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Macaulay on Copyright

By jolly st nick in Media
Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 05:46:59 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)
Freedom

The easiest form of parochialism to fall into is to assume that we are smarter than the past generations, that our thinking is necessarily more sophisticated. This may be true in science and technology, but not necessarily so in wisdom.

Today I would like to share with you a speech made in 1841 by Thomas Babbington Macaulay, a brilliant philosopher, critic and historian who was himself a great enemy of historical parochialism. The speech is on the topic of copyright, and the theories set forth became the basis of copyright policies in the English speaking world for well over a hundred years. These theories now popularly superceded by theories of natural rights to intellectual property.

Be forewarned: this speech is long, and far more intellectually challenging than most modern political speech. But the mind behind it is lively and incisive, and you may be surprised by how little the fundamental issues have changed, and how some of the disingenuous arguments put forth today echo those of the far past. Judge for yourself whether the politicians to day are wiser than those of a hundred and sixty years ago.


First a few words about this text. When I first attempted to post this, there were complaints that the language in it was too hard, and that it was too long. So I withdrew the article and began to examine ways to handle this problem. What I quickly realized was that the largest problem is how Macaulay refers to familiar people, popular books and everyday things that most modern readers won't know about. Where we might hold up Howard Hughes or Bill Gates as an exemplar of a rich man, he uses Prince Esterhazy. Where we might use John Steinbeck as a representative author, he uses Samuel Richardson. Many American readers may be unsure of whether a farthing is worth more or less than a penny or whether twenty thousand pounds was a lot of money in 1841. Ironically, this speech is more difficult than Macaulay's scholarly works because it was colloquial and informal, and used commonplace examples. Readers of 2141 will probably need footnotes to identifiy Homer Simpson or George Lucas.

Because of this modern readers may be confused at points as to the exact point Macaulay is making. To address this problem, I've have gone through the work and looked up most of the terms and people you might find unfamiliar. At Rusty's suggestion, I hyperlinked the first appearance of each unfamiliar person or term to a footnote. Each footnote is reverse hyperlinked back to the first appearance of the term so you can return easily. Another problem with this speech is the way it was broken into paragraphs when it was set down. While this presents no problem if the speech is heard or read in a newspaper or book, it is tiring to track extremely long paragraphs on a computer screen. For this reason, I have introduced line breaks (not paragraph breaks) into the longer paragraphs. I hope this will not obscure Macaulay's meaning. Finally, at the time this speech was made, it was permissable to take time leading the reader to your point, so long as it was made well. However, modern style demands that each conclusion be set forth first with the evidence following. Readers unaccustomed to the older style may at times wonder if they are missing the point. I experimented at one point with inserting some brief comments to help guide readers through this problem, but this proved to be unsatisfactory. My best advice is if you feel slightly at sea, then keep sailing on. Things will become clear shortly.

With respect to the overall length of the work, I have decided against condensing or paraphrasing it. The length of the work was one of my reasons for posting it in the first place. The trend in communication is towards shorter and less specific; nowhere has this trend been taken to a greater extreme than commercial and political speech. Slogans and sound bites are very short and ideally vague enough that nobody could disagree with them ("peace with honor", "compassionate conservative"). Modern political speeches are bland matrices into which these nuggets are embedded. This speech is very different animal; it is about persuasion, not seduction. Yes, it is challenging, but it will reward you with new insights about the issue of copyright. It has no wasted parts; indeed it is in fact very brief when you consider its information payload, and except for a few niceties of parliamentary address, remarkably staightforward and unornamented.

Most of all, I would like to invite you to step across the barrier of time, into the mind of one of my favorite writers. It is a genial mind, incisive but modest, scholarly yet unpretentious, and full of generous and liberal sentiment.

A SPEECH DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON THE 5TH OF FEBRUARY 1841

by Thomas Babington Macaulay

On the twenty-ninth of January 1841, Mr Serjeant Talfourd obtained leave to bring in a bill to amend the law of copyright. The object of this bill was to extend the term of copyright in a book to sixty years, reckoned from the death of the writer.

On the fifth of February Mr Serjeant Talfourd moved that the bill should be read a second time. In reply to him the following Speech was made. The bill was rejected by 45 votes to 38.

Though, Sir, it is in some sense agreeable to approach a subject with which political animosities have nothing to do, I offer myself to your notice with some reluctance. It is painful to me to take a course which may possibly be misunderstood or misrepresented as unfriendly to the interests of literature and literary men. It is painful to me, I will add, to oppose my honourable and learned friend on a question which he has taken up from the purest motives, and which he regards with a parental interest. These feelings have hitherto kept me silent when the law of copyright has been under discussion. But as I am, on full consideration, satisfied that the measure before us will, if adopted, inflict grievous injury on the public, without conferring any compensating advantage on men of letters, I think it my duty to avow that opinion and to defend it.

The first thing to be done, Sir, is to settle on what principles the question is to be argued. Are we free to legislate for the public good, or are we not? Is this a question of expediency, or is it a question of right? Many of those who have written and petitioned against the existing state of things treat the question as one of right. The law of nature, according to them, gives to every man a sacred and indefeasible property in his own ideas, in the fruits of his own reason and imagination. The legislature has indeed the power to take away this property, just as it has the power to pass an act of attainder for cutting off an innocent man's head without a trial. But, as such an act of attainder would be legal murder, so would an act invading the right of an author to his copy be, according to these gentlemen, legal robbery.

Now, Sir, if this be so, let justice be done, cost what it may. I am not prepared, like my honourable and learned friend, to agree to a compromise between right and expediency, and to commit an injustice for the public convenience. But I must say, that his theory soars far beyond the reach of my faculties. It is not necessary to go, on the present occasion, into a metaphysical inquiry about the origin of the right of property; and certainly nothing but the strongest necessity would lead me to discuss a subject so likely to be distasteful to the House.

I agree, I own, with Paley in thinking that property is the creature of the law, and that the law which creates property can be defended only on this ground, that it is a law beneficial to mankind. But it is unnecessary to debate that point. For, even if I believed in a natural right of property, independent of utility and anterior to legislation, I should still deny that this right could survive the original proprietor. Few, I apprehend, even of those who have studied in the most mystical and sentimental schools of moral philosophy, will be disposed to maintain that there is a natural law of succession older and of higher authority than any human code.

If there be, it is quite certain that we have abuses to reform much more serious than any connected with the question of copyright. For this natural law can be only one; and the modes of succession in the Queen's dominions are twenty. To go no further than England, land generally descends to the eldest son. In Kent the sons share and share alike. In many districts the youngest takes the whole. Formerly a portion of a man's personal property was secured to his family; and it was only of the residue that he could dispose by will. Now he can dispose of the whole by will: but you limited his power, a few years ago, by enacting that the will should not be valid unless there were two witnesses. If a man dies intestate, his personal property generally goes according to the statute of distributions; but there are local customs which modify that statute.

Now which of all these systems is conformed to the eternal standard of right? Is it primogeniture, or gavelkind, or borough English? Are wills jure divino? Are the two witnesses jure divino? Might not the pars rationabilis of our old law have a fair claim to be regarded as of celestial institution? Was the statute of distributions enacted in Heaven long before it was adopted by Parliament? Or is it to Custom of York, or to Custom of London, that this pre- eminence belongs? Surely, Sir, even those who hold that there is a natural right of property must admit that rules prescribing the manner in which the effects of deceased persons shall be distributed are purely arbitrary, and originate altogether in the will of the legislature. If so, Sir, there is no controversy between my honourable and learned friend and myself as to the principles on which this question is to be argued. For the existing law gives an author copyright during his natural life; nor do I propose to invade that privilege, which I should, on the contrary, be prepared to defend strenuously against any assailant. The only point in issue between us is, how long after an author's death the State shall recognise a copyright in his representatives and assigns; and it can, I think, hardly be disputed by any rational man that this is a point which the legislature is free to determine in the way which may appear to be most conducive to the general good.

We may now, therefore, I think, descend from these high regions, where we are in danger of being lost in the clouds, to firm ground and clear light. Let us look at this question like legislators, and after fairly balancing conveniences and inconveniences, pronounce between the existing law of copyright, and the law now proposed to us. The question of copyright, Sir, like most questions of civil prudence, is neither black nor white, but grey. The system of copyright has great advantages and great disadvantages; and it is our business to ascertain what these are, and then to make an arrangement under which the advantages may be as far as possible secured, and the disadvantages as far as possible excluded. The charge which I bring against my honourable and learned friend's bill is this, that it leaves the advantages nearly what they are at present, and increases the disadvantages at least fourfold.

The advantages arising from a system of copyright are obvious. It is desirable that we should have a supply of good books; we cannot have such a supply unless men of letters are liberally remunerated; and the least objectionable way of remunerating them is by means of copyright. You cannot depend for literary instruction and amusement on the leisure of men occupied in the pursuits of active life. Such men may occasionally produce compositions of great merit. But you must not look to such men for works which require deep meditation and long research. Works of that kind you can expect only from persons who make literature the business of their lives. Of these persons few will be found among the rich and the noble. The rich and the noble are not impelled to intellectual exertion by necessity. They may be impelled to intellectual exertion by the desire of distinguishing themselves, or by the desire of benefiting the community. But it is generally within these walls that they seek to signalise themselves and to serve their fellow-creatures. Both their ambition and their public spirit, in a country like this, naturally take a political turn. It is then on men whose profession is literature, and whose private means are not ample, that you must rely for a supply of valuable books. Such men must be remunerated for their literary labour. And there are only two ways in which they can be remunerated. One of those ways is patronage; the other is copyright.

There have been times in which men of letters looked, not to the public, but to the government, or to a few great men, for the reward of their exertions. It was thus in the time of Maecenas and Pollio at Rome, of the Medici at Florence, of Louis the Fourteenth in France, of Lord Halifax and Lord Oxford in this country. Now, Sir, I well know that there are cases in which it is fit and graceful, nay, in which it is a sacred duty to reward the merits or to relieve the distresses of men of genius by the exercise of this species of liberality. But these cases are exceptions. I can conceive no system more fatal to the integrity and independence of literary men than one under which they should be taught to look for their daily bread to the favour of ministers and nobles. I can conceive no system more certain to turn those minds which are formed by nature to be the blessings and ornaments of our species into public scandals and pests.

We have, then, only one resource left. We must betake ourselves to copyright, be the inconveniences of copyright what they may. Those inconveniences, in truth, are neither few nor small. Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly. My honourable and learned friend talks very contemptuously of those who are led away by the theory that monopoly makes things dear. That monopoly makes things dear is certainly a theory, as all the great truths which have been established by the experience of all ages and nations, and which are taken for granted in all reasonings, may be said to be theories. It is a theory in the same sense in which it is a theory that day and night follow each other, that lead is heavier than water, that bread nourishes, that arsenic poisons, that alcohol intoxicates. If, as my honourable and learned friend seems to think, the whole world is in the wrong on this point, if the real effect of monopoly is to make articles good and cheap, why does he stop short in his career of change? Why does he limit the operation of so salutary a principle to sixty years? Why does he consent to anything short of a perpetuity? He told us that in consenting to anything short of a perpetuity he was making a compromise between extreme right and expediency. But if his opinion about monopoly be correct, extreme right and expediency would coincide. Or rather, why should we not restore the monopoly of the East India trade to the East India Company? Why should we not revive all those old monopolies which, in Elizabeth's reign, galled our fathers so severely that, maddened by intolerable wrong, they opposed to their sovereign a resistance before which her haughty spirit quailed for the first and for the last time? Was it the cheapness and excellence of commodities that then so violently stirred the indignation of the English people?

I believe, Sir, that I may with safety take it for granted that the effect of monopoly generally is to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad. And I may with equal safety challenge my honourable friend to find out any distinction between copyright and other privileges of the same kind; any reason why a monopoly of books should produce an effect directly the reverse of that which was produced by the East India Company's monopoly of tea, or by Lord Essex's monopoly of sweet wines. Thus, then, stands the case. It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.

Now, I will not affirm that the existing law is perfect, that it exactly hits the point at which the monopoly ought to cease; but this I confidently say, that the existing law is very much nearer that point than the law proposed by my honourable and learned friend. For consider this; the evil effects of the monopoly are proportioned to the length of its duration. But the good effects for the sake of which we bear with the evil effects are by no means proportioned to the length of its duration. A monopoly of sixty years produces twice as much evil as a monopoly of thirty years, and thrice as much evil as a monopoly of twenty years. But it is by no means the fact that a posthumous monopoly of sixty years gives to an author thrice as much pleasure and thrice as strong a motive as a posthumous monopoly of twenty years. On the contrary, the difference is so small as to be hardly perceptible.

We all know how faintly we are affected by the prospect of very distant advantages, even when they are advantages which we may reasonably hope that we shall ourselves enjoy. But an advantage that is to be enjoyed more than half a century after we are dead, by somebody, we know not by whom, perhaps by somebody unborn, by somebody utterly unconnected with us, is really no motive at all to action. It is very probable that in the course of some generations land in the unexplored and unmapped heart of the Australasian continent will be very valuable. But there is none of us who would lay down five pounds for a whole province in the heart of the Australasian continent. We know, that neither we, nor anybody for whom we care, will ever receive a farthing of rent from such a province. And a man is very little moved by the thought that in the year 2000 or 2100, somebody who claims through him will employ more shepherds than Prince Esterhazy, and will have the finest house and gallery of pictures at Victoria or Sydney.

Now, this is the sort of boon which my honourable and learned friend holds out to authors. Considered as a boon to them, it is a mere nullity, but considered as an impost on the public, it is no nullity, but a very serious and pernicious reality.

I will take an example. Dr Johnson died fifty-six years ago. If the law were what my honourable and learned friend wishes to make it, somebody would now have the monopoly of Dr Johnson's works. Who that somebody would be it is impossible to say; but we may venture to guess. I guess, then, that it would have been some bookseller, who was the assign of another bookseller, who was the grandson of a third bookseller, who had bought the copyright from Black Frank, the doctor's servant and residuary legatee, in 1785 or 1786. Now, would the knowledge that this copyright would exist in 1841 have been a source of gratification to Johnson? Would it have stimulated his exertions? Would it have once drawn him out of his bed before noon? Would it have once cheered him under a fit of the spleen? Would it have induced him to give us one more allegory, one more life of a poet, one more imitation of Juvenal? I firmly believe not. I firmly believe that a hundred years ago, when he was writing our debates for the Gentleman's Magazine, he would very much rather have had twopence to buy a plate of shin of beef at a cook's shop underground. Considered as a reward to him, the difference between a twenty years' and sixty years' term of posthumous copyright would have been nothing or next to nothing. But is the difference nothing to us? I can buy Rasselas for sixpence; I might have had to give five shillings for it. I can buy the Dictionary, the entire genuine Dictionary, for two guineas, perhaps for less; I might have had to give five or six guineas for it. Do I grudge this to a man like Dr Johnson? Not at all. Show me that the prospect of this boon roused him to any vigorous effort, or sustained his spirits under depressing circumstances, and I am quite willing to pay the price of such an object, heavy as that price is. But what I do complain of is that my circumstances are to be worse, and Johnson's none the better; that I am to give five pounds for what to him was not worth a farthing.

