Aaron Swartz: "another, more insidious kind of copyright 'theft' or 'piracy': that of copyright holders who hold onto their copyrights after the author has recouped their costs. Copyright only exists to provide an incentive to authors; once they've done the work and recouped their cost (and possibly the cost of their next project), they should donate their work to the public domain."

As a computer book author, I applaud Swartz for applying the terms "theft" and "piracy" to the practice of keeping book copyrights, thus ensuring that no rational discussion of his idea can possibly take place.

Breaking even or doubling my cost wouldn't be nearly enough incentive to yoke myself to a keyboard for months at a time as the Earth goes about its normal day-to-day business in my absence. If I'm going to miss entire seasons to teach the world how to teach itself Java, I want the chance for my book to earn money for years after it leaves my hands.

If that's too much to ask, world, let me know and I'll return to my original goal -- a career in interpretive dance.

Comments

The "progress" that the Constitution cites in the copyright clause comes about because the author of a work retains the exclusive rights to the work for a limited period, as specified by Congress. As I've said, I think this is a bit redundant, because the author already owns, exclusively, all rights to the work by virtue of creating it and not assigning any of the rights elsewhere. That the framers found it necessary to call this out in the Constitution says something about the state of publishing in the 18th century. We can surmise that the inability of authors to keep their works from being printed and marketed by anyone who chose to do so, without recompense to the author -- otherwise known as theft -- was a barrier to progress because it discouraged authors from writing. In other words, while the limited duration of copyright marks the framers' recognition that progress is encouraged by the eventual devolvement of books into the public domain, the fact the copyright clause exists at all is evidence that the framers, more fundamentally, believed that progress is encourage by preventing the theft of authors' exclusive rights.

The public does not have rights to a book until the book is published and made available for their purchase. (E.g., the public has no rights to unpublished manuscripts sitting on hard drives.) When someone purchases a book, they acquire "fair use" rights to that book, which -- although subject to interpretation and debate -- certainly don't include the copyright-clause-nullifying notion that anyone can make and distribute an indefinite number of copies of the book.

And that takes us back to the original motivation of the copyright clause: that progress is served by preventing the public from usurping the exclusive rights of an author to the works of their own creation.

Dave: An author can create a work. I can copy that work for my own purposes, whether they be derivative, archival, or simply duplicative. Absent the negotiated truce that is copyright law, he has no inherent "right" to restrict my behavior. We The People have simply chosen to surrender some degree of freedom in the interest of promoting authorship itself, thus granting the author rights that he would not otherwise have.

wgerrard and Dave both have the same, common confusion. "Copyright is just another ownership right," they say, "why should I have to negotiate with other people for something I own?"

Ownership is a normal, common law thing. It prevents me from coming and taking your chair away from you. There's only one chair; if I take it, you lose it.

Copyright is very different; it prevents people like you, or I, or the man down the street from doing something we'd normally be able to do: stick a book in a photocopier.

There's no natural reason why I shouldn't be allowed to stick a book in a photocopier. The problems of theft, like the problems of murder, are acknowledged by all sorts of religions and cultures (thou shalt not steal is the 8th commandment) but there's no commandment or anything in the bible against making copies of books.

But authors saw other publishers copying their books and ripping them off. So the US government had a deal for them: if they put a copy of their book in the library of congress and paid a small fee, then the government would keep other publishers from selling the same book as you.

This made it relatively clear that copyright was no natural, immediate, ownership write. If you wrote something down, anyone could copy it unless you went to the government and purchased a copyright and deposited a copy in the library of congress. The public got an assurance you were serious (a little bit of money) and a copy of your work for posterity. This made sense: the public was the one selling you a copyright and the government enforcement of it; they should be the ones who set the price.

The Berne Convention of 1971 changed this, and this is where I suspect the confusion started. It said that everything was copyrighted from the moment is was made. Authors started thinking that copyright was just something they deserved (after all, everything they wrote had one), and they didn't owe the public or the government anything for it.

