History of Copyright

I find copyright history more of an economics lesson than a moral lesson. Power and money are the two true reasons behind the need to protect IP. Take a look at the attached timeline to get a view of the path of copyright law through the ages.

Prezi on Copyright Path

Copyright Timeline by Rebecca Missler





While the current copyright laws were not built to address digital media they do provide a framework for conversation. The government, individuals, and corporations have been engaged in discussion around the . Future of Copyright 2016. Of particular note in the attached piece is the absence of high level engagement from the government. The government is stuck in a spiral of enforcing rules designed to protect commerce not protect creativity.

When looking at copyright laws the common glue is protection of content from making copies. However, the idea of making copies has morphed with technology. The original goal was to protect the economic value of the work. Single pay equal single use. I think the idea was originally created with the eye on corporations being protected against other corporations or business. Cory Doctorow makes the argument we should shift the mindset from protection of copy to more of a protection of use.

Excerpt: Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free

Laws that are beside the point can say all kinds of silly things, and the silly things will be beside the point, too. The reality is that as soon as the capacity to copy music (and, later, video) for personal reasons reached the average person, the world’s courts and legislators started creating a web of laws and rules that legalized this activity. They recognized that there was a difference between a music bootlegger setting up an illegal press to run off competing copies and an individual who makes a mixtape for a friend or records something off the TV to watch later.

The Internet era has conjured forth mountains of nonsense about the death of copyright. Reformers have claimed that copyright is dead because the Internet makes it impossible to control who copies what; copyright supporters have said that the Internet itself must be contained, to head off that grim fate.

This is rubbish.

It’s impossible to control who loans a friend lunch money, but that doesn’t mean financial regulation is dead. It just means that financial regulation has to limit itself to the kinds of transactions that take place on an industrial scale, among industrial players. A copyright regulation that is sophisticated enough to handle all the nuanced business questions that the industry encounters can never be simple enough for the majority of Internet users to understand, much less obey. And a copyright that is simple enough for a twelve-year-old Harry Potter fan to understand will never be sophisticated enough to regulate the interactions of billion-dollar entertainment conglomerates and their suppliers and vendors.

The ease of copying in the modern world has nothing to do with whether Warner Bros. can sue Universal for creating unlicensed Harry Potter theme parks. It has nothing to do with whether authors can sue publishers who print their books without securing the rights. It has nothing to do with whether movie studios can sue online stores that sell their movies without authorization, or cinemas that screen them without paying for them.

Copyright is alive and well — as an industrial regulation. Copyright as a means of regulating cultural activities among private individuals isn’t dead, because it’s never been alive.

Doctorow, C., Palmer, A., & Gaiman, N. (n.d.). Information doesn’t want to be free: Laws for the Internet age.

I feel that one statement is the crux of this discussion, “copyright as a means of regulating cultural activities among private individuals isn’t dead, because it was never alive.”  It is only when you step into the realm of commerce that the copyright discussion should apply.


One thought on “History of Copyright”

  1. Well done, though I personally believe the separations you are trying to maintain here (between power/money and morality, between technology and action) are not just artificial but potentially overly-limiting in trying to figure out the most productive path toward a system of copyright and IP that is more suitable to our age…

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