The principle of copyright is this. It is a tax on readers for the purpose of giving a bounty to writers. The tax is an exceedingly bad one; it is a tax on one of the most innocent and most salutary of human pleasures; and never let us forget, that a tax on innocent pleasures is a premium on vicious pleasures. I admit, however, the necessity of giving a bounty to genius and learning. In order to give such a bounty, I willingly submit even to this severe and burdensome tax. Nay, I am ready to increase the tax, if it can be shown that by so doing I should proportionally increase the bounty. My complaint is, that my honourable and learned friend doubles, triples, quadruples, the tax, and makes scarcely any perceptible addition to the bounty. Why, Sir, what is the additional amount of taxation which would have been levied on the public for Dr Johnson's works alone, if my honourable and learned friend's bill had been the law of the land? I have not data sufficient to form an opinion. But I am confident that the taxation on his Dictionary alone would have amounted to many thousands of pounds. In reckoning the whole additional sum which the holders of his copyrights would have taken out of the pockets of the public during the last half century at twenty thousand pounds, I feel satisfied that I very greatly underrate it. Now, I again say that I think it but fair that we should pay twenty thousand pounds in consideration of twenty thousand pounds' worth of pleasure and encouragement received by Dr Johnson. But I think it very hard that we should pay twenty thousand pounds for what he would not have valued at five shillings.

My honourable and learned friend dwells on the claims of the posterity of great writers. Undoubtedly, Sir, it would be very pleasing to see a descendant of Shakespeare living in opulence on the fruits of his great ancestor's genius. A house maintained in splendour by such a patrimony would be a more interesting and striking object than Blenheim is to us, or than Strathfieldsaye will be to our children. But, unhappily, it is scarcely possible that, under any system, such a thing can come to pass. My honourable and learned friend does not propose that copyright shall descend to the eldest son, or shall be bound up by irrecoverable entail. It is to be merely personal property. It is therefore highly improbable that it will descend during sixty years or half that term from parent to child. The chance is that more people than one will have an interest in it. They will in all probability sell it and divide the proceeds. The price which a bookseller will give for it will bear no proportion to the sum which he will afterwards draw from the public, if his speculation proves successful. He will give little, if anything, more for a term of sixty years than for a term of thirty or five and twenty. The present value of a distant advantage is always small; but when there is great room to doubt whether a distant advantage will be any advantage at all, the present value sink to almost nothing. Such is the inconstancy of the public taste that no sensible man will venture to pronounce, with confidence, what the sale of any book published in our days will be in the years between 1890 and 1900. The whole fashion of thinking and writing has often undergone a change in a much shorter period than that to which my honourable and learned friend would extend posthumous copyright. What would have been considered the best literary property in the earlier part of Charles the Second's reign? I imagine Cowley's Poems. Overleap sixty years, and you are in the generation of which Pope asked, "Who now reads Cowley?" What works were ever expected with more impatience by the public than those of Lord Bolingbroke, which appeared, I think, in 1754? In 1814, no bookseller would have thanked you for the copyright of them all, if you had offered it to him for nothing. What would Paternoster Row give now for the copyright of Hayley's Triumphs of Temper, so much admired within the memory of many people still living? I say, therefore, that, from the very nature of literary property, it will almost always pass away from an author's family; and I say, that the price given for it to the family will bear a very small proportion to the tax which the purchaser, if his speculation turns out well, will in the course of a long series of years levy on the public.

If, Sir, I wished to find a strong and perfect illustration of the effects which I anticipate from long copyright, I should select,--my honourable and learned friend will be surprised,--I should select the case of Milton's granddaughter. As often as this bill has been under discussion, the fate of Milton's granddaughter has been brought forward by the advocates of monopoly. My honourable and learned friend has repeatedly told the story with great eloquence and effect. He has dilated on the sufferings, on the abject poverty, of this ill-fated woman, the last of an illustrious race. He tells us that, in the extremity of her distress, Garrick gave her a benefit, that Johnson wrote a prologue, and that the public contributed some hundreds of pounds. Was it fit, he asks, that she should receive, in this eleemosynary form, a small portion of what was in truth a debt? Why, he asks, instead of obtaining a pittance from charity, did she not live in comfort and luxury on the proceeds of the sale of her ancestor's works? But, Sir, will my honourable and learned friend tell me that this event, which he has so often and so pathetically described, was caused by the shortness of the term of copyright? Why, at that time, the duration of copyright was longer than even he, at present, proposes to make it. The monopoly lasted, not sixty years, but for ever. At the time at which Milton's granddaughter asked charity, Milton's works were the exclusive property of a bookseller. Within a few months of the day on which the benefit was given at Garrick's theatre, the holder of the copyright of Paradise Lost,--I think it was Tonson,--applied to the Court of Chancery for an injunction against a bookseller who had published a cheap edition of the great epic poem, and obtained the injunction. The representation of Comus was, if I remember rightly, in 1750; the injunction in 1752. Here, then, is a perfect illustration of the effect of long copyright. Milton's works are the property of a single publisher. Everybody who wants them must buy them at Tonson's shop, and at Tonson's price. Whoever attempts to undersell Tonson is harassed with legal proceedings. Thousands who would gladly possess a copy of Paradise Lost, must forego that great enjoyment. And what, in the meantime, is the situation of the only person for whom we can suppose that the author, protected at such a cost to the public, was at all interested? She is reduced to utter destitution. Milton's works are under a monopoly. Milton's granddaughter is starving. The reader is pillaged; but the writer's family is not enriched. Society is taxed doubly. It has to give an exorbitant price for the poems; and it has at the same time to give alms to the only surviving descendant of the poet.

But this is not all. I think it right, Sir, to call the attention of the House to an evil, which is perhaps more to be apprehended when an author's copyright remains in the hands of his family, than when it is transferred to booksellers. I seriously fear that, if such a measure as this should be adopted, many valuable works will be either totally suppressed or grievously mutilated. I can prove that this danger is not chimerical; and I am quite certain that, if the danger be real, the safeguards which my honourable and learned friend has devised are altogether nugatory. That the danger is not chimerical may easily be shown. Most of us, I am sure, have known persons who, very erroneously as I think, but from the best motives, would not choose to reprint Fielding's novels, or Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Some gentlemen may perhaps be of opinion that it would be as well if Tom Jones and Gibbon's History were never reprinted. I will not, then, dwell on these or similar cases. I will take cases respecting which it is not likely that there will be any difference of opinion here; cases, too, in which the danger of which I now speak is not matter of supposition, but matter of fact.
Take Richardson's novels. Whatever I may, on the present occasion, think of my honourable and learned friend's judgment as a legislator, I must always respect his judgment as a critic. He will, I am sure, say that Richardson's novels are among the most valuable, among the most original works in our language. No writings have done more to raise the fame of English genius in foreign countries. No writings are more deeply pathetic. No writings, those of Shakspeare excepted, show more profound knowledge of the human heart. As to their moral tendency, I can cite the most respectable testimony. Dr Johnson describes Richardson as one who had taught the passions to move at the command of virtue. My dear and honoured friend, Mr Wilberforce, in his celebrated religious treatise, when speaking of the unchristian tendency of the fashionable novels of the eighteenth century, distinctly excepts Richardson from the censure. Another excellent person, whom I can never mention without respect and kindness, Mrs Hannah More, often declared in conversation, and has declared in one of her published poems, that she first learned from the writings of Richardson those principles of piety by which her life was guided. I may safely say that books celebrated as works of art through the whole civilised world, and praised for their moral tendency by Dr Johnson, by Mr Wilberforce, by Mrs Hannah More, ought not to be suppressed. Sir, it is my firm belief, that if the law had been what my honourable and learned friend proposes to make it, they would have been suppressed.

I remember Richardson's grandson well; he was a clergyman in the city of London; he was a most upright and excellent man; but he had conceived a strong prejudice against works of fiction. He thought all novel-reading not only frivolous but sinful. He said,--this I state on the authority of one of his clerical brethren who is now a bishop,--he said that he had never thought it right to read one of his grandfather's books. Suppose, Sir, that the law had been what my honourable and learned friend would make it. Suppose that the copyright of Richardson's novels had descended, as might well have been the case, to this gentleman. I firmly believe, that he would have thought it sinful to give them a wide circulation. I firmly believe, that he would not for a hundred thousand pounds have deliberately done what he thought sinful. He would not have reprinted them. And what protection does my honourable and learned friend give to the public in such a case? Why, Sir, what he proposes is this: if a book is not reprinted during five years, any person who wishes to reprint it may give notice in the London Gazette: the advertisement must be repeated three times: a year must elapse; and then, if the proprietor of the copyright does not put forth a new edition, he loses his exclusive privilege. Now, what protection is this to the public? What is a new edition? Does the law define the number of copies that make an edition? Does it limit the price of a copy? Are twelve copies on large paper, charged at thirty guineas each, an edition? It has been usual, when monopolies have been granted, to prescribe numbers and to limit prices. But I did not find the my honourable and learned friend proposes to do so in the present case. And, without some such provision, the security which he offers is manifestly illusory. It is my conviction that, under such a system as that which he recommends to us, a copy of Clarissa would have been as rare as an Aldus or a Caxton.

I will give another instance. One of the most instructive, interesting, and delightful books in our language is Boswell's Life of Johnson. Now it is well known that Boswell's eldest son considered this book, considered the whole relation of Boswell to Johnson, as a blot in the escutcheon of the family. He thought, not perhaps altogether without reason, that his father had exhibited himself in a ludicrous and degrading light. And thus he became so sore and irritable that at last he could not bear to hear the Life of Johnson mentioned. Suppose that the law had been what my honourable and learned friend wishes to make it. Suppose that the copyright of Boswell's Life of Johnson had belonged, as it well might, during sixty years, to Boswell's eldest son. What would have been the consequence? An unadulterated copy of the finest biographical work in the world would have been as scarce as the first edition of Camden's Britannia.

These are strong cases. I have shown you that, if the law had been what you are now going to make it, the finest prose work of fiction in the language, the finest biographical work in the language, would very probably have been suppressed. But I have stated my case weakly. The books which I have mentioned are singularly inoffensive books, books not touching on any of those questions which drive even wise men beyond the bounds of wisdom. There are books of a very different kind, books which are the rallying points of great political and religious parties. What is likely to happen if the copyright of one of the these books should by descent or transfer come into the possession of some hostile zealot? I will take a single instance. It is only fifty years since John Wesley died; and all his works, if the law had been what my honourable and learned friend wishes to make it, would now have been the property of some person or other. The sect founded by Wesley is the most numerous, the wealthiest, the most powerful, the most zealous of sects.

In every parliamentary election it is a matter of the greatest importance to obtain the support of the Wesleyan Methodists. Their numerical strength is reckoned by hundreds of thousands. They hold the memory of their founder in the greatest reverence; and not without reason, for he was unquestionably a great and a good man. To his authority they constantly appeal. His works are in their eyes of the highest value. His doctrinal writings they regard as containing the best system of theology ever deduced from Scripture. His journals, interesting even to the common reader, are peculiarly interesting to the Methodist: for they contain the whole history of that singular polity which, weak and despised in its beginning, is now, after the lapse of a century, so strong, so flourishing, and so formidable. The hymns to which he gave his imprimatur are a most important part of the public worship of his followers. Now, suppose that the copyright of these works should belong to some person who holds the memory of Wesley and the doctrines and discipline of the Methodists in abhorrence. There are many such persons. The Ecclesiastical Courts are at this very time sitting on the case of a clergyman of the Established Church who refused Christian burial to a child baptized by a Methodist preacher. I took up the other day a work which is considered as among the most respectable organs of a large and growing party in the Church of England, and there I saw John Wesley designated as a forsworn priest. Suppose that the works of Wesley were suppressed. Why, Sir, such a grievance would be enough to shake the foundations of Government. Let gentlemen who are attached to the Church reflect for a moment what their feelings would be if the Book of Common Prayer were not to be reprinted for thirty or forty years, if the price of a Book of Common Prayer were run up to five or ten guineas. And then let them determine whether they will pass a law under which it is possible, under which it is probable, that so intolerable a wrong may be done to some sect consisting perhaps of half a million of persons.

I am so sensible, Sir, of the kindness with which the House has listened to me, that I will not detain you longer. I will only say this, that if the measure before us should pass, and should produce one-tenth part of the evil which it is calculated to produce, and which I fully expect it to produce, there will soon be a remedy, though of a very objectionable kind. Just as the absurd acts which prohibited the sale of game were virtually repealed by the poacher, just as many absurd revenue acts have been virtually repealed by the smuggler, so will this law be virtually repealed by piratical booksellers. At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot. On which side indeed should the public sympathy be when the question is whether some book as popular as Robinson Crusoe, or the Pilgrim's Progress, shall be in every cottage, or whether it shall be confined to the libraries of the rich for the advantage of the great-grandson of a bookseller who, a hundred years before, drove a hard bargain for the copyright with the author when in great distress?
Remember too that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions. The wholesome copyright which now exists will share in the disgrace and danger of the new copyright which you are about to create. And you will find that, in attempting to impose unreasonable restraints on the reprinting of the works of the dead, you have, to a great extent, annulled those restraints which now prevent men from pillaging and defrauding the living. If I saw, Sir, any probability that this bill could be so amended in the Committee that my objections might be removed, I would not divide the House in this stage. But I am so fully convinced that no alteration which would not seem insupportable to my honourable and learned friend, could render his measure supportable to me, that I must move, though with regret, that this bill be read a second time this day six months.

----
Notes:

I have attempted here to footnote some of the references that may be obscure to most modern readers, although in some cases the exact person or thing being referred to is not clear.

[1]Jure divino: divine law (i.e. ordained by God).

[2]Pars Rationabilis: Lat. "reaonable part"; a legal term applying to the amount of a husband's personal estate a widow is entitled to other than her dowry.