Similarly, the continuing copyright extensions made copyright so long (longer than anyone's life) that they thought copyright was forever (a copyright expiring wasn't anything they remembered) so they didn't notice or care when Congress started extending copyright a little more.

It's interesting how the people in this discussion have gotten past the assumption that copyright is forever, but not the assumption that copyright is natural. I think that means we have more work to do.

I'm fine with copyright while the author lives, but the current copyright laws are insane and encourage theft. Who can honestly say the original Winnie the Pooh should still be under copyright? That's just there to pad the pockets of companies like Disney.

And honestly, I'm not going to lose any sleep at the thought that authors might pack up shop. If you don't love writing, I think you should do something else.

i think as long as your contract pays *you* for those years to come, you're right. as soon as someone else is benefitting from your artistic creation ( which your books are imo, great work! ) then f**k them. aa milne isn't getting paid. its his rich kids. so to that, back to the class struggle. the people defending the copyright law so vigorously are not artists ( ever worked for disney? i've never met a cheaper person or company. 180 net for work? how am i supposed to eat? ).

Copyright is not theft, and authors are under no obligation to give anything to anyone, period. If you spend your time, labor and resources creating something, you have a right to make as much money from as you are legally able.

Authors have no more obligation to serve the public good than anyone else. The notion that they should dump their works into the public domain as soon as they have recouped their costs is naive beyond belief. Yet we constantly hear the refrain: "Real authors will write for the love of it." Patent nonsense. How about the people who assert that giving up their salaries and 'working for the love if it"??

You like it when the terms 'theft' and 'piracy' are applied to users making fair use of a work, but you don't like it when these words are used in conjunction with the actions of the entertainment industry? Tough. Shouldn't have labeled your legitimate users with those tags, then, in the first place, right?

I love writing, but I love supporting myself and my family more. I make no bones about being in the field of computer books for the money.

However, that doesn't mean I'm a supporter of the ongoing abolishment of the public domain being undertaken by Disney and other corporations. It's disgusting to see Disney profit from a retelling of Treasure Island and other public domain works while insuring that its own creations will never be subjected to the same creativity.

I would never agree to put a book in the public domain simply because I reached some targeted earning point such as "twice my cost." It's better to retain the copyright and offer it under a generous license that requires people to make their derivative work available under the same terms. Also, the extra money one book earns subsidizes my efforts to write work that's more commercially risky. I'm working on a computer book now that's a commercial gamble, primarily because I love working with the technology, use it every day, and want to encourage others to write books about it. And make an infinite amount of money, of course.

The goal of any copyright law should be to get the most works created while giving away as few as possible of the public's rights.

My plan was a proposal for how to achieve this; I guess it wouldn't work in your instance.

I'm with Rogers on this one. As a tech author myself, the work doesn't stop after writing the book. You're always reasearching the next one, collecting code snippets, testing new technologies and ideas.

In my case, I have to fit a full time job and my family into the mix as well.

Copyright is what keeps the realtionship between me, the publisher, and my readers on an even keel.

But maybe Aaron's idea has some merit. Maybe the book can be released to the public domain once the revenue stream dries up to a trickle....an unfortnate consequence of writing tech books instead of timeless classics.

Cheers, Ralph

As Aaron points out, the goal of copyright IS to maximize good. However, without hard data, it's not clear what the ideal tradeoff point between no copyright and eternal copyright is.

It's also not clear that a SINGLE NUMBER (of copyrighted years) should apply to all works regardless of their underlying value. One of the concerns of the dissenting justices is that a copyright extension for the sake of a small number of highly profitable works will have the effect of hindering access to the remaining 'worthless' works, which is the vast majority.

An economic test along the lines of Ralph's suggestion is probably a better idea. Too many lawyers and too few economists making policy, I guess.

Dave asked why it matters what we think, isn't this a matter between Rogers and his publisher.

