06 May 2010

Copyright: a Conditional Intellectual Monopoly

Here's a nice move from the Internet Archive:

More than doubling the number of books available to print disabled people of all ages, today the Internet Archive launched a new service that brings free access to more than 1 million books — from classic 19th century fiction and current novels to technical guides and research materials — now available in the specially designed format to support those who are blind, dyslexic or are otherwise visually impaired.

And here's a nice analysis of that move:

The new service demonstrates the principle behind the Chafee Amendment: that copyright is a conditional monopoly, not a property right, and that when we decide the monopoly is hampering an important public purpose, we can change it. The Chafee Amendment is an open acknowledgement that monopoly-based distribution was not serving the needs of the blind, the visually impaired, or or dyslexic people very well, and that fixing that situation is simply a policy decision. It reminds us that copyright itself is a policy decision, and that if it is not serving the public well, we can change the policy.

A double win, then: for the visually impaired, and in terms of reminding us about the true nature of copyright as a conditional intellectual monopoly.

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FleaStiff said...

The underlying basis for a copyright has always been an incentive to increase the works that are in the public domain by encouraging creativity through the granting of a monopoly of limited duration and extent.

Those who wish to attack the existence of a monopoly or wish to address the issue of how well such long-term monopolies actually enhance the public domain will undoubtedly now be accused of being opposed to aiding the handicapped.

Glyn Moody said...

@FleaStiff: which would have as much basis in fact as the idea that continually increasing the term of copyright somehow increases the incentive for works already created...

Karl Fogel said...


Actually, that's not the underlying basis for copyright -- it's more a post facto myth that's been layered on top of what was originally a commercial regulation intended to subsidize the cost-heavy printing industry.

See http://questioncopyright.org/promise#history for more details.

-Karl Fogel

Glyn Moody said...

@Karl: great piece.

Crosbie Fitch said...

Indoctrination upon indoctrination.

I estimate that the time it takes for someone to be deprogrammed of the entire strata of copyright indoctrination takes about two years - and that's if they believe they have an open mind.

Karl Fogel said...

@Glyn: Hey, thanks!

@Crosbie: Yeah, seems about right. Myths are powerful things :-).