A growing tyranny of copyright.

The New York Times (free registration required) has an article up titled The Tyranny of Copyright that discusses the recent changes to copyright law and a growing protest movement out to revamp them known as Copy Left.

Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media scholar at New York University, calls anecdotes like this ‘‘copyright horror stories,’’ and there have been a growing number of them over the past few years. Once a dry and seemingly mechanical area of the American legal system, intellectual property law can now be found at the center of major disputes in the arts, sciences and—as in the Diebold case—politics. Recent cases have involved everything from attempts to force the Girl Scouts to pay royalties for singing songs around campfires to the infringement suit brought by the estate of Margaret Mitchell against the publishers of Alice Randall’s book ‘‘The Wind Done Gone’’ (which tells the story of Mitchell’s ‘‘Gone With the Wind’’ from a slave’s perspective) to corporations like Celera Genomics filing for patents for human genes. The most publicized development came in September, when the Recording Industry Association of America began suing music downloaders for copyright infringement, reaching out-of-court settlements for thousands of dollars with defendants as young as 12. And in November, a group of independent film producers went to court to fight a ban, imposed this year by the Motion Picture Association of America, on sending DVD’s to those who vote for annual film awards.

Not long ago, the Internet’s ability to provide instant, inexpensive and perfect copies of text, sound and images was heralded with the phrase ‘‘information wants to be free.’’ Yet the implications of this freedom have frightened some creators—particularly those in the recording, publishing and movie industries—who argue that the greater ease of copying and distribution increases the need for more stringent intellectual property laws. The movie and music industries have succeeded in lobbying lawmakers to allow them to tighten their grips on their creations by lengthening copyright terms. The law has also extended the scope of copyright protection, creating what critics have called a ‘‘paracopyright,’’ which prohibits not only duplicating protected material but in some cases even gaining access to it in the first place. In addition to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the most significant piece of new legislation is the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, which added 20 years of protection to past and present copyrighted works and was upheld by the Supreme Court a year ago. In less than a decade, the much-ballyhooed liberating potential of the Internet seems to have given way to something of an intellectual land grab, presided over by legislators and lawyers for the media industries.

The article does a good job of covering what some of the emerging problems with the current copyright laws are as well as what the goals of the Copy Left movement are and how likely they are to be achieved here in the states. If you’re interested in copyright issues then I’d recommend checking it out.

3 thoughts on “A growing tyranny of copyright.

  1. The RIAA is to copyright what John Ashcroft is to security.

    Both take a reasonable idea, and push it to extremes, with claims that it is for your own good—and then ask for more, and more and more.

    I have no problem with copyright…people who create things deserve to get paid for it. (Incidentally..anybody who uses my comment about RIAA/Ashcroft, or my reference elsewhere to George W. Bush as “The Kudzu” [a shrub out of control] has to pay me a quarter. :-p)

    However, I’m surprised that they included “The Wind Done Gone” in their list of abuses, as that sounds like the sort of thing that copyrights are actually there to protect.

    While fanzines, even sold ones, with their Asimov/Tolkein/Zelazny derivative stories seem to exist without too much complaint, I’ve never seen any real books that use the same characters, without having to pay the creator for their use.

    Still…since she died almost 55 years ago, it falls under the “unending copyright” abuses, I guess.

    We’ll know that we’ve really achieved something, as a country, when some proven descendent of Luke, to start suing churches for the Christmas-time reading of his great grandfather’s work.


  2. I don’t know if this is true but I heard that Scarlett, the sequel to GWTW, was written to keep hold of the copyright. They no longer have ownership to GWTW but the sequel insures they still own the characters. In this way they essentually own the original. If this is true, all any estate would have to do is keep making sequels.

  3. This hits home for me. I write poetry and make and sell poetry books. If a famous musician picked up one of those poems and turned them into lyrics and therefore a song that made him money, then I ought to get paid. I did the work.
    But if a bunch of little girls want to sit around a campfire and recite some of my poems about nature, then I would be flattered. But to expect some compensation for that is just greedy.

    I swear, more and more, I feel stupid people and their greedy stupid politics are taking over the world.


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