With all due respect, you're mixing two things up: the compensation an author gets from her publisher and the compensation an author gets from copyright royalties. It's the latter we're discussing, not what Rogers and his publisher agree on between themselves.

And, on the matter of copyright royalties, I feel we as people who have bought the work have a say. The outrage was sparked by arbitrary extensions of the period over which such royalties have to be paid, to an unreasonable 70 (?) years, which just enriches the company long after the author's death. The reason our opinion matters is that we already paid for the work and now want to use it any way we feel is "fair use", and that's being chipped away too -- you can play the CD but only in a "blessed" CD ROM player, not on your computer, you can't copy it, or you can't skip over the commercials etc etc. All kinds of arbitrary restrictions that are not serving me, the customer.

Dave, I'm not pissed at Rogers (what gave you that idea?). I don't think Rogers is a jerk or that his work is crap. I thought that wasn't what we were talking about.

What I thought we were discussing is being able to use Rogers work after a certain period of time, without usage restrictions. Exactly *because* it is excellent, it should revert to the public domain after a while, as Aaron explained. Isn't that the idea of how copyrights ought to work? I support Rogers' right to make a living off of the work to the fullest extent, with my wallet even, not just theoretically. I own several of his books and like them. But, after a while, for the greater good, these works ought to become freely accessible.

What's happening now is that copyright is being extended unreasonably *and* that additional use restrictions are being added after I bought (some, restricted) right to use the work -- not just Rogers' stuff, I mean in the general sense, for example restrictions on how I can use a music CD.

I feel that that's unfair, two ways: first, it makes the work inaccessible after it's out of circulation, and second, it changes the contract retroactively on how I can use a work after I bought (some) rights of use.

Copyright has been completely subverted from its original purpose as an instrument for catalyzing innovation and fostering creativity. Instead, it is now used as a club to keep audiences captive, extracting multiple payments out of the customer for the same work on different media, and for extending the commercial life of a work. As I understand it copyright was initially envisioned as a means to ensure that people got *any* compensation at all for their work; prior to the invention of copyright anyone could take Rogers' books from day one, reproduce them and sell them without compensating Rogers'. But now copyright has been extended too far in the opposite direction, of restricting fair use.

Last point: it's interesting to note that copyright has been thus subverted not by the authors of the work but by middlemen. These are people who IMHO contribute relatively little and only enable access to the creativity of people like Rogers.

Regarding the quote, "the goal of copyright IS to maximize good," it's not in the Constitution but it is a reasonable way of summarizing what the Constitution says. Here's the relevant part of Article I, Section 8 (which enumerates the powers of Congress):

"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"

Obviously the "limited time" part is ignored nowdays.

I meant to say 'public good'...

OK,

I'll jump in here. VERY few authors get a significant advance from the publisher. All of the income my books will ever generate comes from royalties. If I do get and advance from the publishers, my royalties go towards paying off the advance before I actually get a royalty check.

Once you buy my books, you have "fair use" of that work. You can quote passages, you can refer to the work to support or derive your own work, etc. You can carry it with you and read it anytime you want. Once you copy the whole book and distribute it (in exchange for money or not), you're eating into MY income, pure and simple.

This is a bit different than the music industry problem, and we need to be careful to keep the two separate where necessary. The main distinction is that when I write a book, I assign the rights to publish the work to the publisher, but I retain the copyright. Once the publisher decides to not reprint the book, I can take it to another publisher, or do whatever else I want with it.

I guess the problem is that one person's "fair use" is another's theft.

Ralph

I can't accept the notion that copyright amounts to theft. I can't steal what I already own.

If I create something -- a piece of furniture, a piece of software, a book -- I retain sole ownership if, and until, I sell or assign rights to all or part of my creation to someone else. In the case of written material, the assignment of copyright to the creator of the work only reflects the more fundamental notion that, in effect, "I made it, and I own it until I decide I don't want to own it".

Now, when I convince a publisher to print and market my book, that is the outcome of my decision to relinquish some or all of my rights as owner of the work. I.e., I no longer own as much of the work.

