discussed below, they may often be held by a corporation. Copyright stands in contrast to other forms of intellectual property, such as patents, which grant a monopoly right to the use of an invention, because it is not a monopoly right to do something, merely a right to prevent others doing it.

Copyright covers the expression of the idea, not the idea itself (unlike a patent). So for example the idea of writing an article about copyright has been thought of before (in every legal textbook for 100 years) but that does not stop us writing this article. What we cannot do is copy a chunk of text out of one of those text books. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright


Authors, patrons, and owners of works throughout the ages have tried to direct and control how copies of such works could be used once disseminated to others. Mozart's patron, Baroness von Waldstätten, allowed his compositions to be freely performed, while Handel's patron (George I, the first of the Hanoverian kings) jealously guarded "Water Music."

Two major developments in the 14th and 15th centuries seem to have provoked the development of modern copyright. First, the expansion of mercantilist trade in major European cities and the appearance of the secular university helped produce an educated bourgeois class interested in the information of the day. This helped spur the emergence of a “public sphere,” which was increasingly served by entrepreneurial “stationers” who would produce copies of books on demand. Second, Gutenberg's development of movable type and the development and spread of the printing press made mass reproduction of printed works quick and cheap. Before these two developments, the process of copying a work could be nearly as labor intensive and expensive as creating the original, and was largely relegated to monastic scribes. It appears publishers, rather than authors, were the first to seek restrictions on copying printed works. Given that publishers now obtain the copyright from the authors as a condition of mass reproduction of a work, one of the criticisms of the current system is that it benefits publishers more than it does authors. This is a chief argument of the proponents of peer-to-peer file sharing systems.

An interesting attempt at copyright in the early modern period was the notice attached to the ha- Shirim asher li-Shelomo by the composer Salomone Rossi, a setting of the Psalms which was in fact the first music to be printed with a Hebrew type-face text(1623). It set out a rabbinical curse on anyone who copied the contents.

While governments had previously granted monopoly rights to publishers to sell printed works, the modern concept of copyright originated in 1710 with the British Statute of Anne. This statute first accorded exclusive rights to authors rather than publishers, and it included protections for consumers of printed work ensuring that publishers could not control their use after sale. It also limited the duration of such exclusive rights to 28 years, after which all works would pass into the public domain.

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works of 1886 first established the recognition of copyrights between sovereign nations (copyrights were also provided by the Universal Copyright Convention of 1952, but today this agreement is largely only of historical interest). Under the Berne convention, copyrights for creative works generally are not granted, but rather automatically assumed; an author does not have to "register" or "apply for" a copyright. As soon as a work is "fixed", that is, written or recorded on some physical medium, its author is automatically entitled to all exclusive rights to the work and any derivative works unless and until the author explicitly disclaims them, or until the copyright expires. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright#History_of_copyright [Feb 2006]

Toilet analogy

Let's say your toilet breaks down and you call a plumber to fix it. It turns out he needs to install new toilet components. He does a good job and you pay him $200. You now own the new toliet parts that he has given you and you are free to use it as often as you wish.

But let's now say that this same plumber comes back and states that he wants to charge you each and every time that another person flushes your toilet (friends, family, etc.). He claims that the toilet is the fruit of his labor and inventiveness and that in order to provide him with the proper economic incentive, he will charge a residual payment of $5 per flush for the rest of his life, plus 70 years. The fact that you already paid him for his services and that the toilet is in your house does not matter. It was his work and he deserves the pay-per-flush mode of payment. --posted on freerepublic.com in January 2001


  1. The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World (2001) - Lawrence Lessig [Amazon.com]

    The Future of Ideas: the fate of the commons in a connected world (2001) is a book by Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Stanford Law School, who is well known as a critic of the extension of the copyright term in US.

    While copyright helps artists get rewarded for their work, Lessig warns that a copyright regime that is too strict and grants copyright for too long a period of time (i.e. the current US legal climate) can destroy innovation, as the future always builds on the past. Lessig also discusses recent movements by corporate interests to promote longer and tighter protection of intellectual property in three layers: the code layer, the content layer, and the physical layer.

    The code layer is that which is controlled by computer programs. One instance is internet censorship in mainland China by sorting out geographical IP addresses. The content layer is notoriously illustrated by Napster, a file sharing service. Lessig criticizes the reaction of music companies and Hollywood. The physical layer is the one that actually conveys information from one point to another, and can be either wired or wireless. He discusses particularly the regulation of the radio spectrum in the USA.

    In the end, he stresses the importance of existing works entering the public domain in a reasonably short period of time, as the founding fathers intended.

    The Future of Ideas is a continuation of his previous book Code and Other laws of Cyberspace, which is about how computer programs can restrict freedom of ideas in cyberspace.

    See idea, property and copyright for detailed discussion about the background of this book. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Future_of_Ideas [Feb 2006]

  2. Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity - Siva Vaidhyanathan [1 book, Amazon US]
    Vaidyanathan, a professor at the School of Information Studies of the University of Wisconsin and frequent NPR commentator, details the specious ideological evolution of copyright from a set of loose policies intended to encourage cultural expression into a form of property law (now codified in the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 2000) that functions as a seal on creative works. In prose remarkably free of legal and academic jargon, Vaidyanathan begins with a concise, well-paced history of copyright from the framing of the Constitution through the literary world of Mark Twain and the advent of music sampling. The book is surprisingly entertaining, as Vaidyanathan deftly weaves a wide array of episodes from popular culture into a cogent examination of both the creative process and the laws and commercial interests that process dovetails with, then closes with a synthesis and a stern warning for the digital age. Through a combination of copyright laws, contract law and technological controls, Vaidyanathan asserts that corporate control over the use of software, digital music, images, films, books and academic materials. But copyright law, he argues, was designed to be flexible, and this elasticity is essential for the cultural vibrancy and political balance of our democracy. The argument is compelling. In the age of Napster, digital piracy may be the cause c‚lŠbre, but this well-crafted and important book shows that there are graver concerns for the public in the entertainment industry's effort to tighten its grip on intellectual property. (Oct.)Forecast: Copyright used to be of interest only to a gaggle of Hollywood lawyers, but with the advent of technologies like Napster, it has become an issue of major importance to many more. This book is simply the best on the subject to date, and it should receive widespread attention. Random House is publishing a book on a similar subject by the Microsoft trial expert Lawrence Lessig in November, which will only further heighten interest. --2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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