I was going to post a couple of long quotes I found via Theresa at Making Light. But then I would have had to write my own introductory sentences, and it turns out I’m too lazy for that. So not only am I swiping her choice of quotes, I’m swiping her introductory sentences. But you should probably check out Theresa’s post as well, since she also extensively quoted two other interesting discussions of copyright which I am not quoting here.
1. You should read Thomas Macaulay’s speeches on copyright.
These were conveniently quoted by SF writer and firebreathing blue-collar intellectual Eric Flint in Prime Palaver #4. Here’s Flint’s introduction:
These are two speeches given by Thomas Macaulay in Parliament in 1841, when the issue of copyright was being hammered out. They are, no other word for it, brilliant—and cover everything fundamental which is involved in the issue. (For those not familiar with him, Macaulay would eventually become one of the foremost British historians of the 19th century. His History of England remains in print to this day, as do many of his other writings.)
I strongly urge people to read them. Yes, they’re long—almost 10,000 words—and, yes, Macaulay’s oratorical style is that of an earlier era. (Although, I’ve got to say, I’m partial to it. Macaulay orated before the era of “sound bytes.” Thank God.)
But contained herein is all wisdom on the subject, an immense learning—and plenty of wit. So relax, pour yourself some coffee (or whatever beverage of your choice) (or whatever, preferably not hallucinogenic), and take the time to read it. The “oh-so-modern” subject of “electronic piracy” contains no problems which Macaulay didn’t already address, at least in essence, more than a century and a half ago.
I should note that Macaulay’s position, slightly modified, did become the basis of copyright law in the English speaking world. And remained so (at least in the US) for a century and a half—until, on a day of infamy just a few years ago, the Walt Disney Corporation and their stooges in Congress got the law changed to the modern law, which extends copyright for a truly absurd period of time. Which—those who forget history are doomed to repeat it—is a return to the position advocated by Macaulay’s (now long forgotten) opponent in the debate.
2. Packbat boils down Macaulay.
Packbat has summarized Macaulay’s speeches on copyright as five bulleted points:
- The copyright is not an innate right, but a creation of human government.
- A copyright is a form of monopoly, and therefore effectively a tax on the public—thus, it should be restricted to precisely as long a term as would make equivalent the harm done to the public by monopoly and the good provided by encouraging the creation of new works.
- The prospect of income from a property a long time after one’s death is no incentive whatsoever to the creation of new works.
- The probability that the persons for whom the author might have concern will own the copyright a long time after one’s death is minute.
- The probability that the copyright owner might suppress the works, for whatever reason, is great.
Do make sure you read Packbat’s surrounding material.