If copyright as practiced in the U.S. today is tantamount to theft, the presumed victim of the theft is the public. But, how can something that the public does not own be stolen from them?

Copywritten works should devolve to the public domain, and they should devolve to the public domain in a much shorter time than current copyright law specifies. Our justified anger about the Bono Act is, I think, better aimed at the political malaise that spawned it, rather than at more fundamental concepts..

Dave thought my manifesto was "much harsher".

I wrote with a more extremist stance than I otherwise might, in order to provoke discussion and consideration. I don't really think what book authors do is morally equivalent to attacking a ship and raping and murdering the people on board (piracy).

The idea behind copyright was that the public sold some of their rights (the rights to make copies of the book) for a limited time (14 years) in exchange for authors writing more books. Now our congresspeople have given away more of our rights (display, perform, modify) for a much longer period of time (forever).

To bring back some balance, members of the public (like me) need to bargain with authors (like Rogers) to see if we can get his books at a lower cost to our rights. Will he keep writing for four years of copyright? Four thousand dollars? As one of the people who's paying, I think I have a right to know.

Aaron, I want to be sure I'm being clear. I'm stating that an author's creation of a work gives the author all rights to the work, exclusively, even absent the concept of copyright. The concept of copyright encourages progress that benefits the public good by allowing authors to retain the benefits due them, including the right to sell printing and distribution rights to a publisher. This encourages authors to create new works (a public benefit) and, after a period of time, release the works into the public domain (also a public benefit).

So, the progress sought by the Constitution comes about not only because works eventually enter the public domain, but because the copyright clause acknowledges and protects -- rather than creates -- an author's basic rights.

(Note, too, that I'm not arguing for perpetual copyright.)

Copying a book and distributing it is not OK just because there is no Commandment against copying books. When you distribute my work, you eat into the steady stream of nickels that I exchange for food for my kids and mortgage payments on my house. Full stop.

Writing books has been a pastime and occupation for a few thousand years now. In the really olden days, works were created by a relatively small minority of monks that wrote about philosophy, art, history, and other things the general public might be interested in.

Other monks would visit a host monastary and copy these works and take them along. This was the original method of knowledge management for the creative commons. It worked because there was no incentive except some modest fame among one's peers for writing good books.

Commerce and education changed all of that. An author might write a book and sell it to a large population, and he would be compensated for his efforts by a publisher. The role of the publisher is to take on some capital risk to print and distribute a book. In exchange for this risk, the publisher gets money.

The author undertakes some risk in creating the work, and only makes money if the book sells. The author's risk can be much smaller than that of the publisher, but the author is counting on a revenue stream for income.

Where am I going with this? Simply that we need to separate the notion that copyright is the same for books and other forms of media. The book is probably the least complex method of exchanging thoughs and ideas for money. Publishing houses, even famous ones, are often relatively small enterprises.

Contrast this with movie studios and music labels. The cost of creating and promoting a hit song is absolutely enormous. Often the artists gets screwed by hidden fees in the contract, and their hit song generates very little usable cash for them.

Tech books have a very short shelf life. Authors need to squeeze all the money they can from their works. Let us keep our copyright, whether or not you think it's right or wrong. I'll decide when my works can be released to the public domain. I do enough open-source code and provide all kinds of other free knowledge, that I need the extra income to justify it.

Take away my copyright, and I won't share at all. Use my work fairly, pay for it when I ask for payment, and give me credit when you stand on my shoulders and make a derivative work, and I'm happy to share.

I'm a creator. I've written books,
created paintings and photographs,
put together audio and video products.

I'd be quite fine with a 20-year copyright,
after which everything I've put out enters
the public domain.

My feeling is, to paraphrase Rush Limbaugh,
my talents are on loan from a higher power.

Given that, it's only right, after wresting
a reasonable financial return [or not] from
them, that I hand them over to society.