[3]Statute of distributions: A 1670 English statute, called the Statute of Distributions, standardized the apportionment and descent of personal property when there was no will.

[4]Maecenas: Maecenas, Gaius, Roman politician and associate of Augustus, patron of various latin poets such as Virgil and Horace.

[5]Pollio: Pollio, Gaius Asinius, sided with Caesar against Pompey; also patron of Virgil and Horace.

[6]Lord Halifax: Halifax, Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of 1661 -- 1715.

[7]Lord Oxford: Possibly Harley, Robert, 1st Earl of Oxford

[8]The East India Company: This company had a monopoly on far east trade, including a very unpopular monopoly on tea. This was so lucrative it was compared to having a license to print money. It became a virtual country in its own right, with its own military forces and vast economic resources. The monopoly was ended by Parliament in 1833 and in 1857 the company was dissolved.

[9]Johnson, Samuel 1709 -- 1784: British poet and lexicographer

[10]Cowley, Abraham 1618 -- 1667: British poet with close political ties to Charles II

[11] Pope, Alexander 1688 -- 1744: British poet, translator and critic.

[12]Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke 1678 -- 1751: British Tory politician and writer.

[13]Hayley, William: After his death, his work became a sort of proverbial archetype of truly execrably bad poetry. Flourished ca. 1781.

[14]Milton, John (1608-1674): British poet and philosopher; wrote the epic "Paradise Lost". Then his wife died and he wrote "Paradise Regained". Also author of Aereopagitica, a famouse early treatise on freedom of the press.

[15]Garrick, David 1717-1779: British actor, theatrical manager and playwright. Credited with repopularizing Shakespeare after he had gone out of fashion in the prior century. Managed the Drury Lane theatre, and wrote the song "Heart of Oak," which later became the hymn of the Canadian navy and was featured on a Star Trek epiosode.

[16]Tonson's: Firm founded in 1677 by Jacob Tonsen; pioneered the modern publishing business as a intermediary between an author and the public.

[17]Fielding: Likely Fielding, Henry 1707 -- 1754, British playwright, novelist and parodist. Most famous work: The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (1749). Inspired the Licensing act of 1740 because of his parodies.

[18]Gibbon, Edward 1737 -- 1794:British historian most noted for his work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire , published in five volumes between 1776 and 1788. This book was widely read (and still is) among the British intelligentsia. During the rise and apex of the British empire, they tended to identify Britain as a kind of modern Rome.

[19]Wilberforce: Most likely William Wilberforce 1759 - 1833, a moral reformer whose efforts lead to the Slavery Abolition Act. He ws deceased some eight years at the time of this speech, so it may refer to Samuel, his son, and Anglican bishop and biblical scholar.

[20]More, Hannah 1745 -- 1833: British playwright and religious reformer. Her work led to the founding of the Religious Tracts Society

[21]Clarissa, or The History of a Young Lady (1747-8) by Samuel Richardson: Possibly the longest English novel ever, weighing in at over one million words.

[22]Aldus:Possibly refers to Aldus Manutius (1449-1515)? a scholar, typographer and printer who made the first widely available printed editions of many Greek works. These volumes would have been collectors items in Macaulay's times.

[23]Caxton, William (late 15th Century): The first English printer. Printed about a hundred books, surviving copies of which are extremely rare and of course highly valuable.

[24]Boswell, James 1740 -- 1795: biographer and apparently somewhat dissipated man of letters. Remembered for his life of Samuel Johnson.

[25]Camden, William 1551 -- 1623: scholar and antiquarian; Brittania was the topographical, historical and archaeological survey of the British Isles.

[26]Wesley, John 1703 -- 1791: founder of Methodism.

[27]Paternoster Row: street about a block north of St Paul's Cathedral, historical center of London book trade.

[28]Juvenal:Decimus Junius Juvenalis fl. ca. 130 CE Roman satirist and social critic. Familiar to erudite English readers via Dryden's famous translations from the late 1600s.

[29]Rasselas: The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia by Sam. Johnson; 1825.

[30]British money:
4 Farthings = 1 Penny
48 Farthings = 12 Pence = 1 Shilling
96 Farthings = 24 Pence = 2 Shillings = 1 Florin
240 Farthings = 60 Pence = 5 Shillings = 1 Crown
960 Farthings = 240 Pence = 20 Shillings = 1 Pound (sovereign)
1008 Farthings = 252 Pence = 21 Shillings = 1.05 Pound = 1 Guinea

[31]Prince Esterhazy: Possibly Prince Anton Esterhazy, a patron of the composter Haydn. Died in 1762. After his death a kind of benchmark for exterme wealth, the way we would compare somebody today to Howard Hughes or Bill Gates.

[32]Fit of the Spleen: what we would now call "a bout of depression". Early western medical theory attributed a man's health and disposition to four fluids or "humours", associated with different organs and dispositions. Black bile is associated with the spleen, and melancholy, and was held to be a regulate or reduce the effect other humors. "Venting one's spleen" is releasing the check on your other humors -- i.e. allowing oneself to become angry.

[33]Twenty thousand pounds: in 1841, this would have been the equivalent of about a million dollars.

[34]Blenheim palace: Ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill. One of most spectacular and admired aristrocratic homes in Britain, it was built in 1705 at a cost that would amount to almost 33 million pounds in current terms. Today we might hold out William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon estate as a comparable example of a ostentatiously magnificent home.

[35]Strathfieldsaye: palace built for Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as a reward for his defeat of Napoleon in 1815. Wellington was still active in Tory politics at this time.

[36]Bill of Attainder: a law passed by parliament dictating the execution of an individual without trial. This was exclusively used to get rid of political rivals who had committed no capital crime, it was by the 1700s justly regarded as a form of legislative murder. Mr. Talfourd apparenty had, in a flight of rhetoric, compared the modest copyrights then in effect to a Bill of Attainder, i.e., a form of legislative theft.

[37]Paley, William (1743-1805): British theologian and writer. He was an early exponent of utilitarianism (the philosophy of the greatest good for the greatest number), along with Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).

[38]Primogeniture etc.: Customs of inheritence. Under primogeniture, the eldest son inherits the entire esteate; under gavelkind the estate is split evenly; under bourough English the estate is inherited in its entirety by the youngest son. Each of these systems were in practice in various parts of England at this time.

[39]Custom of York, Custom of London etc.: These were local laws governing things like contracts and inheritence. Both the Custom of London, and the Custom of York (whch held in Northern England between 1300 and 1692) held that the wife got one third, the children one third and deceased could specify how the balance was to be used (before his death, naturally ;-). The custom of Kent is also called "borough English" (see above). Lords on individual manors were a law unto themselves and could specify various customs to be followed within their lands.



















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Poll
Copyright is:
o a natural right and thus permanent and wide in scope. 2%
o a utilitarian social convention and thus limted in time and scope. 80%
o a fiction; information wants to be free. 16%

Votes: 123
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o act of attainder
o Paley
o statute of distributions
o primogenit ure
o jure divino
o pars rationabilis
o Custom of York
o Maecenas
o Pollio
o Lord Halifax
o Lord Oxford
o East India Company
o pounds
o Prince Esterhazy
o Dr Johnson's
o fit of the spleen
o Juvenal
o twopence
o Rasselas
o twenty thousand pounds
o Blenheim
o Strathfiel dsaye
o Cowley's
o Pope
o Bolingbrok e
o Paternoste r Row
o Hayley's
o Milton's
o Garrick's
o Tonson
o Fielding's
o Gibbon's
o Wilberforc e
o Hannah More
o Clarissa
o Aldus
o Caxton
o Boswell's Life of Johnson
o Camden's Britannia
o Wesley
o Jure divino
o Pars Rationabilis:
o Statute of distributions:
o Maecenas:
o Pollio:
o Lord Halifax:
o Lord Oxford:
o The East India Company:
o Johnson, Samuel 1709 -- 1784:
o Cowley, Abraham 1618 -- 1667:
o Pope, Alexander 1688 -- 1744:
o Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke 1678 -- 1751:
o Hayley, William:
o Milton, John (1608-1674):
o Garrick, David 1717-1779:
o Tonson's:
o Fielding:
o Gibbon, Edward 1737 -- 1794
o Wilberforc e:
o More, Hannah 1745 -- 1833:
o Clarissa, or The History of a Young Lady (1747-8) by Samuel Richardson:
o Aldus:
o Caxton, William (late 15th Century):
o Boswell, James 1740 -- 1795:
o Camden, William 1551 -- 1623:
o Wesley, John 1703 -- 1791:
o Paternoste r Row:
o Juvenal:
o Rasselas:
o British money:
o Prince Esterhazy:
o Fit of the Spleen:
o Twenty thousand pounds:
o Blenheim palace:
o Strathfiel dsaye:
o Bill of Attainder:
o Paley, William (1743-1805):
o Primogenit ure etc.:
o Custom of York, Custom of London etc.:
o Also by jolly st nick


Display: Sort:
Macaulay on Copyright | 138 comments (108 topical, 30 editorial, 0 hidden)
Times Long Past (4.44 / 9) (#4)
by gauntlet on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 01:56:19 PM EST

I imagine, probably naively, that this speech could not but have had an effect on the voting of many of the members of the house. Ah, to live in a time when decisions were not made before the questions were asked in the house. To live in a time when an elected representative accepted the possibility of learning from, or being convinced by his colleague.

These were real deliberative assemblies. What we have now are forums in which political parties express their policy, not in which elected representatives express their opinions. That is a shame.

Excellent reading.

Into Canadian Politics?

Correction (4.00 / 2) (#10)
by Erbo on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 03:05:19 PM EST

What we have now are forums in which corporations and organizations with money express their desires...and frequently get them.

It's still a shame though.

Eric
--
Electric Minds - virtual community since 1996. http://www.electricminds.org
[ Parent ]

I'm not sure I agree. (4.66 / 3) (#12)
by jolly st nick on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 03:17:14 PM EST

I don't think it was ever good. We are and always have been a long way from ideal. And the process is ugly. Recently I went to an acrimonious school board meeting that was very uncomfortable for a lot of people.

The right person at the right time can make a difference. When Macaualay made this speech, he wasn't lifted on the shoulders of the MPS and his position didn't sweep the house of commons in unanimous triumph like it would in the Hollywood movie version. The measure which Macaulay was opposing went down by seven votes. This means Macaulay might have lost, but for four of the MPs he may have managed to persuade.



[ Parent ]

I think that was his point... (4.66 / 3) (#33)
by ShadowNode on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 04:57:23 PM EST

How often are our representatives swayed by a speach in the Commons? If this where to happen today, I imagine that those four would be punished for voting against their party.

[ Parent ]
My parochialism (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by jolly st nick on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 05:32:55 PM EST

Now I understand. My US viewpoint showing, I guess.

[ Parent ]
US Viewpoint? (4.00 / 1) (#41)
by brunes69 on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 06:17:23 PM EST

Do you honestly think that a Democrat would publicly oppose his own party's position on a major issue such as copyright reform, without being punished? The system works the same on this side of the ocean, if you believe otherwise you are naieve.

---There is no Spoon---
[ Parent ]
Party Systems (5.00 / 3) (#52)
by Matrix on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 08:22:59 PM EST

The system works the same everywhere, now. The Canadian Parliament is the same way. You vote against your party, or break "party solidarity", and you get punished. If you've been following our news, look at the recent affair with the "rebel Alliance" (as the media dubbed them) MPs. They objected to the policies and politics of their leader, got shouted down in the party councils, and finally were forced to quit because the party didn't want the dissenting viewpoint. (Stockwell Day was later voted out of his leadership position in a general party meeting, but that's beside the point) And that's just the most blatant example, there's countless other minor ones.

No, it wasn't good then. But in many ways, it was better than now. Representatives of whatever designation decide how they're going to vote on something before they even hear the debate. In most cases, they're told how to vote by their party, and dissenters get punished when it comes to committee selection, district funding, and re-election. Debate seems to be more for the benefit of the media and spectators than anything else.


Matrix
"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]

ME TWO!!!(tm) (5.00 / 1) (#73)
by Bnonn on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 09:16:36 AM EST

The same thing is happening in New Zealand. Our Alliance party has split into two factions due to differing viewpoints. Typically, among politicians there is no concern for public interest or long-term benefit any more. The emphasis is on personal gain and political correctness. Typically, these are accompanied by complete intellectual vacuity.

The problem isn't with the system per se. The problem is with the people the system allows to hold positions of leadership. New Zealand is a fair bit more democratic than the US in my view, since being voted in isn't dependent on how much money you have and how many bribes you receive (please don't call it soft money). Even still, our government is trailing downhill as well. Education and health, particularly, are not seen to be nearly as important as sport or the pointless development of the Maori culture.

The problem, I believe, is that those people wise enough to rule are seldom foolish enough to want to, and those people amibitious enough to want to are seldom wise enough to not.

As they say...fools rush in and take all the best seats.

[ Parent ]

Punished by whom? (4.00 / 2) (#53)
by Souhait on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 08:23:23 PM EST

Congressman (especially returning Congressman) are more loyal to their constituents than to their parties, and while they will toe the party line to build relationships and earn favors they will break ranks for a bill they consider important.

[ Parent ]
This happens all the time (4.00 / 1) (#56)
by jolly st nick on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 08:48:56 PM EST

Party cohesion in the US is nothing like it is in Britain. Parties seldom punish people who don't vote the party line. People often cross lines if they don't think they have sufficient political cover. Example: Clinton couldn't get his health plan passed when he had majority Democrats in both houses.

If there is a lack of diversity, it has more to do with the candidate's funding base than party discipline.

[ Parent ]

+2: Wow! (4.83 / 6) (#5)
by ewhac on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 02:32:30 PM EST

A magnificent work, one of which I was previously unaware. This should be required reading for anyone weighing in on the subject of copyright reform.

Macaulay postulates two possibilities: Copyright, which remunerates authors but brings with it the evils of monopoly; or absence of copyright, which leaves writers begging and the public destitute of literature. Macaulay's only error, if there be one at all, is that he fails to consider there may be a third possibility, a new social structure that acknowledges free copying but still remunerates authors in a meaningful way. It is for this third possibility I'm currently searching.

As such, I think the poll needs a new entry: Authors should be remunerated, but constraining proliferation of copies is no longer reasonable.

I also felt the bracketed fore-summaries detracted from the flow of the speech. Like Shakespeare, and most writings contemporary to the author, this work was meant to be read aloud -- it is, after all, a public address -- and reads much better if you do so (close the door and try it!). As such, the bracketed summaries might be turned into hyperlinked footnotes.

