There are two things that persistently bother me about the musing I post to this blog. The first is very general — so often I sound like Chicken Little, crying that the sky is falling. Readers might well ask if things are really as bad as I make them sound in the copyright arena, although I spend enough of my time with frustrated, angry or frightened academics whose teaching and research is impeded by copyright restrictions to justify my dire warnings.
The second, much more specific, thing that bothers are the requests I get for “something short and simple I can read about copyright law.” Unfortunately, as the copyright law has grown more and more complex, full of new exceptions to try to mitigate the harms done by new monopoly rights and longer protection, a “short form” (and the analogy to the tax code is apt) simply is not available.
There are a couple of excellent websites, of course. The Crash Course in Copyright at the University of Texas and the Copyright Advisory Office site at Columbia are my favorites. But now I have the chance to recommend two short articles that I think really will help clarify the current copyright situation for interested readers.
To start literally at the beginning, this short essay on “The Purpose of Copyright” by law professor Lydia Pallas Loren takes us back to the beginnings of copyright to understand how and why it has wandered from its historic purpose (at least as expressed in the US Constitution). Professor Loren makes a persuasive case that copyright law needs to return to the “delicate equilibrium” that copyright laws seek to establish. Hers is an eloquent description of how copyright has gone wrong due to some pervasive misunderstandings and what the path to a restored balance would look like.
The situation specifically in academia is nicely summarized by another short paper, this one by Dorothea Salo on “Who Owns Our Work?” Through the prism of the thorny ownership questions that are arising around all kinds of academic work, Salo nicely outlines the conflicts inherent in the current system. Her essay is about a good deal more than ownership per se; it is a compelling summary of the issues that need to be resolved if scholarship is going to make the kind of progress in the digital age that the technology offers.
It is nice to be able to offer these two articles — both readable and compact — both because of their quality and because the next time someone asks me if things are really as bad as I suggest, I can point to Loren and Salo and respond, “Don’t just take my word for it…”