I'm not worried that I'll starve by that
practice. I'll keep creating new works until
my body enters the public domain and the
worms get to feast.

As to heirs and corporations -- feh ! upon
'em all. Let them create something useful
themselves.

/stan

Ralph: What if I write a better book than you and thus deprive you of prospective readers? Or if I write a negative review of your work that influences people to skip it? Or if I run a bookstore and refuse to carry your work on my shelves for some unfathomable reason? Or if I'm a publisher, and refuse to release your work to the public in the first place?

In every case, I have made a direct and significant impact on your flow of nickles. Why is it copying in particular that would stop you from sharing your work with the world?

We also need to get past the assumption that copyright is for never.

Copyright is natural. My ideas and creativity belong to me (naturally) and I am entitled to own them for a reasonable, limited time. I'd say 14 years is reasonable and longer than that is not. I'd also say that you're entitled to fair use of my creative works in the meantime.

I don't think anyone can tell authors "once they've done the work and recouped their cost (and possibly the cost of their next project), they should donate their work to the public domain." That's an extreme position that's just not going to fly. Authors are entitled to a return on the time and energy invested, as opposed to just breaking even, if their work is of some value to others. If their work has no value to others, then I guess it doesn't matter.

We shouldn't lose sight of all the [common] ground between the extremes of "no copyright" and "copyright forever." Incentive to create is still important. I'm thinking of the old cliché about the baby and the bathwater...

With all due respect, copyright is not natural. It didn't exist before 1710. The Framers rejected copyright as a natural right. The First Congress passed a bill that said that authors had no natural copyright. Copyright is an invention to achieve a particular end.

Aaron's controversy is interesting but looks at the issue from too close a perspective. Why is the result of a book author's effort any different than a gas station attendant's or a CEO's and more subject to legal limitations on income? I thought we lived in a capitalist society where the potential reward is limited only by the intelligence of the target market.

We also need to get past the assumption that copyright is for never.

Copyright is natural. My ideas and creativity belong to me (naturally) and I am entitled to own them for a reasonable, limited time. I'd say 14 years is reasonable and longer than that is not. I'd also say that you're entitled to fair use of my creative works in the meantime.

I don't think anyone can tell authors "once they've done the work and recouped their cost (and possibly the cost of their next project), they should donate their work to the public domain." That's an extreme position that's just not going to fly. Authors are entitled to a return on the time and energy invested, as opposed to just breaking even, if their work is of some value to others. If their work has no value to others, then I guess it doesn't matter.

We shouldn't lose sight of all the [common] ground between the extremes of "no copyright" and "copyright forever." Incentive to create is still important. I'm thinking of the old cliché about the baby and the bathwater...

I think the U.S. copyright term used from 1928 through 1963 is workable: 28 years, after which the author has one year to renew the work for another 47 or it becomes public domain.

Those terms are laughably excessive for computer books -- even a 14-year copyright term would be longer than the commercial viability of any book I write in that field.

However, works such as novels could be commercially successful for an author's lifetime, and I think the term should enable that (or come close). Is there a good reason why Ray Bradbury shouldn't be able to make money from sales of Fahreinheit 451 50 years after it was published?

Regardless of the copyright term, what's important to me is that it terminates. The current situation, where nothing enters the public domain, is indefensible. We owe it to the people who follow us to nurture the public domain.

Dave

Feh. While you're at it do away with money too
because it deprives young people of a chance to
make their own contributions to the world.

But we're all talking about anything except the real
problem, which is not how long the copyright held
by the author should last. The real problem is that
publishers want to extend the copyright unnaturally
beyond anything reasonable AND place use restrictions
on me that violate my natural 'fair use' rights.

The problem comes about because Rogers and other authors
need to sell their copyright to publishers in order
to get their work published. These people are greedy
and want every last penny of your money. THAT's the problem
not how long Rogers' copyright extends.