I especially liked the footnotes explaining the contemporary references.

Great stuff.

Schwab
---
Editor, A1-AAA AmeriCaptions. Priest, Internet Oracle.

Brackets gone, poll the same. (3.00 / 1) (#6)
by jolly st nick on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 02:55:30 PM EST

Well, I was never happy with the bracket idea. Perhaps a separate outline hyperlinked to the ideas contained within might be a better choice.

As such, I think the poll needs a new entry: Authors should be remunerated, but constraining proliferation of copies is no longer reasonable.

As far as the poll is concerned, I would count this position as #3 -- information wants to be free. If copies are not constrained, then there is no copyright. Of course everyone thinks authors should be supported.

[ Parent ]

Please Reconsider New Poll Option (4.00 / 1) (#11)
by ewhac on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 03:17:01 PM EST

If copies are not constrained, then there is no copyright. Of course everyone thinks authors should be supported.

The problem is that, in the minds of the strongly pro-copyright and -copy protection camp members, saying "Information wants to be free" is tantamount to saying, "I'll copy whatever I can, the author be damned." Recall this is the same group of people that persistently refer to unsanctioned copying as, "Theft."

As such, "Information wants to be free," is an ambiguous and easily misinterpreted entry, which is why I suggested the additional entry.

Schwab
---
Editor, A1-AAA AmeriCaptions. Priest, Internet Oracle.
[ Parent ]

Shit.. (2.50 / 12) (#9)
by rebelcool on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 03:04:35 PM EST

I was hoping for Macaulay Culkin's views on copyright.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

Here they are (3.00 / 4) (#40)
by jayhawk88 on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 06:04:57 PM EST

*Slaps face* AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web? -- John Ashcroft
[ Parent ]
Shame Shame (4.50 / 6) (#26)
by krek on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 04:08:36 PM EST

You whining bags of lazy.

TV really has killed the minds of our species.

I could not believe how relevant at least 95% of this speech was. Next time we get a chance to weigh in on copyright decision making I am going to mail this to the proper legeslators, I suggest others do as well.

Ah well, you got my vote for the FP. I suggest that everyone who votes this down get booted from the system, at least those who bitch about it being too long. It took me about twenty to thirty minutes to read it; and it is still less data than a typical jpeg. The only reason someone might have a reason to complain is that the language might have been a bit too complex for your average net-pleeb.

I liked it!

I agree (5.00 / 3) (#42)
by jmzero on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 06:42:25 PM EST

How often do we hear current politicians talking about great literature? Or ideas?

Or even reasoning?

It was as interesting as a view of the period as it was for the topical content.
.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]
What complex language? (none / 0) (#69)
by arcade on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 07:49:41 AM EST

English is not my mother tongue. Norwegian is. I'll admit that I've read english quite well the last 10 years or so - and consider myself quite fluent in the langauge. However, when I, a non-native english speaker can read it without any problems at all - any natively english speaker should read it without problem.

Of course, this need not apply to all non-natively english speakers - but those that are either american or english have NO reason to think that this piece was complex at all.



--
arcade
[ Parent ]
Style and Content (4.00 / 1) (#104)
by jolly st nick on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 09:07:14 PM EST

Actually, as a political speech, this one is quite short even by modern standards. By early to mid 19thC standards, it is astoundingly, almost bewilderingly short.

In terms of complexity, it is, as I noted, quite spare and free of ornamentation, other than the usual parliamentary niceties.

I think it is wrong to build up the past at the expense of the present; by in large I don't think politicians and political speeches were better then. Most political speeches of that era have been forgotten and most likely justifiably so. This one is an exception. Perhaps if we were to look for similar work from the opposite side of the isle, we might turn to Edmund Burke.

One of the reasons this piece is challenging is that unlike most poliitical speeches of today or yesterday, it is fraught with ideas, like a small shrubb groaning with fruit in an orchard of barren giants. While the difficulties of the piece at first seem linguistic, it is rally the density of information, and so an active mind rather than an exceptional command of English is what is needed to appreciate it.



[ Parent ]

As he is one of your favourite authors... (4.66 / 3) (#35)
by ShadowNode on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 05:21:44 PM EST

Might you recomend some of his other works?

Yes! (5.00 / 5) (#37)
by jolly st nick on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 05:29:09 PM EST

Let's just get you started. For short works, look up his essay on Machiavelli. It is brilliant and also very wry. For longer works, try out his History of England. If you are American, I guarantee you will never look at the US constitution or war of independence the same way after reading Macaulay's history. While the period covered is earlier, it explains the historical context in which the founders operated.

The text of the essay on Machiavelli can certainly be googled. Volume 1 of the History of England is available on Project Gutenberg.

[ Parent ]

Another thing that strikes me (4.77 / 9) (#43)
by gauntlet on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 06:47:43 PM EST

I had to go do some "work-related" things after having posted on this article, but while I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that there was something missing from his arguments. He argues for the benefit of the author, and for the benefit of society as a whole, but he totally dismisses the benefit of the bookseller.

He almost seems to see a benefit to the bookseller as being no benefit at all. In today's society, it's the booksellers that are electing representatives, not the people. No wonder our laws don't make any sense. :)

But the question that this brought up for me is, the question of whether or not the bookseller should even be considered. I'm starting to think that no, they shouldn't.

That's somewhat different than the way I looked at things before, I must say.

Into Canadian Politics?

Benefit to the bookseller (4.83 / 6) (#55)
by jolly st nick on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 08:46:04 PM EST

Reasonable copyright terms benefits the bookseller in that it provides and incentive to fund new works which, for a considerable time (ten years being beyond most business planning horizons) he will have exclusive rights.

The benefit to booksellers as a class of long term copyright extension varies. If you are Disney, you are sitting on a huge trove of old, valuable works, and therefore your interest is to maintain long copyrights. Many small presses and bookstores would benefit from shorter copyrights.

By in large the role of the bookseller, in Macaulay's vision, is to speculate on literary works. The value of this is the value of speculation everywhere -- it evens things out. Authors might sometimes make more by self publishing, often less. The bookseller takes the uncertainties and risks, and averages them over many authors. The authors get cold hard cash sooner rather than later.



[ Parent ]

Booksellers spend all the money on sellling. (4.50 / 2) (#84)
by jgk on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 01:58:18 PM EST

"Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot. On which side indeed should the public sympathy be when the question is whether some book as popular as Robinson Crusoe, or the Pilgrim's Progress, shall be in every cottage, or whether it shall be confined to the libraries of the rich for the advantage of the great-grandson of a bookseller who, a hundred years before, drove a hard bargain for the copyright with the author when in great distress?"

This is my favorite bit. He predicts that the gain will be to bookseller(e.g. Disney) who will limit distribution for profit; he suggests that booksellers would limit the very good to the very rich rather than limiting based on marketing principals to everyone including the very poor. He also does not predict that the bookseller will produce the copyrighted works. In the case of movies, books, TV and music the booksellers decide what is produced, how much money is invested, what is available in the market place, how it is marketed and they make the most profit.

Many people are therefore currently employed to restrict the distribution of copyrighted work Some of the profits from copyright go to producing new work but mainly they go to pay for the huge corporations that are the booksellers, the overpaid executives, the already incredibly wealthy owners and towards marketing and advertising because that produces the demand for what they supply. I don't think he would have considered as a result of copyright law so much profit would be spent paying booksellers to convince customers to buy a prodcut so the booksellers would have more money to convince the customers to buy more products.

He warns of the dangers of having no respect for legal ownership:

"Remember too that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions."

Far from his theory that we may cease to consider it wrong to 'pirate' and behaving unreasonably: People obay copyright law because they like to make simple distinctions about theft based on the rule of law and then break it casualy and not for profit because everyone does it and no one's getting hurt... or even loosing out on profits cos you'd never have paid money for that albumn anyway :-)


Gore Vidal is cool.
[ Parent ]
It's already protected (5.00 / 2) (#122)
by zocky on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 03:07:47 PM EST

There ARE three parties to the whole affair of work of art distribution: the public, the author and the publisher.

The state exists for the benefit of the public, so it's entirely natural that public interest should be protected.

Authors don't deserve any special protection. The only reason that they should be protected, is because it is in the interest of the public.

But publishers are capitalists and are already protected by the state's enforcement of private property and free market. There is no need to protect them further just because they are in a specific line of business. In fact, this is contrary to public's interest, not to mention the damage to other businesses because of the public's funds being diverted to specially protected businesses, ie. publishers. After all, people have finite amounts of money to spend.

People don't pay the publishers for the text of the books. They pay for the added value of cheap and handy or beautiful and luxurious printed editions of the work. That is why a lot of money is made on publishing uncopyrighted books.

The same of course applies to other kinds of information.

---
I mean, if coal can be converted to energy, then couldn't diamonds?
[ Parent ]

Excellent (3.00 / 1) (#44)
by cr8dle2grave on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 06:55:06 PM EST

I am so glad to see that this article was reposted and cleared the queue. I thought the illiterates had voted it out the first time around. Hearing that it was, in fact, withdrawn in order to be redacted further restores some faith in kuro5hin.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


Nope (none / 0) (#54)
by jolly st nick on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 08:40:00 PM EST

By in large the reception was overwhelmingly positive. I pulled it to have time to improve the footnotes without wasting everyone's time.

[ Parent ]
Thankyou... (none / 0) (#65)
by maroberts on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 05:52:23 AM EST

