An Amazing Article

Be sure to read this this article by Jonathan Lethem over at Harpers. It discusses plagarism and copyright and what it means in our 21st Century culture.

Thomas Jefferson, for one, considered copyright a necessary evil: he favored providing just enough incentive to create, nothing more, and thereafter allowing ideas to flow freely, as nature intended. His conception of copyright was enshrined in the Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” This was a balancing act between creators and society as a whole; second comers might do a much better job than the originator with the original idea.

But Jefferson's vision has not fared well, has in fact been steadily eroded by those who view the culture as a market in which everything of value should be owned by someone or other. The distinctive feature of modern American copyright law is its almost limitless bloating—its expansion in both scope and duration. With no registration requirement, every creative act in a tangible medium is now subject to copyright protection: your email to your child or your child's finger painting, both are automatically protected. The first Congress to grant copyright gave authors an initial term of fourteen years, which could be renewed for another fourteen if the author still lived. The current term is the life of the author plus seventy years. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that each time Mickey Mouse is about to fall into the public domain, the mouse's copyright term is extended.

Awesome, powerful stuff. It may be long, but it's worth reading.

[via BoingBoing]


Blogger golorengo said...

I <3 Jonathan Lethem! The Fortress of Solitude is so good!
and HARPERS. God if I could have children with any published work, Harpers would be first on the list

I will def be reading this

Blogger darrell said...

Yeah, Lethem is great. Here's another great quote to whet your appetite:

We in Western society are going through a period of intensifying belief in private ownership, to the detriment of the public good. We have to remain constantly vigilant to prevent raids by those who would selfishly exploit our common heritage for their private gain. Such raids on our natural resources are not examples of enterprise and initiative. They are attempts to take from all the people just for the benefit of a few.

Blogger golorengo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger golorengo said...

Yeah, that was totally rad. Also, the snarky "notes" section made me smile.

I feel like I have read parts of this article before (esp the first part--any student of English literature quickly becomes aware of the quite liberal borrowings of Shakespeare et al), but Lethem brought in some really beautiful analogies and I loved the part about art-as-gift. Because its so true.

PS I wish Blogger would email me when someone replied to my comments

PPS and also I wish there was an edit function

Blogger Kenneth Griggs said...

Lethem is great stuff and this article was too. Thanks for the heads up, D.


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