And by the way, to Ralph Hempel: if you're author of Java
books, I think you owe me some money because I helped
create the subject of your books. As you put it, you
should "use my work fairly, pay for it when I ask
for payment, and give me credit when you stand on
my shoulders and make a derivative work".

Dave

Feh. While you're at it do away with money too
because it deprives young people of a chance to
make their own contributions to the world.

But we're all talking about anything except the real
problem, which is not how long the copyright held
by the author should last. The real problem is that
publishers want to extend the copyright unnaturally
beyond anything reasonable AND place use restrictions
on me that violate my natural 'fair use' rights.

The problem comes about because Rogers and other authors
need to sell their copyright to publishers in order
to get their work published. These people are greedy
and want every last penny of your money. THAT's the problem
not how long Rogers' copyright extends.

And by the way, to Ralph Hempel: if you're author of Java
books, I think you owe me some money because I helped
create the subject of your books. As you put it, you
should "use my work fairly, pay for it when I ask
for payment, and give me credit when you stand on
my shoulders and make a derivative work".

I just got back from snowboarding with my wife and have missed a lot of this debate. One of the pleasures of living in a small town, I guess :-)

First off, in response to Roger Benningfield, go ahead and write a better book. Take a few months of weekends and evenings slogging over phrases and examples and screenshots. You are depriving me of income, but that's because you have done a better job than me at writing a book. That's totally fair and I don't have a problem with it.

On the other hand, if you just copy my book and distribute it - for profit or not - you are not adding value to the product. I still lose, but it's not the same as if you made your own BETTER book that others are more willing to pay money for.

For Jacob, I'm not the author of Java books. A quick Amazon search would reveal I'm the author and editor of books on LEGO Mindstorms and LEGO Spybotics. Furthermore, I asked for and received permission from LEGO to write about the subject.

I probably don't owe you money if you helped develop Java or the Tcl plugin (I checked - and by the way I LOVE Tcl!) because you were already payed for your work at Sun. I don't know the details of your employment there, but I'll bet that Sun owns any work you did for them. And if I were to write a book about Tcl or Java, I'd ask for permission from the owners first, not the developers.

As a side note, authors do not sell copyright to publishers, we grant them exclusive permission to print and distribute the work in exchange for a royalty. It's how we make money. For food and stuff like that.

Now I really need to get some sleep. I doubt I'm convincing anyone anyways :-)



Copyright, Ethics and Theft
http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/website/view.cgi?dbs=Article&key;=1041806822

Aw, the form toasted the url - just go to http://www.downes.ca

I've authored or co-authored 13 books, all related to computer technology of some form or another. None of them would live past the old copyright period much less the new timespan, because technology tends to date as soon as a book hits the streets.

As other authors in this thread can attest, computer book authors rarely make large amounts of money. Seldom can we give up our day jobs in order to write fulltime. When Aaron states that we should be restricted to only re-couping the cost of writing a book, I have to laugh; with my current effort for O'Reilly, I'd be glad if this did happen, because it's taken well over a year to write this book.

Personal efforts aside, what people seem to forget is the larger question -- when does the rights of the 'public domain' supercede the rights of the individual? I'm not talking about publishers or corporations -- I'm talking about the artist. A book or a piece of music or painting are works of creativity that took not only effort, but time, considerable time, on the part of the artist. To say that the creator of the work has so many rights to their effort, and no more, because the will of the 'people' must be satisfied, is just another variation of mob rule. When are the rights of the individual respected over that of this faceless, nameless, and soul-less public domain?

Aaron has all these ideas, but he's never published a book. He's never had to put the amount of time and effort into writing several hundred pages, go through the editing, or listen to reviewers cutting it to shreds. He's never paid the price necessary for him to blithley write out 'Tips for Authors', and telling us how much we're entitled to for our efforts.

Cory Doctorow did an incredible thing, publishing his book online. I respect him for it. But this wouldn't work for computer books, because chances are, free online versions of the book would cut into the sales. And these books have a short earning life span, as it is.