..for taking the time to make a complex article highly readable.
~~~
The greatest trick the Devil pulled was to convince the world he didn't exist -- Verbil Kint, The Usual Suspects
[ Parent ]
I'm thankful.. (none / 0) (#71)
by arcade on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 08:13:11 AM EST

Thank you. Its the best article I've read in .. a long, long time. "Excellent" doesn't cover what I think of it.

Now, we should've had such excellent speeches written today, and parliaments should have people like this guy to present their views. Its quite simply .. excellent.



--
arcade
[ Parent ]
His logic is slightly flawed (3.42 / 7) (#45)
by curunir on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 06:56:05 PM EST

While I agree with the conclusion that copyright should be far more limited than it was (is), his logic is slightly flawed.

He argues that the original author of a creative work derives little to no motivation from lengthening the copyright period beyond his or her death. This ignores the possibility that copyright can be sold.

To use his example, what if Dr. Johnson had been approached by a publishing house looking to purchase his copyright? The term of the copyright is definitely a motivating factor for the publishing house as it can reasonably expect to still be in existance 100 or even 200 years from now. Might the agreed upon price for the rights to his work be dependant on the length of the copyright? That is, the publishing house would probably agree to pay the author a greater price for his work if they knew that they would get an extra 40 years of use out of those rights, thus creating a greater motivation for the author to create his works.

This doesn't make his conclusion wrong, it just means that the value judgement required to set the balance between public good and artist reward is less concrete.

actually he answered this one (here's the quote) (5.00 / 4) (#49)
by cnicolai on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 07:57:07 PM EST

The price which a bookseller will give for it will bear no proportion to the sum which he will afterwards draw from the public, if his speculation proves successful. He will give little, if anything, more for a term of sixty years than for a term of thirty or five and twenty. The present value of a distant advantage is always small; but when there is great room to doubt whether a distant advantage will be any advantage at all, the present value sink to almost nothing. Such is the inconstancy of the public taste that no sensible man will venture to pronounce, with confidence, what the sale of any book published in our days will be in the years between 1890 and 1900. The whole fashion of thinking and writing has often undergone a change in a much shorter period than that to which my honourable and learned friend would extend posthumous copyright.

[ Parent ]
Is it truly flawed? (5.00 / 5) (#50)
by astatine on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 07:57:26 PM EST

He indeed addresses the issue of sale of copyright, and argues that the price of a work's copyright at time of sale is not proportionately increased by extension of its term due to the combined effect of investment risk and deferred return-- the time added by extension is by definition at the end of the term, years into the future.

To quote:

The price which a bookseller will give for [a copyright] will bear no proportion to the sum which he will afterwards draw from the public, if his speculation proves successful. He will give little, if anything, more for a term of sixty years than for a term of thirty or five and twenty. The present value of a distant advantage is always small; but when there is great room to doubt whether a distant advantage will be any advantage at all, the present value sink to almost nothing.


Society, they say, exists to safeguard the rights of the individual. If this is so, the primary right of a human being is evidently to live unrealistically.Celia Green
[ Parent ]
Not really (5.00 / 2) (#51)
by ShadowNode on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 08:01:18 PM EST

He covered this, that such long term titles to risky rights aren't worth much. I believe the pricing of copyright even today reflects this. Most books are out of print within 5 years.

[ Parent ]
The Power of Compound Interest - Einstein (5.00 / 4) (#62)
by redelm on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 02:10:37 AM EST

As others have pointed out, Macauley addressed this point far better than I could attempt.

But maybe I can add some quantification by running the numbers. A publisher is investing when they buy a copyright, and expects a return on their investment, usually expressed as a percentage per annum to compare with other investments like bonds or stocks.

Consider a publisher who wants a 10% return rate, and is willing to pay 100 for a 20 year copyright on a given work. Then 25yrs is only 106, 40yrs 115, 100yrs and forever 117.

But tastes change, and work may become irrelevant by events, so sales 20 years hence are very uncertain. The usual way of coping with the risk is to increase the rate of return. So try 30%, with 100 still for 20 years then even 100 years is only worth 100.5!

Note that these analyses assume flat sales through the period, like for established continual sellers. For heavily front-loaded sales like most modern works, the premia fall by a large factor (5-10 times). And more for risky (high rates of return required) authors.



[ Parent ]

Corporations and copyright (none / 0) (#133)
by baka_boy on Mon Apr 29, 2002 at 02:40:07 PM EST

This is a very nice, and very naive, idea. It assumes that the bargaining process between the corporation and the author will be a fair one, and that the author can reasonably choose to pass up their offer.

Unfortunately, if you look at the modern media publishing and distribution industry, it is fairly obvious that no such level playing field exists. For a struggling writer or musician, the only real chance they have at making a good living from their work is to sign a contract with a large, established publisher or label. Those companies more or less control the distribution channels, promotional opportunities, and popular perception of what they should watch/read/listen to. Each work they acquire further weakens the position of the next person to negotiate with them, and every sale they make to a consumer extends their reach and strength in the market.

The frightening truth is that the length of copyrights in the US are actually being extended more or less perpetually -- as soon as major players like Disney start to near the end of their alotted period, they start another round of lobbying, and get ten more years tacked on to the term of a standard copyright.

Copyright is certainly a monopoly, but as long as that monopoly is only placed on a single work for a reasonable span of time, the damage it does is limited, and the benefits have at least the potential to pass primarily to its original creator. Extending the length of copyright protection well beyond the lifespan of that artist, though, serves no one but the publishers, aggregators, and franchise retail stores that collude to control the marketplace.

I would gladly accept a system in which corporations could pay only for a license to distribute an artist's work, rather than buying it outright like any other commodity, with a similar policy for patents. That way, creators of popular works could be fairly compensated for their efforts, but retain the freedom to do what they wish with their work.

[ Parent ]
My favorite excerpt (4.50 / 10) (#46)
by sacrelicious on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 06:56:06 PM EST

... Remember too that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions. The wholesome copyright which now exists will share in the disgrace and danger of the new copyright which you are about to create. And you will find that, in attempting to impose unreasonable restraints on the reprinting of the works of the dead, you have, to a great extent, annulled those restraints which now prevent men from pillaging and defrauding the living.

This has happened with the Napster generation. I no longer think it unreasonable to "steal" or "pirate" music, because the other options (paying $17 for a song? Spending hours searching for a particular song from the days of yore) are prohibitive.

The music industry makes no effort to make things easier, or within my "reasonable" range (I would pay a couple of bucks for the song), in fact, they use artificially high pricing to allow their product to attain a sort of luxury status.



Your sig. (4.00 / 1) (#108)
by jolly st nick on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 09:50:45 PM EST

I keep reading it has "sigs are like Whigs".

[ Parent ]
Excellent. (4.00 / 2) (#47)
by pb on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 07:47:36 PM EST

This is very relevant to the copyright issues of today; unfortunately, the system we have now is easiy twice as evil as the evil that was being proposed then, and it's a shame.

But here's an interesting question: when will Disney's copyrights expire (if ever)? And what benefit does Walt Disney get from it all, in the past or the present? Also, would Walt be really pissed off if we unfroze him, and also would he get his copyrights back... ;)
---
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall
Bravo. (4.25 / 4) (#48)
by bakuretsu on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 07:52:10 PM EST

This is very likely one of the most compelling and applicable works of public articulation that I have ever had the pleasure of absorbing.

I think that everyone should make an attempt to properly comprehend what is being said in this speech, take a step back, and analyze for themselves the rights and the mandates set forth by our government today concerning the RIAA and MPAA and other such organizations on the bleeding edge of controversy.

Hopefully this link won't Kurode (is that what we're saying now?) their server, but I think this comic puts the whole situation into more of a "pop culture" light.

-- Airborne
    aka Bakuretsu
    The Bailiwick -- DESIGNHUB 2004
It didn't need to be any longer than this (3.20 / 5) (#57)
by whojgalt on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:25:48 PM EST

I agree, I own, with Paley in thinking that property is the creature of the law, and that the law which creates property can be defended only on this ground, that it is a law beneficial to mankind. But it is unnecessary to debate that point. For, even if I believed in a natural right of property, independent of utility and anterior to legislation, I should still deny that this right could survive the original proprietor. Few, I apprehend, even of those who have studied in the most mystical and sentimental schools of moral philosophy, will be disposed to maintain that there is a natural law of succession older and of higher authority than any human code.

The article could have stopped there. This is the fundamental argument, between those who believe property is a natural right, and those who believe it is a utilitarian construct. Those who believe it is a natural right also believe there is "a natural law of succession" of sorts. Not one based on heredity, but based on the right of a property owner to transfer his property to another.

If you accept that property is a utilitarian construct, you are left with endless bickering over whose utilitarian interests are more important, and what will benefit "society" the most. These are unsovable issues because there are no first principles from which to argue for or against a solution. The only solution ends up being who can yell louder, or find a bigger gun, or have more money to hire congressmen to vote your way.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you can't see it from the car, it's not really scenery.
Any code more than six months old was written by an idiot.

and if you consider property a natural right... (4.33 / 3) (#60)
by sayke on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 01:40:15 AM EST

you are still left with endless bickering over exactly what form it should take, and what means should be employed to secure it. these are unsolvable issues because there are no first principles from which to argue for or against a solution. the only solution ends up being determined by who can yell louder, or find a bigger gun, or have more money to hire congressmen to vote their way.

natural rights don't need securing.

there are no natural rights.

we must make do.


sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */
[ Parent ]

I'm glad a natural rights advocate weighed in (5.00 / 2) (#67)
by jolly st nick on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 06:41:53 AM EST

at the very least to keep this from being a utilitarian love-fest. As the poll numbers are currently indicating, most readers take the utilitarian approach, following by a sizable chunk of "information wants to be free" folks, followed by a few people who view this as a natural right.

I agree with you, and disagree with sayke to this degree: taking a natural rights approach to this problem simplifies the job one has of coming up with policies. Taking an absolute position means you don't have to worry about where the lines should be drawn. However, this does not mean that this theory is correct, especially with regards to intellectual property, which is infinitely reproduceable, and has no value in isolation.

Consider this thought experiment. If you wrote a novel, but kept it to yourself and ordered it burned in your will, I would support wholeheartedly your right to do this. It's nobody's business but your own. If you published your novel, you have no such right. You could license your novel, and I suppose there is nothing in the law of contracts that would prevent you from putting a provision that all copies are to be destroyed on your death. However, now the nonsensicality of this desire becomes a real issue. Ideas are viral. Once they are communicated, they become part of the mind of the hearer. Yes, I know copyright covers expression not ideas, but I will fully admit this nicety when it can be shown that ideas can exist independently of expression. And in any case expression has a viral nature too. 23-Skidoo. Whatever.

Personally, I suspect the imp of utilitarianism is hiding in many people's thinking. The reason I believe this is when they get down to arguing the merits of their particular system, they always end up asserting that more people will be happier under it with the expectation that this argument should be sufficient to carry the day. Or perhaps this is the only common ground that people with radically different values can find to try to move each other.

Of course, whose happiness matters most? How do we trade off the slight happiness of many versus the great happieness of a few? Well, life is not obliged to give us simple problems. Utilitarianism is the common theme across all systems of thought. How to weigh the many versus the few is what divides them.



[ Parent ]

Natural rights ... (none / 0) (#74)
by StrontiumDog on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 09:44:25 AM EST

... are a convenient fiction. Any immutability implied by the words "natural law" is immediately nullified by the leeway inherent in the semantic expression of these "natural" rights.

In other words, natural rights are utilitarian, with adherence to personal moral credos taking the place of "the common good".

[ Parent ]

One thing (none / 0) (#83)
by whojgalt on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 01:29:50 PM EST

I won't argue with the majority of your post. I have some disagreements, but they are pretty subtle and arguing them now would take us off on a tangent that wouldn't be productive in this context.

But one thing you brought up is something I feel I should comment on. The idea that ideas are viral and once let loose canot be taken back, so to speak. I agree with this, but it clouds the issue of property and intellectual property in particular.

There is a difference between an idea, and the implementation of an idea. Take internal combustion engines as a more concrete example. The idea that a fuel/air mixture compressed and ignited in a closed chamber can produce power that can be converted into motion. That is an idea. It is a fact of the physical world available to anyone.

The design of a specific engine that takes advantage of this idea is different. It is that idea, aplied to a pecific context of needs and uses, created by some individual or groups of individuals, and is not just a fact of nature available to anyone.

The former is not intellectual property, the latter is. Similar considerations apply to music and movies and novels, etc., but the discussion of those is necessarily more abstract.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you can't see it from the car, it's not really scenery.
Any code more than six months old was written by an idiot.
[ Parent ]

Logical... (none / 0) (#88)
by Count Zero on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 02:51:04 PM EST

There is a difference between an idea, and the implementation of an idea. Take internal combustion engines as a more concrete example. The idea that a fuel/air mixture compressed and ignited in a closed chamber can produce power that can be converted into motion. That is an idea. It is a fact of the physical world available to anyone.

The design of a specific engine that takes advantage of this idea is different. It is that idea, aplied to a pecific context of needs and uses, created by some individual or groups of individuals, and is not just a fact of nature available to anyone.

That seems pretty logical to me. At the risk of getting way off-topic, can I take this to mean that while you support copyright (the "property-ization" of implementations of ideas) you do not support patents? (the "property-ization" of raw ideas)

If I'm oversimplifying your position, I apologize, and please let me know.




[ Parent ]
Not quite (4.00 / 1) (#95)
by whojgalt on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 04:51:42 PM EST

I do support patents. I support patents for technology, not for science. The distinction is between raw ideas, and ideas propertyized, as you phrase it. A raw idea, whether it is in the area of the physcial sciences or literature, whatever, is not patentable or copyrightable.

When you design something, or create something, using that idea as a starting point, the idea is still not property, but the creation is. The idea still exists in its raw state, and is still available to anyone. The creation only exists because someone created it. The idea is an ingredient of the creation, but is not the only ingredient. The creation is specific, while the idea is general.

Some examples (ideas not property, implementation is property)

Internal combustion - idea
A particular engine design - implementation

The contents of the human genome - idea
A drug or medical treatment - implementation

Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and they kill themselves - idea
Romeo and Juliet - implementation

Three chords - idea
"Enter the Sandman" by Metallica - implementation

People from all over the world discussing technology and culture toghether - idea
Scoop and kuro5hin - implementation

Mixing your labor with the land as the basis of property - idea
"The Second Treatise of Government" by John Locke - implementation
This post - another implementation

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you can't see it from the car, it's not really scenery.
Any code more than six months old was written by an idiot.
[ Parent ]

Hmmm. (4.00 / 1) (#107)
by jolly st nick on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 09:43:39 PM EST

There is a difference between an idea, and the implementation of an idea. Take internal combustion engines as a more concrete example. The idea that a fuel/air mixture compressed and ignited in a closed chamber can produce power that can be converted into motion. That is an idea. It is a fact of the physical world available to anyone. I'm not sure exactly how to divide facts of the physical world from ideas about the physical world; it is perhaps to subtle a point for me. At least it seems to me that the fact that a contained explosion can liberate chemical energy and set an arrangement of simple machines (levers and gears and the like) into motion to accomplish useful work is a fairly sophisticated idea.

The engine example does not seem to be a good one to me, or at least I have managed to find it confusing. It seems to me that designs for engines are combinations of ideas, many of which are in the public domain. An engine design seems to my naive, non-engineering mind to be the arrangement of a number of simple machines in conjunction with the combustion chamber(s); it is if anything an inllustration that the production of new ideas relies upon access to preexisting ones.

