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Where do you draw the line?

Still pondering Siva Vaidhyanathan’s points in Copyrights and Copywrongs

Consider the following statement by Vaidhyanathan, “… copyrights used to expire on definite dates, thus constantly enriching the public domain with new material.” (p. 125)  I am quite honestly a little perplexed here. Is Vaidhyanathan saying that only items that are no longer protected by copyright are in the public domain? Having read the entire book, this quote may be a bit out of context. It also brings up another question: What if copyright periods were shorter?

Where exactly do you draw the line?

Isn’t it true that each new creation enriches the public domain regardless of copyright? The creation of Copyrights and Copywrongs certainly enriched the public domain. I am able to read the work and quote passages of it in my own writing, as long as I credit Vaidhyanathan words. Vaidhyanathan drew information from the work of others – works available in the public domain – and he credits those works in the Notes section that begins on page 191.

So, if copyrights expired in, just for theoretical discussion, five years. After five years passed, would an academic writer no longer credit the originator of a work and present the words and ideas as his or her own? Any worthy academic writer would never consider such a thing.

So perhaps we should look at this from the standpoint of  a fiction writer or musician. If the copyright on a work of fiction or music expired in five years – there would be pirated copies of both fiction and musical works everywhere. Note Vaidhyanathan’s statement, “American printers … pirate[d] others’ works … American authors had less incentive to produce original works …” (pg 43) Do we want to return to a time like that? I think not. Not only would works be pirated, but other authors would claim the work as their own creation. There would be no reason, other than moral clarity, to stop a person from pirating work. Creation on either end would decrease just as it did in Colonial times. Recall specifically Vaidhyanathan’s quote regarding the U.S. Constitution: “Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution … power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to the respective Writings and Discoveries.” (pg 44-45) The fact that the creators of our Constitution felt it was necessary to insert copyright protection is evidence of the decline of creativity due to pirated works. Also, given the short life span of people in colonial times, the original 14 years noted in Viadhyanathan’s book may have covered the majority of an author’s adult life.

So, where would you draw the line?

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