Sunday, September 19, 2010

Week 3: Copyright and "copywrong"

The topic of copyright has always confused me because there are so many different stipulations in place for whether a work is or isn’t copyrighted – dates and “if, then” rules that are near impossible to ever fully memorize, though the Stanford readings really helped to clarify some of the issues and questions surrounding copyright laws and infringement. But just as I thought I might be starting to understand it, I read the “Summaries of Fair Use Cases” (Chapter 9, Section C), and was confused all over again. While understanding that not all the examples given were the same, some of them seemed so close to one another, yet the final rulings were quite different, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around the little differences that decided the outcomes of each case. I’ve come to a personal conclusion that copyright law is not a black and white area but rather a fuzzy grey that will never be easily and truly clarified.

As for the Mazzone reading, while initially being intimidated by the length of the article, I found that the writing itself was very approachable, understandable and especially informational concerning what he calls "copyfraud." It’s quite depressing to realize that so many publishers and institutions take advantage of and bully the public by using fraudulent copyright claims and that really little is done about it in the end. What a shame that it’s so easy (though not common) for claims to be brought against the common man, resulting in expensive legal fees that many probably can’t afford, but it’s so easily glossed over when it comes to some of these same organizations making statements that claim their copyright over works that are obviously in the public domain. Shouldn’t there be some kind of institution or office in place that can occasionally review copyright claims by publishers, etc., to see whether they are actually valid?


  1. One of the funniest little library "aids" I've received in recent years was a copyright "slide rule" sort of thing. It looks like an EZ Grader - if you've taught, you know what I mean - a slider that converts the # of total items on a task and the number incorrect on that task to a percentage grade. Anywho, the copyright slide rule is similarly set up with different scenarios for dates of author death, years since publication, yadda yadda, and, ultimately, whether the item is protected by copyright.

  2. I also thought that the Stanford readings did a very good job in providing a good overview of copyright law in a fairly readable manner. But I think that is where the black and white begins and ends. I agree with Erin’s thoughts on the vast gray area that exists in this legal arena. For example, the brief case analyses at the end of the Stanford reading did provide good examples to explain what happens when copyright infringement cases are presented to the courts. However, also like Erin, a few of those cases had decisions I couldn’t put a solid opinion on either way, or could not see why the decision went a particular way. As the Stanford readings suggested, copyright cases are subjective and will always depend on the opinion of judge and/or jury, especially when dealing with moral issues.
    I really enjoyed the Mazzone article (a nice surprise since law articles aren’t usually the easiest reads!). I think that he makes a really solid case in bringing up the discrepancy in the government’s concern and action between copyright and copyfraud. A national office to oversee fraudulent claims against claiming ownership in a public domain is definitely one way to go. With our economy, it’s not likely that it will happen. Even so, something should be put in place to look out for the interests of the public domain, and not protect the companies that are blatantly “copyfrauding” works that they have no right to copyright.
    Unfortunately, the little guys (and gals) are the ones who suffer: by paying for something that they have access to, and being “stifled” creatively. This is an international issue as well. For example, the length of copyright in Europe is 50 years. Some companies are re-releasing jazz albums that contains music made and recorded before 1960, and are making a mint on them. Neither the artists nor the record producers and record companies see a dime of profit. Some of the artists are still alive. I don’t feel that re-releasing an album by Miles Davis on CD is transformative, and, since the copyright is expired-and therefore public domain-why is a company allowed to blatantly exploit an entire musical genre with no repercussions? Furthermore, with the Internet, people from all over the world can buy these imported CDs. There has been a little bit of a backlash on jazz forums asking people not to buy these re-releases, but with no legal intervention, it’s pretty much a grassroots campaign. (Thanks to my husband for providing the idea that helped me to formulate this paragraph.)
    Mazzone also wrote that one of the biggest challenges of public domain materials is in accessing them. As librarians (and archivists, and curators), how do we feel about that? How can a library institute a viable way for easy access to materials that, legally, are available to everyone?