I am fairly inclined to accept your dichotomy, except the words don't seem right. Personally, to say the implementation of an idea leads me to think of hardware. A design, even a blueprint is still the expression of an idea. So perhaps, taking words from your example, the dichotomy may be better made between facts and ideas. However even facts might be characterized as ideas long and widely known.



[ Parent ]

We're on the right track (none / 0) (#113)
by whojgalt on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 01:20:22 AM EST

Maybe "idea" was a poor choice of words, since it implies creation of the idea, but that is not how I meant it. Think "fact" instead of idea. Something that exists independent of and prior to any human interaction with it.

The engine example was simplified for (I thought) clarity, and to make it more concrete than it would be in regards to things like music or literature. I'm using idea in the sense of a discovered fact about the physical world, i.e. fuel expands when ignited. You're right that other facts are invovled, such as the fact that that expansion puts pressure on whetever encloses it, and that mechanical force can be transferred in certain ways.

Where the fact is trasnformed into something that can be property is by applying it to a specific purpose. That purpose is first of all entirely the creation of the person designing the engine, or whatever. Even if he is influenced by potential market considerations, the suggestions of others, etc, it is still a purpose he has decide on. The creator then has to take these facts, perhaps many of them, and not only combine them to form a larger, more complex idea, but to create a specific arrangement of parts that use those facts and ideas to acheive his purpose.

Take just the combustion chamber, for instance, if the engine as a whole is bringing in too much etraneous complication. The engineer has to decide what shape and size to make the chamber and its associated parts (piston, spark plugs, valves) to both allow combustion to take place and does so in a way that meets his purpose.

This is what I mean by "an idea (a fact) applied to the context of specific needs and purposes". So we have an engine, or at least a combustion chamber. The fact of combustion is still out there, still a raw fact of nature, created by no-one, that can be exploited by anyone. But the design of the engine, the particular arrangement of parts that use the raw fact to meet a specific purpose is the creation of the engineer. It exists only because he made it. He has combine his "labor" (actually the application of reason to a purpose entirely contained within himself) with the "land" of physical reality to create something that did not exist in nature.

Is that more clear?

In music, for instance, the raw ideas, facts of nature, are the way certain sounds fit together, observations of human behavior, etc. The concrete implementation, applied to the purpose of communicating certain thougts and evoking certain emotions, is the particular notes, tempo, lyrics, etc., that use the raw ideas to meet the purpose of the composer.

You're on the right track when you say "implementation" implies hardware, at least in the realm of physical machinery. Think of it as science vs technology if that makes more sense.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you can't see it from the car, it's not really scenery.
Any code more than six months old was written by an idiot.
[ Parent ]

Why personal rather than communal property? (5.00 / 5) (#77)
by Paul Johnson on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 11:20:12 AM EST

What makes personal property any more of a "natural right" than communal property?

If you own a car and drive around in it, and I try to take the keys then I imagine you will try to stop me, saying I have no right to use your car because is yours. But where does this determination come from? I can just as easily assert that since I have a need for the car right now and you do not (since you have evidently just got out of it and are walking away), then I have a natural right to have use of it and you have no right to stop me.

If we stay with arguments from "natural right" then there is no resolution to this argument, and we are left to glare at each other in eternal stalemate. The only solution is to admit an argument from utility. Personal property is a useful concept because it enables us to reward those who benefit society: in return for their services we grant them monopoly use of certain resources. We make these resources tradeable in order that they may be more efficiently utilised. We authorise a government to enforce these property rights, and we also reserve some of the available resources to the government for the promotion of the general good in cases where simple property rights do not benefit society. And so on.

If you accept that property is a utilitarian construct, you are left with endless bickering over whose utilitarian interests are more important, and what will benefit "society" the most.

Of course you are. Society is complicated and people can honestly disagree about the issues. But the argument makes progress. Few now argue in favour of mass nationalisation of large industries, for instance.

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

Natural rights (3.00 / 1) (#82)
by whojgalt on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 01:18:28 PM EST

are not just an assertion, there is a rational bais for the position. I am happy to engage that argument, but it is a separate discussion. My point here is a kind of a meta-argument, that the question of rights must be answered before the rest of the argument, including the arguments made in the original article, can commence. If we agree on a rational basis for rights and for property, we then have a basis for deciding on the legitimacy of communal property vs private property, and how best to legally protect property rights. If we reject property entirely, then we have an argument over interests and common good.

we also reserve some of the available resources to the government for the promotion of the general good in cases where simple property rights do not benefit society.

Not we. I don't authorize that in any way. Of course, it will be done despite my protests, but don't just assume that that is common ground from which we can begin a discussion.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you can't see it from the car, it's not really scenery.
Any code more than six months old was written by an idiot.
[ Parent ]

It all boils down to utility. (none / 0) (#90)
by Peaker on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 03:51:48 PM EST

If we agree on a rational basis for rights and for property, we then have a basis for deciding on the legitimacy of communal property vs private property, and how best to legally protect property rights.

But what will your discussion be based upon? You will inevitably have to use utilatarian concepts to define those rights.

The claim that utility is too complex to define and therefore cannot be used is basically claiming that we are not smart enough to define society's laws -- and that includes the set of rights and their importance.

Everybody is a utilatarian, except some cease calculating utility after defining rights - and some are consistent about it and use it to calculate everything.

[ Parent ]

Only if (none / 0) (#92)
by whojgalt on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 04:20:00 PM EST

You will inevitably have to use utilatarian concepts to define those rights.

Only if you define "utilitarian" so broadly that it loses any useful meaning. Utilitarian in usual usage refers to the strictly concrete and short term risk - reward calculus specifically within the context of maximizing that reward across a large group.

I do not define rights in those terms. I would argue (elsewhere) that rights work from a utilitarian perspective in addition to being valid in and of themselves.

If you define utilitarian as anything that is meant to solve a problem or meet a need, then of course rights fits that definition. But then so does everything worth talking about. It means nothing precisely because it means everything.

It's a typical nihilistic approach, to deconstruct every useful concept and claim that concepts are therefore useless. You'd be wise to avoid being duped by such people.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you can't see it from the car, it's not really scenery.
Any code more than six months old was written by an idiot.
[ Parent ]

Government (none / 0) (#130)
by Paul Johnson on Mon Apr 29, 2002 at 07:31:40 AM EST

If we agree on a rational basis for rights and for property, we then have a basis for deciding on the legitimacy of communal property vs private property, and how best to legally protect property rights.

I don't understand. To me the only rational basis for any discussion of what ought to be done is utilitarianism. Without that grounding in reality you are free to make up whatever axioms lead to your desired conclusion.

I support rights such as freedom of speech and ownership of property because they make people better off in the long run, not because they have some grand theoretical justification.

If we reject property entirely, then we have an argument over interests and common good.

But I don't reject property entirely, I just used it as an example of how you can reach a different conclusion about fundamental rights merely by picking a different set of axioms.

PJ: we also reserve some of the available resources to the government

whojgalt: Not we. I don't authorize that in any way.

We don't need your authorisation, any more than you need my authorisation to drive around in "your" car. A collective standard made by society and supported by general consensus (and democratically elected governments) has decided that this bit of property "belongs" to you and another bit "belongs" to itself. The fact that you happen to be in physical posession of the latter bit is irrelevant, just as my physical posession of your car keys would not make it my car. Take away that social consensus and its associated enforcement mechanisms and you are left with nothing more than Might Equals Right, a system unlikely to satisfy either of us.

The best form of government for making collective decisions is a separate debate, although the various forms of representative democracy seem to work well. But you don't have a moral right to a veto, even when the tax men come and "take" some of "your" property because the government's right to do so is founded on exactly the same collective decision and authority as your right to keep and dispose of your property.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

Utilitarianism (none / 0) (#132)
by whojgalt on Mon Apr 29, 2002 at 01:32:21 PM EST

the only rational basis for any discussion of what ought to be done is utilitarianism

And I dsiagree. All that means in the context of what I wrote is that we don't have common ground to begin a discussion. You will argue how best to implement your uitilitarian goals, but I choose not to participate. I will argue how to best legally protect rights that prexist government and law, and I'm sure you'll choose not to participate.

But you don't have a moral right to a veto, even when the tax men come and "take" some of "your" property

But I do. I just don't have the legal right, nor the power to enforce my veto. It doesn't change the right. When and if I do have the power, I will enforce the veto, just as you (or people who agree with you) currently do have the power to override my veto, and are exercising that power.

because the government's right to do so is founded on exactly the same collective decision and authority as your right to keep and dispose of your property.

Like I said, we have no common ground to even start a discussion at this level. You say that utilitarianism is grounded in reality. I say it isn't, it is grounded only in selective aspects of reality, ignoring reality as a whole. My point is that arguing what the law should be is fundamentally impossible until we agree on what the purpose of the law is. It becomes a question of which side has superior force to impose its will on the other.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you can't see it from the car, it's not really scenery.
Any code more than six months old was written by an idiot.
[ Parent ]

Utilitarian? (4.00 / 3) (#79)
by Happy Monkey on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 12:26:05 PM EST

That sounds like a utilitarian approach to the argument. You shouldn't pick a side based on whether it leaves unanswered questions. Let's say two people want a sum of money, and there is debate over who has claim. One solution is to divide the money between them. Another is to kill one of the people. The second will avoid the debate over what percentage to give to each, but it is obviously too extreme. Just because it is a final solution doesn't make it right. I would say that both permanent copyright and no copyright are killing one of the claimants, and some limited term is necessary.
___
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
You're right (none / 0) (#81)
by whojgalt on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 01:08:47 PM EST

that we shouldn't take a position on the argument based on my argument. I wasn't making that claim. I was only pointing out the pitfalls of the utilitarian approach, and the benefits of an approach based on rights. That comparison may at best be supporting evidence in favor of a rights-based approach, but is not in itself decisive.

I just wanted to point out that this is where the real disagreement is, and that the arguments over interests and common good are secondary.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you can't see it from the car, it's not really scenery.
Any code more than six months old was written by an idiot.
[ Parent ]

The only natural rights... (none / 0) (#138)
by dirtside on Thu May 23, 2002 at 04:45:26 PM EST

...are the ones enforced by the laws of physics.  All other rights are human constructs.

Now, granted, some of those constructs are highly useful in the kind of society we live in, but they are still artificial constructs.  The real debate is over two things:

1) what the goals of society should be;
2) what rules we should have in order to best realize those goals.

--
Exasperated French Unix guru says, "man du!"
[ Parent ]

Re: Heart of Oak (2.33 / 3) (#58)
by Kasreyn on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 10:27:32 PM EST

"Garrick, David... ...and wrote the song "Heart of Oak," which later became the hymn of the Canadian navy and was featured on a Star Trek epiosode."

Was that episode by any chance the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "Into the Light"? (In case you've forgotten the title, it's the one where Picard is zapped by an alien probe that causes him to relive the memories of an entire lifetime on that planet's homeworld, in which he learns to play the flute)

Sorry if this highly off-topic comment offends, but I've been searching high and low for quite some time, for the name of the writer (and arranger!) of the piece Picard plays on his flute (which is later orchestrally arranged). If anyone knows whether Garrick is the writer, and who was credited for the music of that episode (Chattaway?), please let me know.


-Kasreyn


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
OT: Jesus i feel so geeky.. (4.50 / 2) (#59)
by AnalogBoy on Thu Apr 25, 2002 at 11:04:02 PM EST

It's called "The Inner Light".

Erm, i only know this because it's one of my favorite episodes.

[Comic book store guy's voice]
That and i'm an insufferable geek with a star trek fixation.

Other top episodes, in my book:
Best of Both Worlds.
Q Who.
Tapestry.

Not that anyone cares. Just felt like saying it.

--
Save the environment, plant a Bush back in Texas.
Religous Tolerance (And click a banner while you're there)
[ Parent ]
In the same offtopic vein... (none / 0) (#63)
by lucius on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 04:47:58 AM EST

does anyone know the name of the Bach piece that's played as backing in the film "One Day in September". It's during the nicely produced montage of the athletes all doing their respective athletic stuff.

If it helps I think it's played on the harpsichord or some similar instrument.

[ Parent ]
God I'm a jackass. (none / 0) (#64)
by lucius on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 04:51:46 AM EST

I just googled for "one day in september" + bach and it was listed in the first link.

I'm very sorry for wasting everyone's time ;-)


[ Parent ]
OT: re The Inner Light flute piece (none / 0) (#75)
by Bnonn on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 10:03:49 AM EST

    Sorry if this highly off-topic comment offends, but I've been searching high and low for quite some time, for the name of the writer (and arranger!) of the piece Picard plays on his flute (which is later orchestrally arranged). If anyone knows whether Garrick is the writer, and who was credited for the music of that episode (Chattaway?), please let me know.

disclaimer: I've never seen this episode and I'm really not a sad Trekkie any more; I just read the entire Star Trek Encyclopaedia once...

I believe the piece you're thinking of is the Ressikan Flute Solo. It was written, as you speculate, by Jay Chattaway. A quick google turned up this page, which has .rams of the duet Neela Darren and Picard play in Lessons, and of the solo Picard plays in The Inner Light. You can buy the The Best Of Star Trek: 30th Anniversary Special on Amazon, which has preview .ram files.

Searching Kazaa for "picard flute" will bring up a number of hits on the ~6 MiB mp3 I have on my own computer--the solo Picard plays. It's a studio recording, not a rip from the TV. A query on "picard duet" brings up a ~1 MiB file that's ripped from the TV, with a fair amount of background noise. I'm sure you could find a CD rip with a bit of digging however. All the Kazaa files are credited to Jerry Goldsmith, who may have had some hand in arranging the orchestral version, though I doubt it.

Hope this helps &:>

[ Parent ]

Jerry didn't arrange the orchestral version, (none / 0) (#101)
by Kasreyn on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 08:34:59 PM EST

People just credit him with everything in the way of symphonic soundtracks online, because he's the only film music composer they know the name of. =P

He and Johnny Williams, if you were to believe what you see on filesharing networks, are apparently responsible between them for scoring every movie ever made. =P


-Kasreyn,

Film music otaku



"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
This be true (none / 0) (#111)
by Bnonn on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 11:41:11 PM EST

I'm a great fan of John Williams, but it is frustrating seeing the Armageddon theme, Stargate movie theme and god knows what else attributed to him. Hans Zimmer would be my favourite if Williams hadn't gone and written the (unbeatable imo) score for Schindler's List. I'm also very fond of Klaus Badelt's The Time Machine soundtrack--I hope I get to hear some more of his stuff; there's not much on Kazaa atm.

[ Parent ]
Armageddon? Eww, yuck! lol -vlt (none / 0) (#114)
by Kasreyn on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 02:22:57 AM EST

Trevor Rabin is unworthy to lick Williams' shoes.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
Congratulations (none / 0) (#102)
by jolly st nick on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 08:49:12 PM EST

You found an easter egg.

[ Parent ]
i have a new favorite k5 article (4.87 / 8) (#61)
by sayke on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 01:57:12 AM EST

thank you for submitting this. it seriously made my day - not merely because of its blistering relevence, but because of the insights that it gives on the law-making culture of the era in which it was written. as someone else points out in another comment, this wonderfully articulate speech almost certainly changed the minds of the author's fellow parlimentarians.

now, it seems, political speeches are used merely as excuses to do what would have been done anyway. how many minds get changed? how often do the partisan lines get crossed because of something as quaint as sound argument?

gah. the era of this speech surely had its problems - blatant imperalism, deadly pollution, inanely shortsighted wars, and vast gulfs of inequality - but at least you have to give its legislators credit for knowing how to make a point. you really gotta be a badass to just stand up and make a speech like this.