And I have to ask -- why should we put these books online for free? I'm not denying people access to the information. They have access to much of the same information online I do, but my books help them access the information more easily. However, not having my book online won't deny people access to the information. As for electronic forms of the book on CD, did this with Que and Sams books, and next thing we knew, they were online all over the place.

What's worse in all of this is to be accused of being a 'thief' because I choose _not_ to put my work into the public domain immediately, or maybe not at all until the copyright ends. But you know, that's my choice. Why is there this almost mob-like mentality, carrying aloft words like 'theft' and 'piracy' rather than torches, ready to condemn if one doesn't immediately turn all of our creativity over to the 'public domain'. Where is the good in this? To me, this is just as bad, perhaps even worse, then over-extending copyright or patent priviledges. I would rather see Disney hold on to its copyright of the Mouse, than to see artists forced to give up their creations for some 'common good'.

Sorry foe length of comment, Roger.

I'm curious: some folks in here have talked about copyright of infinite duration -- what about patents of equally infinite duration? Would that change the argument?

Why do we, as a society, seem to accord greater legal protections to someone that sketches a picture of a mouse than to someone that invents a vaccine? Especially considering that there isn't a book on this planet that cost even a fraction as much to develop as any halfway useful pharmaceutical.

The public good does outweigh the private good -- the only question is where does the equation tip? (If you don't believe that public good outweighs private, consider this: if I invented a vaccine for HIV, and then decided to destroy it because nobody would pay me enough, would I be right to do so?)

Mithra, you're talking about patent law versus copyright, as Justice Stevens did in his dissenting opinion vis Eldred vs Ashcroft. The two really are not the same thing. One has to do with an idea or invention based on an idea, while the latter has to do with a specific work of art.

The idea behind patent law is that ideas tend to happen at specific periods of time, as a consequence of the environment. Jones may have invented this machine, but it was only a matter of time before Brown would have also invented it. Same with medicines. I do believe in strict time limits on these discoveries because they influence a whole genre of discovery. Limit the invention and you limit the inspiration.

Now a piece of art, book, music or whatever -- that is unique to the artist. And they can inspire without compromise of the copyright. It's only the complete re-publication or illegal derivation thereof that violates the copyright.

And no one is talking about infinite copyright lengths. And if people here think that the lengths are _bad_, email or call your congressperson -- tell them to back CETA out.

I believe that the point of this thread, though, was about an artist's 'obligation' to the common good. And my view is that an artist has no more obligation to the common good than any other professional.

How many in this thread donate their salaries, beyond necessary living expenses, en toto to charity?

I'm with the Founders on this one--copyright is not a natural right, but it's a darn good idea if we want lots of books to read. What does this mean?

A natural right is something "inherent in nature", under some particular philosophy. In the U.S. tradition, natural rights include the rights to choose your own religion, to state your own opinions, and to own physical property. If you're religious, you might say that these rights come from God, not from Congress. If somebody tried to take these rights away, you might feel justified about punching them in the nose (or starting a revolution).

A legal right is something created by Congress. The right to create a limited liability coporation is a legal right. Legal "rights" can be very good--and beneficial to society--but you'd hardly think of them as being inherent in nature, or having been proclaimed by God.

Now, is copyright a natural right or a legal right? Is it an unalterable part of any just society, or is it merely a good idea backed up by the power of Congress? If you were Plato, and heard that a scribe made a hand-copy of the Republic, would you feel justified in punching the scribe in the nose? Would you sacrifice your life to preserve copyright, the way so many people have sacrified their lives to preserve freedom of religion and freedom of speech? The U.S. Constitution says that copyright is a legal right; some bits of European law imply that copyright is partially a natural right.

These questions matter, because people tend to think about natural and legal rights in different ways. If something is a natural right (like freedom of religion and freedom of speech), there's no use arguing whether that thing benefits society or hurts it--you've just got to live with it. If something's a legal right, however, you can argue about whether it's a good idea, how long it should last, and if there should be any limitations or exemptions.

