Notes: A Case for Copyright

In discussion related to the anti-SOPA protest, commenter grellas writes on HN about Copyright:

Creative effort - or at at least any that is truly worthy of the name - takes tears, and sweat, and blood. We can marvel at the output of an artist, or a writer, or a composer, or a film maker and yet fail to focus on the years of toil that often preceded that work.
When a society makes a decision to defend the right of a creative person to control his work, and to profit from it or give it away as he likes, it has to make all sorts of policy decisions. Should such control last indefinitely? Of course not. Why? Because the benefits that we all get from being able to control our creative work only last so long. After a time, and certainly after we die, we have presumably exhausted whatever benefit we get from such control. Then too, others also create and, in time, all sorts of people borrow from one another and build upon the efforts of others regardless of the degree of creativity that they add to the process. Given enough time, we get what is known as a "common heritage" - something that far transcends the creative work of any one person. And so we have what is known as a public domain - a rich collection of creative output that is freely available to all. Those who value copyright and its social benefits in protecting creative output also value the public domain because it is a natural concomitant to the protected core of works that fall under copyright in any given generation. Indeed, a key aspect of copyright is precisely to encourage people to create - to invest the very blood and sweat that it often takes to do something great - in order that society generally will be enhanced and improved as creative works are done, are made available to the world as the creator may decide, and eventually pass into the public domain. So a fundamental tenet of copyright is that it cannot be absolute. It needs to be strictly bounded to achieve its legitimate goals without being extended to a point where it defeats those goals and gives special privileges to persons for no good reason.

Today, copyright has been seriously abused in the U.S. and elsewhere and needs to be fixed. In particular, terms of copyright need to be brought back to sensible levels. The public domain as it exists needs to be preserved and a better system needs to be in place by which orphaned works can freely enter the public domain. Many other fixes are needed as well. What is most definitely not needed is a SOPA-style enforcement scheme that opens up legal channels to copyright holders that would permit all sorts of abusive actions against innocent parties in the name of copyright enforcement. This sort of thing merely perpetuates the abuse and does not fix anything. Those who have been paying attention strongly sense this, and it has been pretty amazing to watch people unite to oppose the back-room sleaziness that led to such legislative efforts in the first place.

The full comment is a bit longer, but it's well worth the read if you're at all interested in what Copyright means and why it might be necessary. I thought about this in the context of the 'bigger picture', and it seems like copyright makes a lot of sense.

I personally don't copyright my work, but that's exactly the point: Copyright gives you the option to retain rights to your work if you so choose to. If you want to give it away, you can do that too. All of my work here is Uncopyright, but I still think that if someone wants to copyright something, they should have that option.

Copyright extends from the scarcity mindset while Uncopyright embraces abundance. Should one be enforced over the other? I don't think so. If a creator can produce uncopyrighted work and still make a living (as I believe they can), let them.

I say instead of arguing between the two, let nature choose the winner.

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