our swarms of teleprompters, ghostwriters, and speechwriters are shamed by the leigons of dead giants gone before, whose stair-stepped shoulders we don't even bother to climb up and stand on. gah.

don't watch c-span after reading this. you will become almost physically ill.


sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */

Ownership of music (4.75 / 4) (#72)
by User 26962 on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 08:38:17 AM EST

While this article retains its relevance for books published in the present time, I had some difficulty doing the same connection with the music production.
Most of the music sold nowdays is the product of major labels, and arguably I would suggest that most of the music is being sold because of the marketing dollars that are being spent to promote it ( nobody would argue that Britney Spears creates art, but her music is sold because of marketing).
So big label music OWN as much as the artist the music produced because they created it along side the artist. The problem arise when you ask the question: If copyright limits kick in after the author death, when does a corporation actually dies?

Nowt wrong with Britney :-) (4.50 / 4) (#76)
by Khendon on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 11:11:12 AM EST

*I* would argue that Britney Spears creates art. It's pretty decent pop, and many people genuinely enjoy it. Why the snobbery?

[ Parent ]
What's wrong with Britney. (5.00 / 2) (#93)
by bodrius on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 04:38:04 PM EST

The problem is that Britney Spears (or pop-artist-of-the-day X, in case I happen to be wrong about this particular artist) does NOT create art, regardless of how decent or enjoyable the pop is.

These are products of the media, created by the media companies from raw materials and the contributions of many artists... of which the "performer" is a minor fraction of the effort and the original "idea" involved.

Songwriters, composers, choreographers, production specialists, marketers, special effects experts, psychologists and who knows who else are involved in creating the current "pop artist" as a product, and sell it: sell the image, sell the songs, sell the music, sell the fashion, sell the concerts, sell the attitude, etc.

So, in a sense, "Britney Spears" as a concept is the copyrighted product, and rightfully belongs to the corporation. Either that, or its component parts belong to the artists that created those components. But then, to whom does the whole belong?

Of what part, exactly, is Britney Spears responsible of in the creative effort that creates this product? Is it a significant part? If it is not, and too often it is, she has no greater role in portraying the product than an actor playing Hamlet. Regardless of how good the actor is, the fact is that the script was created by Shakespeare, and the play/performance itself was created by whoever planned and set up the performance.

If this complex product, created by many artists for-hire, does not belong to the corporation that hired the artists to create it, to whom does it belong?

Because to separate it into its component pieces of art and refuse to acknowledge the whole as art would have deep implications. If taking multiple individual elements of their own artistic merit and composing a brand new piece out of them is not art and has no intrinsic artistic merit (beyond the components'), then this would disqualify most of what we think of as art.
Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4, everything else follows...
[ Parent ]
A Corporation isn't alive so... (4.00 / 2) (#86)
by Kindaian on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 02:10:12 PM EST

It doesn't have life or death so, by itself mayhappen a corporation can't hold copyrights after author deaths... Kindaian

[ Parent ]
A quick formatting suggestion (5.00 / 4) (#78)
by ghjm on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 11:25:16 AM EST

I decided to print this so I could comfortably read it on an airline flight. I really like the way you've done the hyperlinks, but without footnote numbers in the text, they become pretty hard to follow on paper. If you do any more stories like this (which I would strongly encourage!), please add the footnote number beside the hyperlink, for the benefit of paper readers.

Yes, I know this is editorial rather than topical, but you can't post editorial comments once the story is out of the queue. Moderators, have mercy. :-)

-Graham

Natural Rights and Utility. (4.42 / 7) (#80)
by Count Zero on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 12:50:00 PM EST

First, I found this article spectacular. It shows some of the deep thinking that has gone on about copyright well before the Internet made it a hot topic, and before anyone around to debate it now was even alive.

Secondly, this is the first article I've seen that frames copyright from it's first principles, that of rights as either natural, or a social construct.

I've been looking for the basis of a strong argument to attack the concept of unassailable, immutable copyright for awhile now. It's easy when you (like myself) are a utilitarian with respect to rights, but not so easy when dealing with believers in natural rights.

I've been wanting an argument that works within the natural rights worldview, since an argument that accepts natural rights, but denies eternal copyright has a much better chance of being persuasive than trying to get someone to give up the natural rights concept alltogether. (That was not intended to be snide, I doubt natural-rights proponents will have much luck changing my mind either)

Macaulay has a good start to such an arguement, at least when it comes to attacking posthumous copyright. I've also toyed with an approach that argues that even if there is a natural right to physical or real property, it does not extend to intangible property, but that's a story for another time.

If I can find a flaw with Macaulay, it's that he has contructed a false dilemma with respect to copyright. Either you have it, and deal with the negatives of monopoly and the postive of artists being funded, or you don't, and have the postive of more freedom, but the negative of no compensation for artists.

I see the possibility of at least one more way, one where intellectual goods are treated as a public good. Which they do fit the classic definition for. (A good whose consumption by one individual does not interfere with its consumption by another individual.)

This of course leads to a free-rider problem, which a left-leaning individual would resolve by having government handle through taxes. Using tax dollars to fund art/musicians/etc.

Before I am jumped on by K5's libertarian/neo-con contingent, I'm not necessarily saying this solution is better than the two Macaulay presents, just that it should be concidered in the debate. (I do see several problems from a primarly government-funded art world right away, so there's no need to list them all to me)

I know I'm all over the board here, but what I'm trying to get at is that article touches on so many of the primary issues surrounding copyright, it easily lends itself to deeper discussions. Bravo to the poster for bringing this to the K5 commnuity's attention




Not so sure he missed it... (5.00 / 6) (#89)
by jonnyq on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 03:07:33 PM EST

If I can find a flaw with Macaulay, it's that he has contructed a false dilemma with respect to copyright. Either you have it, and deal with the negatives of monopoly and the postive of artists being funded, or you don't, and have the postive of more freedom, but the negative of no compensation for artists.
He also addressed the possibility of not having copyright, and supporting the artists through patronage. (i.e. like the Medici's of Italy) This in my opinion is very much like having the government pay for art. in his words, "I can conceive no system more fatal to the integrity and independence of literary men than one under which they should be taught to look for their daily bread to the favour of ministers and nobles."

This point that he is getting at is that having art paid for by a large entity leads clearly to the issue that the large entity decides which works of art and artists to support. The closest thing we have to this right now is the National Endowment for the Arts, who have been sued several times for what some view as using tax dollars to fund religious expression or obscenity.

[ Parent ]
Good point. (5.00 / 1) (#91)
by Count Zero on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 04:05:51 PM EST

I didn't think to make the step from patronage in the Medici sense to patronage via tax dollars. You're right though, they are the same thing, but with different funding sources.

I suppose one difference is that (in theory) government is accountable to what the public wants, and private funding sources are not, but both types of patronage would have many of the same problems.


[ Parent ]
Limited utility right... by time and form... (4.66 / 3) (#85)
by Kindaian on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 02:01:56 PM EST

One of the things that i find more vexing in copyright is when i go to a shop to buy a book and they told me that the book is "out-of-print", there isn't any in the warehouses and there isn't any estimative on the reprint date!

This is IMHO a forfeit of copyright public obligations and it isn't in any way covered by any kind of remedies...

Just my 2 cents (in Micronesia Stone Money)

Kindaian

1% of books in print after 80 years (5.00 / 3) (#97)
by thebrix on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 05:02:00 PM EST

I can't remember the sources, but a couple of striking figures I've seen recently come to mind:

Of 10,000 books published in 1930, 100 are still in print;

An average piece of copyrighted material has 98 per cent of its value realised in the first 4 years after publication.

Given the second, in particular, I'm in favour of a short copyright period, say 15 years, which could be renewed twice more, say for another 15 years each, but only if the copyright holder, or their executor, applied for it. There would not be any problem in granting a renewal but it would have to either be applied for in time or copyright would lapse.

I've no idea of the relative percentages of copyrightable material which would enter the public domain after 15, 30 or 45 years, but I suspect rather a high proportion would be let go early.

Such material would not be commercially valuable; however, someone would find a use for it. The problem at the moment is that vast amounts of information worthless to everyone except a few is being kept out of the public domain for so long (especially if the 'reprint date' never comes) that it utterly vanishes.

[ Parent ]

And remember... (5.00 / 1) (#99)
by Kindaian on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 07:06:44 PM EST

Reprint date doesn't renew any copyright dates (as it shouldn't the "remastered" and "directors" and "improved" versions of videos, but alas...) To me the copyright should be time limited and be limited to time of print of first version. All derivative versions should count as just "reprints" (including tecnical books that the only renew is the version of the program that they cover in the title!)... Kindaian

[ Parent ]
That wouldn't solve some things. (5.00 / 1) (#123)
by DavidTC on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 05:36:12 PM EST

We'd have idiotic publishers who just automatically renewed copyright every 15 years, just in case.

It would solve cases where the copyright owner has literally fallen off the face of the earth, and no one is sure who's supposed to have it, though, but not much more.

A much better idea would be to require, after the first 15 years, 5,000 copies sold every 5 years. If, at the end of five years, you cannot prove you sold 5,000 new copies of the work, you forfit your copyright.

Granted, there will be some really obscure or unpopular books that will fall out of copyright while still being in print by the publisher, and publishers will complain, but, really, if they can't sell 1,000 copies a year, how much money are they really making off the rights?

Of course, we'd have to come up with reasonable exceptions to things that are not 'sold', but are ad supported, and whatnot, like TV shows. (How many episodes of The Monsters were sold last year? I doubt any.) Monetary limits might be the way to go here.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]

That's why it's finite (none / 0) (#126)
by thebrix on Sun Apr 28, 2002 at 05:04:03 AM EST

I put in the 'two renewals maximum' to stop this in a crude way, but something more sophisticated is probably needed. I like the idea of 'number of copies sold'; I thought of financial targets, but these would end up out-of-date through inflation, changes in pricing patterns and so on.

An objection to 'number of copies' is that that could be fiddled; I can see publishers sending people round to bookshops to buy up copies of books they thought might lapse copyright and wanted to hold on to. (Auditing used to be a solution ;)

Another problem is an unusual, and enlightened, service we have in the UK: the Public Lending Right, where authors are credited a small (fixed) payment every time a book of theirs is lent from a public library; I know people with reasonably successful, not mass-market, books who've made 400-800 a year from the PLR. I don't know enough about the PLR (does it expire when the book goes out of copyright? when the author dies?) but it would have to be accommodated as well.

[ Parent ]

Why not base it from the author's last real check? (none / 0) (#127)
by jolly st nick on Sun Apr 28, 2002 at 08:51:21 AM EST

Say, five years since the royalties have dropped to less than ten percent of the first year? To renew a copyright, the copyright holder would have to show that he paid in every year subsequent to the peak period an amount of at least 10% of the amount of that peak period, or at least $1000, whichever is greater.

Personally, I'd prefer a system in which encourgaed return of non-exploited copyrights to the author after a certain period As I proposed elsewhere, I think the copyright term should be more limited when the copy rights are controlled by (n.b. not held by) someone other than the author. The basic idea is to expire faster the copyrights that are not benefiting the author. This shortened term would be set long enough that in most cases it would have no effect on the immediate price an author might get for an outright sale of his rights, but not a second longer.

In addition, authors would enjoy lifetime copyrights to works they have not been able to exploit yet; there is no clock ticking towards expiration. Imagine I had written a book in 1995 about Afghanistan that had run its initial course after a year. I would imagine a system in which the copyright would expire unless the rights were fully returned to me, or unless the publisher saw fit to pay me. Thus there would be no incentive for a publisher to oppose a contract clause returning rights to me after several years of non-exploitation. Then, with the Afghanistan war, I am now posess the copyright to a work that can be rushed into print in response. I would reap the jackpot, not my publisher. If my publisher wanted to keep the lottery ticket, well then he'd have to keep paying me and I'd be well content.

The key to the Macaulay speech is this: copyrights exists to benefit authors and other creative people, and to restrict the public use in a way that does not benefit authors is wrong. The current system is grossly immoral, since it restricts public freedom of expression without any benefit to authors.



[ Parent ]

I like half your ideas. ;) (none / 0) (#131)
by DavidTC on Mon Apr 29, 2002 at 01:30:30 PM EST

I'm for copyrights, if lost due to the five-year method I was talking about, falling back to the authors instead of PD. I'd then give the author two years (One, really, to find a publisher, and one to sell.) to sell 1000 copies, and then it reverts back to the normal 5000 in five years. It's a valid point that the author may have plenty of ways to make money from it, but the publisher is sitting on it. After enough copies aren't sold, all licenses for said work immediately expire, regardless of the terms of the contract, and the author (or their next of kin) has two years to find someone else. (Or, of course, it could be the same company, who just got a fun wakeup call, especially if they have printed copies of the book they now can't legally sell.)

However, I don't like this infinity copyright for authors. (Within their lifetime.) The point of copyright law is to encourage people to create. Even the most complicated book or movie or whatever only takes five years to make. I don't see why we want them to keep milking five years of work the rest of their life.

I think something like 20 years (inheritable) is more than enough to encourage them to create it.

However, in cases where a book became popular later in life, I think we could flip around the 5000 copy rule and say that the author retains copyright, no matter what or how long it takes, until 10,000 copies are sold, or whatever number is reasonable. (I have no idea of the percentage of royalties, but I'm aiming for something like about 50% of the time put into the average book.)

Actually, money would work better here, at least for movies. We have movie studios retain copyright, no matter what, until they break 50% of the money put into the movie, then we start following the 5000 copy rule.

It's really hard to figure out how much a writer has put ito a book, though.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]

The problem is contracts (none / 0) (#136)
by jolly st nick on Tue Apr 30, 2002 at 08:35:45 AM EST

Contracts supercede any rights an author has due to law. You cannot expire licenses forcibly; you can only expire the legal protection that the government extends to the copyrights under certain conditions. Therefore while it is possible to make works fall into the public domain, it is impossible to force works to fall back into the control of the author, because his right to make contracts would include his right to sell his future interest in the work. In fact it is quite practical and common for contracts to be written where the author posesss copyright, but all specific rights he would have under copyright have been sold, leaving him with the gutted shell of a legal fiction. I would propose to strengthen the position of authors in negotiating limited term licenses by destroying the value of extended licenses to publishers.

I agree sales of copies is better than author revenues for my purpose. However I believe this should be relative numbers rather than absolute. Books can be valuable in different ways. A book could be valuable to a large number of people, in which case it receives little protection under your scheme. Or it could be valuable to a small number of people (e.g. technical works), in which case it enjoys practically unlimited copyrights.



[ Parent ]

Yes. (none / 0) (#137)
by DavidTC on Tue Apr 30, 2002 at 02:00:26 PM EST

Trying to force people to regain something they own but have licensed is legally very tricky. I don't know if there's anything in contract law that can be used to keep people from selling future rights, but I doubt it. In fact, you can even sell the rights to a copyrighted work before said work exists.

PLus, if that really started happening, book publishers would just write the contracts backwards, forcing authors to give the copyright to someone else, in excange for a contract that said they could do what they want with the copyrigt they no longer own.

Lawyers will always figure out a way around this, so I think it's a losing prepostion. Back to my original idea of expiring copyrights. And, of course, nothing is stopping the author from having a clause in his contract that if the publisher is not selling enough copies, he can license it to another publisher also.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]

Brothers Grimm (4.00 / 1) (#87)
by Happy Monkey on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 02:25:59 PM EST

I wonder what would have happened to Grimm's Fairy Tales under various copyright models. If the brothers Grimm had been required to organize royalties for all of the contributors, would they have been able to make the book? Conversely, if there was no copyright, would they have wanted to make the book in the first place?
___
Length 17, Width 3
A plausible guess (4.50 / 2) (#94)
by thebrix on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 04:51:15 PM EST

What would probably have happened without copyright is that the 'good bits' would've been reproduced in dozens of different forms and also stitched onto works by other authors.