I don't think anybody in this thread wants copyright to go away. Even if it's only a legal right, it's a tremendously important and successful one--one of the best legal rights invented in the modern age. Even Richard Stallman--who's got some pretty radical ideas about copyright--has occasionally conceded that a short-term copyright for proprietary, commercial software would be acceptable to him.

On the other hand, I don't think anybody in this thread thinks that their copyrights should be handed down to their great-great grandchildren, or that copyright law should keep tens of thousands of books from the 1920's out of print.

Shelley Powers wrote: I believe that the point of this thread, though, was about an artist's 'obligation' to the common good. And my view is that an artist has no more obligation to the common good than any other professional.

I don't think that artists have any more obligation to the common good than anybody else--say, great chefs. I can't force somebody to cook for me. But not even great, innovative chefs can get a copyright on their original dishes, the way playwright can get a copyright on a play. I agree that if we want lots of books, we need to have copyright. But I don't agree that a society without copyright would be an intrisically evil society.

Three good questions for our age:

1) What kind of copyright would allow professional authors to make a good living, without destroying thousands of old books or locking up classics in the hands of coporations for centuries?

2) What kind of copyright would allow professional musicians to make a good living, while still allowing users control over the music they purchase?

3) What kind of copyright would allow professional programmers to make a good living, while allowing users to control their own computers (and buy from somebody other Microsoft)?

I think people are missing the point on some things.

Government's duty is to the people. It seeks to promote the advancement of arts and sciences for the greater public good (thats what it says in the constitution).

You, as a creator, need the protection of the government. Without it, there are no courts and not protection and people can and will copy anything anytime. But the goverment isn't just there for *you*. Its there for everybody. The government is not *taking* anything from you. It is working to help you keep it for a period of time. Then it stops working for you and its open season.

This is good for everybody.

Take the example of Damascus steel. The manufacturing of this material was a jealously guarded secret in the middle ages. So jealously guarded that the knowledge of how to make this material was lost for over 300 years before being rediscovered in 1991.

We are in danger of losing much important science and culture for the same reasons.

Imagine the damage to society if drug companies were allowed to keep their technologies secret indefinitely. If a drug company that produced an important cure for a nearly eradicated disease failed and the disease made a comeback (Smallpox maybe), the loss of that technology could prove devastating. Science only works if we share our discoveries. This is why patents are good. A patent requires full disclosure. At expiration of the patent all can take advantage of the advance. This is good.

Without this Disney would have nothing to release this year. (Treasure Planet - a ripoff of a public domain work by Robert Louis Stevenson). They would have had no material for their first feature film - Snow White.

Already we are losing important works in computer science. A few enlightened individuals are working to preserve out of print works and convince their owners to place them into the public domain. Some of these describe novel advances and solutions to uncommon problems. Or languages that had interesting concepts. Not broad appeal but still important.

There are also people working to preserve historic recordings, films, songs, stories. They are increasingly hindered by copyright extensions and fear of lawsuits.

The sales life of a computer book is maybe 5-10 years if its a really important work. Less for the fad books churned out on the latest big things (of the wall of Java books - maybe 3 are important - the rest are me-too knockoffs nobody will miss). After this the commercial value of the book is gone.

So what are you holding onto? Put it into the public domain.

Similar is true for abandonware. There's plenty of that. Some sites are popping up to catalog and provide copies of old programs made by out of business companies. But this is only half a solution. They need to have the source code to allow people to protect their investment.

I once spent 3 months tracking down the backup program that made a 50 floppy backup set of source code for a commercial software product - only to find the company that made it was long gone - I finally managed to find someone that had it lying arond to give me a copy of the program to recover the data.

What I learned from this: If the code isn't open or at least escrowed to become public domain upon discontinuance of the active marketing of the product, I won't use it.

Anyhow, I think the authors/programmers are overreacting big time to calls to limit copyright and I'm in full agreement with the minority opinions in Eldred.

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