Free as Air, Free as Water, Free as Knowledge
April 8, 2001 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Free as Air, Free as Water, Free as Knowledge : is my favorite link to quote people these days. I like especially the references to Ben Franklin. How do we resolve the problem of fair use in a market driven world? Dan Gillmor's latest column, which calls for people to get active on the issue of fair use, brought the speech once again to mind.
posted by artlung (12 comments total)

"Let's get real, Mr Franklin. You know what's real, Mr Franklin?"

For great effect, read this section in the voice of Agent Smith, from The Matrix.

Seriously, though, good link.
posted by jbushnell at 3:01 PM on April 8, 2001

This pro-"fair use" stuff sounds a lot like simply saying "sure, we agreed on certain terms for our vouluntary trade, but I don't want to respect that agreement anymore, so piss off" to me. Am I mistaken? If so: Why?
posted by frednorman at 3:08 PM on April 8, 2001

By the way, Here's the full text of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, that crapulent law that Gillmor is talking about reforming.
posted by jbushnell at 3:10 PM on April 8, 2001

frednorman: read your 'we agreed on certain terms' statement as if it were coming from the head of a media corporation. It's just as valid seen from that perspective. If there's broken faith, it's happening on both sides.
posted by darukaru at 4:11 PM on April 8, 2001

I'm not encouraged. So far, internet users have seen more fit to sign up for discussion lists and silly online petitions that only they read. Navel gazing at its worst.
posted by owillis at 4:31 PM on April 8, 2001

Well, internet users also signed up for Napster at a rate of knots. And I think that's a sign that the choice is between copyright reform and mass violation. I'd favour reform: modern libraries survive, where they do, by their negotiation of "fair use" and authorial reward, through public lending right. (And the great libraries of the world aren't called "copyright libraries" for nothing: the protection of copyright is bound up with the provision of state collections.)
posted by holgate at 4:40 PM on April 8, 2001

darukaru: Uhm, that's how I intended it to be read in the first place, really. My point is this: if I -- as a representative from a record label -- want to offer you a product under the condition that you can only listen to it while closing your eyes and standing on one leg, then that's my right. You have a right to refuse my silly proposal, of course, but once you accept it -- if you choose to accept it -- you have a duty to respect it as well, be it "fair" or not.
posted by frednorman at 5:13 PM on April 8, 2001

This is the point I was trying to get across: what's good for the goose is good for the gander. The passage of the various copyright-strengthening laws breaks the agreement (written a long, long time ago) by copyrighters to let things pass into the public domain someday, and after a 'limited time'.
Fair use is not Napster. Fair use is not about outright duplication and mass dissemination. Fair use is about the insanity of a world where something copyrighted by a corporation today won't pass into the public domain until at least 2096 (assuming no more extensions are pushed through in the meantime). A limited time? Sure. But it's longer than most people's lifespans.
posted by darukaru at 6:14 PM on April 8, 2001

A limited time? Sure. But it's longer than most people's lifespans.

Before the extension, copyrighted works didn't enter the public domain until fifty years ofter the creator's death. That, too, is often longer than most people's lifespans.

While I'm on the record as being in favor of respecting current laws, I'm also generally for reduced copyright terms and for differing terms based on the type of work (e.g.: computer software, maybe ten years; compilations of other work, maybe ten too, sound recordings and films, maybe twenty), up to a maximum of the author's life or fifty years, whichever is longer (the maximum would be reserved for things like books, poems, plays, artworks, and songs -- primary works).
posted by kindall at 6:35 PM on April 8, 2001

Excellent questions. The notion of what amount of time, and what kind of protections are afforded by copyright have changed over time. Those changes are driven by moneyed interests in a way that makes me nervous.

My intent in juxtaposing these links was to wonder what notions of a "public good" we have with regards to intellectual property. Have we reached the point where commercial interests truly trump all others? I personally wonder whether folks worry about a "public good" anymore.
posted by artlung at 6:35 PM on April 8, 2001

The notion of what amount of time, and what kind of protections are afforded by copyright have changed over time. Those changes are driven by moneyed interests in a way that makes me nervous.

Yep. Why the 20-year disparity between personally-held copyrights and corporate ones? Could it be to stop Disney's characters being subject to, ahem, disneyfication?

[eng. lit. waffle follows]

When "copyright" was first encoded in law in Britain, in 1709, it was meant to protect the author and bookseller from piracy; and to ensure a continued income in the event of the author's death. That's why the initial period of copyright was set in the region of 14 years: to make sure the author's children benefitted somehow. There were a series of test cases where authors had apparently sold "perpetual copyright", but in 1774, when perpetual copyright was unenforceable, it allowed the major booksellers of the time to launch editions of the English poets, establishing the notion of a literary "canon" and providing wider access to "classic" texts. (They were the Penguin editions of their day.)

Perpetual copyright is intellectually stultefying, particularly if you regard it not just as the possession of content, but also the power to suppress content, to let it go out of print. Everyone has a few books or records in their collection that are simply unobtainable these days; or has a wishlist of texts and recordings that aren't going to be made. (There are dozens of authors that I can only read from 19th-century editions in college libraries.) We have the tools to make this kind of economic censorship practically unenforceable. Fuck Napster: we need distributed samizdat.
posted by holgate at 8:45 PM on April 8, 2001

All copyrights now have an expiration date in Britain except for one: Peter Pan.

The royalties from this work had been left to a children's hospital in London and were just enough to keep it going, so Parliment passed a special exception to keep Peter Pan in copyright forever (in Britain), leading to irresistable comments about Peter Pan being the one work that never grows up.

Or as this poster put it, "all books go out of copyright, that is their tragedy; Peter Pan
never does, and that is his."

posted by straight at 7:38 AM on April 9, 2001

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