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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6 comments:

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...

@FleaStiff:

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.

Best,
-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 :-).