This site describes itself as “A Clearinghouse For New Ideas About Copyright” (capitalization theirs, I can only assume it’s the site subtitle). This is a conversation we need to be having. The intellectual property world is torn. Within the bounds of legal behavior, we have on the one extreme those who see any sharing of “content” without an exchange of money as poaching — who view public libraries as legalized theft — who find it reasonable to charge a grocery store stocker a public performance fee if she sings while she works; and on the other extreme, we have… well, people like me, who in theory question the concept of intellectual property, and who in pragmatic terms think fewer fences and more sharing benefit creators and consumers alike (not that they are distinct sets of people). New, open business models don’t benefit the middlemen, though. That’s one sticking point. Another is the desire of some successful and aspiring authors and musicians to keep the horribly skewed profit distribution of the current system, either because they have struck it rich or expect to. But as Masnick of TechDirt and others have pointed out, it might be getting harder to make a fortune with content, but it’s getting easier to make a living. As a good neo-socialist, I’m all for that redistribution of opportunity.
(Climbs off soapbox)
Anyway, that’s me. Check out QuestionCopyright for yourself, and question copyright.
Paul Zukofsky, heir to poet Louis Zukofsky and his copyrights, thinks he gets to decide what “fair use” is — and it doesn’t include quoting his father, even for an academic dissertation, without Paul’s permission and, in many cases, a fee. He says he generally waives the fee for dissertations, but you are then forbidden to publish the dissertation.
A few things strike me about this copyright notice, in addition to the overreaching.
- I’m a poet myself. A poet’s son should realize there’s little money in poetry. Maybe a bit in greeting card verse, but that hardly describes the works of Louis Zukofsky. (But according to Paul, his father didn’t realize this economic truth, either. A triumph of hope over experience? Or did he, as Paul implies, actually transmute enough verse into cash to leave a comfortable inheritance to his wife and son?)
- If Paul Zukofsky really wants to profit from his father’s work, he’s going out of his way to eliminate free publicity and destroy goodwill in the literary community. “I urge you to not work on Louis Zukofsky, and prefer that you do not.” That’s one of the milder statements, with no mention of lawyers or courts or lifelong enmity.
- This might be a case of imprecise wording, but Paul seems to think he can collect a toll even on references to his father: “I hardly give a damn what is said about my father (I am far more protective of my mother) as long as the name is spelled properly, and the fees are paid.”
- I get the impression that Paul Zukofsky doesn’t think highly of the arts. He refers to interest in music and literature as “misguided,” and to a career in the arts as a “so-called profession.” I won’t speculate on possible biographical reasons for this distaste; I only note that he’s happy to profit from somebody else’s work in the literary field.
(Climbs on soapbox)
My father was a TV repairman. I’m not getting paid for work he did. I’m not even getting paid for work I did thirty years ago. Since the stated purpose of copyright (in the USA) is to promote the useful arts and sciences — in other words, to encourage creation — copyrights should be neither hereditary, nor too long-lasting. I propose a compromise: let copyrights be inherited, but give them an expiration date of 20 years. That’s 20 years from creation, not from the death of the author. If he lives longer than that — well, he won’t be the first parent ever to outlive his wealth. I’m not guaranteed an income from my own labor, much less somebody else’s.
And by the way, I usually publish my poetry under a Creative Commons license.
Credit where it’s due
I originally found this story on Harriet the Blog, which notes that — perhaps in response to Paul’s copyright notice — an unauthorized electronic edition of Louis Zukofsky’s most famous work, “A,” has appeared online. I don’t condone this act of piracy, but I understand the provocation.
I read the TechDirt blog (http://www.techdirt.com) for the Intellectual Property (IP) and media stories, and that’s a big part of the content. TechDirt is run by Michael Masnick, who writes most if not all of the posts.
Masnick and I don’t seem to be near one another on the political spectrum; he comes across as a libertarian (and maybe a Libertarian, but I don’t know), whereas I’m more of a commie-pinko-socialist type. Nevertheless, we often arrive at similar positions on IP issues by different routes. And I agree with a few of the basic points he makes, in different ways, over and over: “intellectual property” is a metaphor, and a confusing one; the PR from publishing groups (whether print, music, software or film) exaggerates the rights of content creators and the problem of piracy, and minimizes the rights of the public — including the rights of content creators, when it comes to making use of existing content; and if you’re a scribe, you try to figure out how to make money from this new-fangled “printing press” gadget (or switch jobs), rather than asking for government restrictions on its use to protect your profession.
Agree with the positions or not, TechDirt consistently offers a thoughtful perspective on intellectual property issues.