Friday, September 17, 2010

Module 3: Mazzone, Mill, and the Public Domain

Following Sarah's suggestion that we ask WWJSMD, I have concluded that Mazzone is a devout Millist. Mill, as we all remember, argued for a vibrant public space where ideas could be propagated, debated, and honed. Mazzone, when discussing the public domain, echoes JSM: "...false claims of copyright chill creativity and expression. The public domain should be a large and ever-growing depository of works that everyone is-- and feels-- free to use" (Mazzone 1059). In other words, these works belong to us all, as part of our cultural heritage, and we ought to be (and legally are!) entitled to utilize them for our own purposes. It is clear that publishers, taking full advantage of the lack of any real legal deterrent, improperly extend copyright claims in a way that stifles the public's legal right to materials in the public domain.

Furthermore, the circulation of ideas, ostensibly protected by Fair Use, is hindered by the high degree of gray area therein. If I quote a couple sentences from an author's work, and that author or his publisher sues me, I have a very good chance of succeeding. The cost of defending myself, however, is sufficiently high to prevent me from using that quote without permission. Then the process of seeking permission is sufficiently laborious that Mazzone can sum up the Chicago Manual of Style's advice as: "Everything has to be licensed and licensing is a hassle so it is better to avoid any form of reproduction" (Mazzone 1051). Such daunting hindrances effectively prevent much expression that is perfectly legal.

Mazzone goes on to suggest several solutions to this problem, solutions which bring to mind another of our previous course authors: Vaidhyanathan. As you will recall, V. essentially called for the government to create spaces for public expression (Vaidhyanathan 304f.). Mazzone strikes a similar note, calling on Congress to "giv[e] citizens easy access to public domain works" (Mazzone 1092). Much as there is a copyright office that keeps track of works under copyright, he proposes an office to monitor and publish in an easily accessible format those works which are within the public domain. Such an office, along with more aggressive legal remedies against copyfraud, would help to check the understandable efforts of publishers to make money off non-copyrighted works, as well as ensure the public's access to, and use of, information in the public domain.

I have highlighted a couple parallels between Mazzone and some previous course readings. I am curious what other parallels the rest of you have found.

1 comment:

  1. I find Mazzone's notion of an Office of Fair Use to be one of his most intriguing in the whole article. Glad you picked up on that. We'll see some more radical ideas and interpretations in our next module, in particular.

    Great contribution.