Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's All About the Benjamins, Baby

The cynic in me just couldn't help thinking about how ridiculous this whole copyright business has become.  After reading the very informative, Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center's FAQ, I was left with several unanswered questions and a lingering feeling that it all boils down to money.

On the fluffy side of things, copyright was developed to protect creative expression and those who share their works as to not rob them of their efforts and subsequent profits. But, what happened to the good ol' days when works were submitted by literary scholars, who wanted their efforts to be based on merit and their subsequent benefit to society? I'm guessing it came down to who was getting the recognition at the end of the day….inevitably in a monetary sense.

So, on the not so fluffy side of things, copyright is too nebulous to make words like fair use and individual expression make me feel all warm and fuzzy.  After reading through the examples of what was fair use and what wasn't fair use in the Stanford FAQ, it was still all too murky. The majority of the time, it seemed that if someone was taking profits away from someone else it wasn't considered fair use. It also seems the only way to wrap your head around copyright is to hire a copyright lawyer.

Which brings me to the biggest issue I have with copyright and fair use. If someone holds a copyright and feels you've violated it, the likely way to settle it is through court. If the copyright holder is powerful and wealthy, they can rake you through the coals while you spend your hard earned cash trying to defend the use of the material. Even if you are under the pretense of fair use, the legal expense and time spent in litigation is extraordinary. Just ask the ghost of Edwin Howard Armstrong.  So who really wins at the end of the day? Those who have the money and the power.

Copyright can also place a limit on further expression. For example, if a company placed a copyright on a pill/formula that cured a particularly harmful disease, they could charge extraordinary amounts of money and thus limit its access to those who may not be able to afford the product. They are using their copyright to benefit themselves not the society.

One of the main questions I had when reading the Stanford FAQ, was how courts were awarding copyright. That was all cleared up when I read Mazzone. It turns out it's just being handed out with no real consequence to using copyright fraudulently. Therefore, companies are benefiting from copyright placed on things that are in the public domain. This just adds to my confusion and seems overwhelming if I'd ever need to research copyright for a publication (and I'm not willing to pay someone at the Library of Congress $150 an hour to do it for me).

Someone needs to get on the publication of the directory of material in the public domain STAT….and add their copyright in the colophon.

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