VIEWS: 25 PAGES: 3 CATEGORY: Social Sciences POSTED ON: 7/14/2010
Throughout its history copyright law and policy have been created by and have served commercial interests. But this should be neither surprising nor particularly controversial. Copyright began as a privilege for publishers to protect their works from being copied without proper authorization. Arguably, the public's stake in copyright came as a result of the law's expansion, which was itself the result of the traditionally vested interests seeking more protection for their works. The nation's first Copyright Act (1790) provided protection to books, maps, and navigational charts; its sole rights were the ability to print, reprint, publish, and sell those works. The traditional copyright stakeholders have and use their money to influence legislation. But Americans can put public relations pressure on their elected officials to include them in copyright policy discussions; this only can happen if citizens are knowledgeable and educated about the issues and how they will be presented.
18 InformationToday February 2010 www.infotoday.com The scope of eli- Intellectual Property gible works wasn’t the only thing that Citizens Now Are Copyright Stakeholders changed: In response to lobbying by tradi- tionally vested inter- by K. MATTHEW DAMES | ests, the number of rights increased as T hroughout its history, copyright well in the following law and policy have been created manner: K. Matthew Dames by and have served commercial interests. But this should be neither sur- • A translation right (1870) prising nor particularly controversial. Copyright began as a privilege for • An expanded translation right (1909) publishers to protect their works from be- ing copied without proper authorization. • A public performance right for While copyright laws in the U.S. evolved dramatic works (1856) into a bundle of exclusive rights that cre- ators received (theoretically, as an incen- • A public performance right for tive to create content in the first place), musical works (1897) many creators ceded these rights to busi- ness entities, sometimes unwittingly (as • A public display right (1976) was the case with untold numbers of African-American musicians who signed • Rights of attribution and away their rights in the 19th and 20th Once the process got entrenched, it be- who promotes improved copyright pro- integrity (1990) centuries, sometimes for little in ex- came very difficult to reform it, even if tection for U.S. creative works abroad) change) but sometimes knowingly (in members of Congress had had the stom- was not present at Biden’s summit. How- • A public performance right for those instances where a company was ach to try.” ever, as Litman pointed out in her Car- digital audio transmissions of thought to have a better chance at suc- Litman continued by saying that with dozo article, the register’s presence may sound recordings (1995) cessfully making money from a copy- each passing decade, another lobbying in- not have made any difference, at least righted work). terest group—movie studios, then record not insofar as the public receiving repre- Finally, the term of copyright was ex- This arrangement of having corporate companies, then broadcasters, and librar- sentation at the Biden meeting: “Once tended, beginning at 14 years (with one copyright portfolio owners being the sole ies—became a stakeholder interested in upon a time, the Copyright Office saw 14-year renewal period) to its current nongovernmental interest in copyright carving out specialized provisions and [representing the public] as an integral duration of the life of the author, plus law and policy worked reasonably well exceptions specifically for their special- part of its mission. Over the past fifty 70 years. for quite some time. And if the arrange- ized interests. Virtually none of these years, though, the Copyright Office has ment didn’t work well, it worked well interest groups has traditionally repre- gradually come to see its most important enough. Arguably, copyright owners owned sented the public’s interest in copyright constituents as the entities who own According to the a stake in the process as a recipient, li- matters, and those that purport to repre- copyrights, and has seemed increasingly censor, and protector of exclusive rights sent the public—Public Interest Research willing to subordinate the interests of Electronic Frontier for whatever “limited Times” that Con- Group, Electronic Frontier Foundation, both authors and the public to the inter- Foundation, RIAA gress deemed appropriate. Similarly, leg- the American Civil Liberties Union—have ests of the publishers, record labels, soft- islators owned a stake in the process as been unsuccessful at gaining entry to the ware and motion picture companies who member companies the party responsible for creating and stakeholder club. dominate its client base.” have sued more vesting whatever rights copyright own- Never was the incestuous nature of ers ultimately received. the copyright stakeholder constituency than 28,000 How the Public However, I argue that the average cit- more apparent than in December, when citizens to date. izen now is as much a copyright stake- Joe Biden, the U.S. vice president, con- Became Involved holder as the traditionally vested inter- vened a Roundtable Discussion on En- Arguably, the public’s stake in copy- ests, and citizens can take measures to forcing Laws Against Piracy of Intellectual right came as a result of the law’s ex- These factors have combined ensure that the copyright system begins Property at the White House. In addition pansion, which was itself the result of to make copyright the most ubiquitous to consider their interests. to the vice president, those attending the the traditionally vested interests seeking form of intellectual property and the form discussion included the U.S. attorney more protection for their works. The na- most likely to involve the public on a daily general, the nation’s secretary of home- tion’s first Copyright Act (1790) provided basis. “At the turn of the century, U.S. The Old Boys’ Club land security, the directors of the FBI and protection to books, maps, and naviga- copyright law was technical, inconsistent, In several of her writings, law profes- the Secret Service; top executives from tional charts; its sole rights were the abil- and difficult to understand, but it didn’t sor Jessica Litman has detailed the his- corporate copyright owners such as NBC ity to print, reprint, publish, and sell those apply to very many people or very many to
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