The Spirit of Copyright Law

“It’s an essential characteristic of contemporary art that if it has value, someone will copy it.” – Cory Doctorow

Copyright law involves a weird kind of trade off: how do you balance the need for an artist to have their work seen with the fact that they need to get paid for it? This issue was highlighted in Hilton and Wiley’s Tech Trends article on books. In that story, people were giving out their material on the internet and it was being seen in a way it wouldn’t if it was under copyright law.

As far as digital storytelling, I wonder if the solution isn’t a return to a patronage-type system, where wealthy benefactors buy up work and distribute it freely, much like the Medicis did in commissioning The David–ultimately, all of Florence saw it. Yet a statue is not digital media that can be seen from any computer screen anywhere in the world. One of the problem with this is that digital media can be so widely disseminated and duplicated.

In certain ways, copyright law and its tightening is a really good thing because it recognizes that there is value on creativity and that a living can be made off of creativity. That being said, it is frustrating when people cannot use simple things. Cory Doctorow points out the gross inequities in copyright law when one group of people has teams of lawyers at their disposal and others are operating out of their garage. At the same time, one of the articles with the hip-hop artist pointed out that jazz was sampling for years without any legal retribution. Here, the technology is a problem because the sample is an exact copy of the original. So this is all to say that there is this weird nexus between the current technology and the legal protection, which is based on past technology. This makes following copyright that more onerous and the need to find new solutions that much more necessary to balance creativity.

Category: W13: Copyright
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One Response
  1. lparks says:

    I really liked what you said about the legal protection for artists being based on outdated technology. I think that’s one of the things at the center of the problems today with copyright enforcement. The whole system is designed for a time when it was much, much harder to reproduce other people’s work and even harder to make money off it it. Enforcing music copyright, for example, was a lot easier when it was hard for normal people to be able to copy a record, but in days where everybody has a CD burner on their computer, it’s much different. The question is, I guess, how can we adapt copyright law to take new technology into account (and will the government actually take the time and money to do it)?