Macaulay missed that one principal driver of copyright, certainly in the case of music, was to have works performed with at least some degree of integrity. By that I mean structural integrity - keeping the various movements, or whatever, in the order of their appearance in the score - not integrity of performance, or playing what was written, which was a rather shaky concept at the time.

Berlioz recalls an 'opera' called 'The Mysteries of Isis' where various arias by Mozart, Weber, Gluck and others were thrown together, along with a few (inferior) compositions of the arranger, to produce a ludicrous travesty. (The original composers were not credited).

He also notes that, in those times - the 1820s and 1830s - copyright didn't extend beyond national boundaries; whenever one of Weber's operas stepped over the German border it was subdivided, taken out of context, transmuted translated, reorchestrated, rewritten ...

[ Parent ]

Gilbert and Sullivan (5.00 / 4) (#105)
by jesterzog on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 09:20:07 PM EST

He also notes that, in those times - the 1820s and 1830s - copyright didn't extend beyond national boundaries; whenever one of Weber's operas stepped over the German border it was subdivided, taken out of context, transmuted translated, reorchestrated, rewritten.

I can't quickly find a reference, but Gilbert and Sullivan had a very similar problem in protecting their operas between England and the USA.

There was a clause somewhere in the copyright law at the time that meant it only actually applied in England (and possibly the US although I'm not sure) after it had been performed in that country. As they were supervising and performing on one side of the world, someone would be recording it and the songs and re-organising it, and by the time the official performance was ready to move, everyone elsewhere would already have seen it.

When The Pirates of Penzance was released in New York at the end of 1879 however, they worked around it by having a single performance staged in England the day before. It wasn't a flashy production, it hardly had an audience besides a few witnesses, and the non-professional actors who were reading directly from the script may as well have been dragged off the street at a minute's notice. It protected the copyright though, which meant they were able to bring the official performance to London in April without any big plagurism problems.


jesterzog Fight the light


[ Parent ]
James Joyce vs. US Copyright (4.50 / 2) (#109)
by Dolohov on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 10:48:44 PM EST

Yes, that's exactly the situation -- in order for an author to claim copyright in the US or Britain, that author's work had to exist in that place. Joyce ran into that full-steam when he published Ulysses, which US authorities deemed too obscene to allow into the country. Because he could not publish or ship it into the US, Joyce had no copyright on Ulysses in the US.

What ended up happening is that the repute of the book led to bootleg copies -- illicit printings full of errors being sold. Joyce could not prosecute, because his book had no copyright, because the US did not allow it to enter the country! (He could, perhaps, have prosecuted according to the obscenity statutes, but he was not about to do that.)

This led to the suit against Customs where the judge sat down and read the whole thing (A feat I have not, myself, duplicated) and determined that it was not legally obscene. At that point, it could be imported to the US, and thus his copyright was recognised.

Some editions of Ulysses have the actual text of the judge's decision as a preface, which is how I learned of the whole thing.

[ Parent ]

Copy integrity (4.33 / 3) (#106)
by jolly st nick on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 09:27:08 PM EST

I wonder about this. In its current form, copyright does not prevent anybody from performing a work in an altered way. For example Toscanini popularized a tempo for Beethoven's fifth symphony that was much, much faster than Beethoven intended, and is pretty much the concert hall standard today. Would this somehow have been prevented if it were still under copyright?

I do agree that copyright does prevent people from making pastiche works as you describe.

This puts a thought in mind, which is that copyright is a metaphor. The word "metaphor" come from greek root words meaning "to carry over"; copyright is an attempt to carry over some of the aspects of real property (in particular excludable benefits) to the expression of ideas. This metaphor has never been entirely satisfactory to people who want some of the things they would get with a real right to intellectual property, such as the rights to control how an idea is used. However, it worked well enough to accomplish the goal set out for it -- to renumerate authors.

The critical characteristic that made this metaphor work was that good copies were hard to make. I believe this still holds true to day for some media and not others. For the average person, e-books are very much inferior to real books, but MP3s are much closer to good enough (people possesing golden ears excepted of course). We are revisting issues like whether intellectual property is a natural right today, because this has ripped off the veil exposing the shaky foundations of the whole metaphorical edifice.



[ Parent ]

Cultural rather than legal reasons (5.00 / 1) (#115)
by thebrix on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 03:56:42 AM EST

The curious thing is that playing works as they are written has 'just happened'. Over the past 50 years or so there's been much more interest in the 'urtext' (what the composer wrote, warts and all) and arrangements and reorchestrations have fallen away. It turns out, quite often, that what seems strange or incompetent now is fine when played using the instruments and performance practices of the time the work was written.

Because of this oddities such as Mahler's reorchestration of Schumann's symphonies (because he thought Schumann couldn't orchestrate properly), or Rimsky-Korsakov's rewriting of some of Mussorgsky's works (because, although Mussorgsky had died suddenly and the works were complete enough to be performed, the harmony and melody were 'crude') have vanished. (Mind you, the arrogance of these actions, in retrospect, is incredible!)

With respect, the Beethoven example is a bad one; whole books have been written about his tempo markings (which were only able to be specified because the metronome had been invented around 1800 :) and, essentially, nobody knows what he meant. A better example is, for example, Bach; in his works, quite often there is only the simplest tempo marking ('moderato', 'allegro') and no dynamic markings whatsoever ('ff', 'p'). Sometimes it isn't even clear what instruments were meant, or the instruments specified have fallen into such obscurity there are no existing copies. So you have to do your best, and all sorts of hints about what should be done have been derived from concert reviews of the time, treatises on playing instruments and so on.

That brings up the 'metaphor' (and the shakiness thereof) clearly; even if the works were copyrighted, good copies are impossible to make because nobody really knows what the original performances of the 1720s and 1730s were like.

[ Parent ]

Missing the point (4.33 / 3) (#96)
by wurp on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 04:54:02 PM EST

He does a great job of demonstrating his point, that making posthumous copyright longer does no good for the copyrighter. However, he's missing the more important point.

If our goal is to do the most good for society, then the goal of copyright has to be to a) get people to produce worthwhile works and b) to make those works available to those who need or want them.

This means that the only sensible goal of giving copyright is to give incentive to the copyrighter, and to support him well enough that he can spend his time producing material, if he serves society better in that capacity than any other. A copyright system that gives more power than that to the copyrighter at the expense, to any degree, of putting the material in the hands of those who need it is a broken copyright system.

Copyright shouldn't last posthumously at all. It shouldn't last for longer than the time needed to produce another worthwhile work, so the producer can make a living doing what serves society (and himself) best.

As another point, if it is possible it makes perfect sense to enforce the sale of copyrighted material (or other intellectual property) at some marginal profit to those who couldn't afford the material at the normal price. The producer of the material makes more than he would otherwise and those in need get access to the material. Within the US, this could be abused by the poor buying books for others at a cheaper cost, although I think this could be caught and punished any time it was done on a large enough scale to impact the industry. However, for poor foreign countries in desperate need of (for example) AIDs medication that they can't afford due to pharmaceutical company mark-ups, I can't see a downside.
---
Buy my stuff
Posthumously (4.33 / 3) (#98)
by Dolohov on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 07:02:33 PM EST

Copyright should last posthumously for a few reasons. First, because for many authors, those copyrights are the only way to take care of a surviving spouse, which I consider a large incentive. Second, it provides an incentive for family members to look for things that had been written but not publish -- Christopher Tolkien's releases of his father's unpublished work may never have happened without the financial incentive to do so.

Lastly, and I hate to say it, the longer the posthumous copyright, the less incentive to kill authors. Take a look at George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". It's one of the best known American classical pieces, and costs advertisers a pretty penny to use. If I recall correctly, this was the case even in his lifetime. If the death of an author or composer gives an immediate financial bonus to people seeking to use that work, then sooner or later, someone's gonna die.

Yeah, that last argument is a bit ridiculous, but not inconceivable. The first two standing alone, however, are I think reason enough to provide ten or twenty years of posthumous copyright.

[ Parent ]

Posthumous Copyright (4.50 / 2) (#103)
by bodrius on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 08:51:42 PM EST

How long does it take for an artist to produce a worthwhile work, and who decides when is it worthwhile? Who benefits more society: Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, J.R.R Tolkien or James Joyce?

Copyright should last at least as long as the author's life, and probably posthumously to give publishers sufficient benefit for them to edit, publish the book, etc.

Basicly, if the monopoly dies with the writer, the risk of publishing certain (old, sick, poor, etc) writers is pretty high. And what happens if the book wasn't finished before the writer dies?

It is common these days for the writer to be published posthumously if he or she has a certain degree of fame, usually edited and completed by some collaborator or intellectual heir. It is also common for the state of a writer to publish unedited material that brings new insight to the work of an artist/author. These are good things.

The trick with the posthumous copyright is to keep it relatively short, so that it does benefit the writer AND the publisher, but it doesn't get imbalanced and out of control (currently the writer is the one who benefits the less in the negotiation).

Another, probably better option, is to eliminate posthumous copyright as you say but replace it with a fork on the copyright expiration: when the author dies OR 25 years after publishing, whatever is the last thing to happen.
Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4, everything else follows...
[ Parent ]
My evolving opinion (5.00 / 2) (#110)
by wurp on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 11:15:21 PM EST

Hmm, your two arguments have definitely convinced me that copyright should be able to last posthumously, but I still think that the way to decide how long copyright lasts should be based on the most good for society, which means it should be as short as possible. In today's society, books can be published and distributed very widely in a very short time. I think 14 years (the original copyright period) is _plenty_ of time for the author to make a reasonable profit from the sale of his book, if such profit is there to be made. I do agree that those 14 years should extend posthumously should the author die before then.

For software copyright, I think something like seven years is much more reasonable (software is easy to copy, thus easy to make more profit from, and on average is applicable for a shorter period of time than a book).
---
Buy my stuff
[ Parent ]

My own scheme (none / 0) (#124)
by jolly st nick on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 09:38:40 PM EST

I believe copyright term should be set to maximize the benefit to authors. Authors benefit from copyright because it can be sold for money. Authors are inhibited by copyright in that they cannot build upon the works of others unless they are long deceased. Thus I would like a scheme which accelerates the movement of works into the public domain while at the same time strengthening the hand of the authors during the shortened copyright term.

If I could dictate how copyright would work, it would work thus: copyright exist for a total term of, say twenty years outside author's control. So long as the author maintains. Leaving the author's control can take three forms:

  1. The author dies.
  2. The author assigns the copyright to somebody else.
  3. The author signs any contract which restricts his rights to use the material or license it to others.

This last point needs some explaining. If the author signs a contract with a publisher which restricts him, say be forbidding him to allow another publisher to print it, then he has signed a contract which abridge his rights (which he is entitled to do). He maintains copyright, but due to the contract this right has no further value to him. At this poing the copyright expiration clock will start ticking. Now what normally happens is that the publisher sells the book for a year, perhaps three or four in 90% of the cases. At that point (usually well before) the book disappears and the royalty checks stop coming. What I would like to encourage is for authors to sign contracts in which their rights return to them after a fixed period where they are not receiving royalties. At this point the copyright expiration clock would stop.

The author could then do nothing, or try taking the book to a different publisher, or try to rework the book so it is marketable again. Or he could sell the remaining copyright to somebody else who might have use for it.



[ Parent ]

I will presume to answer for Macaulay (none / 0) (#128)
by jolly st nick on Sun Apr 28, 2002 at 09:10:31 AM EST

The question is to what degree should we reward men of literary merit*. Macaulay's answer is that we should reward them liberally, and anything which incents them to higher efforts is defensible. The problem with irrational copyright extensions is that they do not benefit authors at all.

Your system would have authors living from hand to mouth. Would an author dare to do a work of doubtful immediate marketability under such a system? It would be a brave author indeed who ventured risked pauperism if he were to aim for a work of artistic merit rather than immediate gain.

From Macaulay's viewpoint, posthumous copyright is acceptable in that it incents authors to greater efforts. There is, of course, the author's desire to make provisions for his family, but more to the point he can convert that posthumous copyright into cold, hard cash in his own hand, in his own lifetime. It is not fair that elderly authors should be penalized in this regard, a topic he covers in his second copyright speech.

---
* I am of course having fun with Macaulay's language. He was quite aware that women produced important literary works, and in fact cites Jane Austen most favorably in Copyright II.



[ Parent ]

Insightful but some oversights.. (3.50 / 4) (#100)
by descsuit on Fri Apr 26, 2002 at 08:01:54 PM EST

Maybe the speech is just dated but I had a few concerns with what is being said here.

In particular, it would seem to encourage publishing houses and other rivals for a copyright to kill the owner (dramatic I admit but I wouldn't put it past some of the big companies out there right now :)

Secondly, this seems very book centric, of course that is due to when it was written. But in other arts and with our current ability to reproduce things, it is often after the artist has died that the majority of the money is made. Now this may not be a problem if the vast majority of artists make most of their money while alive, but I'm not so sure that's the case (anyone have statistics?)

Thirdly, it can significantly lower the value of selling the copyrighted item if the copyright ends with the creators life (a company that protects the writers life to keep their copyright, I feel a story coming on :)

DescSuit

Curiosities involving classical music (5.00 / 2) (#121)
by thebrix on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 02:58:09 PM EST

(Classical music is often overlooked in discussions about copyright, or even music in general. This is a pity as it encapsulates a lot of unusual issues).

The second point appears not to be true for books (see previous point of mine) but it would certainly seem to be true for classical music as there are many composers who're rediscovered. A good example is Mahler, who died in 1911 yet whose music was rarely played, even in Austria, between the 1920s and the 1950s ... when there was a phenomenal revival which continues to this day. (The revival may have occurred out of the copyright period at the time, but it demonstrates the point).

I disagree with the third point. A big problem with long copyrights, extending beyond the creator's life, is that hiring of 20th-century music becomes prohibitively expensive, thus the music is less familiar (talk about self-defeating ordinances - not making the music easily available lowers its value!)

I often wondered why amateur orchestras' repertoire often stopped at about 1900. When my orchestra considering putting on a concert of Shostakovitch (d.1975) and Stravinsky (d.1971) I found that the hiring fees were about four times greater than those for music out of copyright; fortunately, a philanthropist, to whom I'm enormously grateful, stepped in. (Because of the small market, and the difficulty of transcribing existing scores into electronic form, publishers also control non-copyright music to a large extent).

All this has has had a particularly unfortunate effect regarding Rakhmaninov (d.1943); recent extensions of copyright from 'death + 50 years' to 'death + 70 years' means there's still 12 years to wait :/

[ Parent ]

high school band issue (none / 0) (#125)
by R343L on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 11:19:50 PM EST

Similarly, during high school, the band I was in copied music scores all the time...even stuff under copyright. I had asked my director and he said the copying was illegal...but a public high school band in the US can't afford to buy (many) legal copies of a lot of music.

Rachael
"Like cheese spread over too much cantelope, the people I spoke with liked their shoes." Ctrl-Alt-Del
[ Parent ]

How can I be rich when I am dead? (5.00 / 1) (#134)
by SporranBoy on Mon Apr 29, 2002 at 10:29:27 PM EST

The primary point of Babington's speech was that copyright was a form of economic support and incentive to the living author facilitating and rewarding the production of meritorious works.

Therefore, the fact that a given work might produce more money after the author's death should not have any bearing on the details of copyright law, unless one is of the opinion that copyright serves another purpose. In fact, this might be a strong argument for limiting copyright to the lifetime of the author, since it is not in the public interest that their access to such works be restricted to the benefit of a party other than the author.

Of course, Babington was probably not assailed by professional lobbyists and offered a seat on the board of Adobe if he modified his position in line with their aspirations.

[ Parent ]

Thought experiment (none / 0) (#135)
by jolly st nick on Tue Apr 30, 2002 at 08:22:14 AM EST

Suppose I a have a lethal disease that I know will kill me in in a year or two. I decide to write my memoir. If the copyright is going to expire on my death, then the amount I can sell the work for is going to be a lot less, money that I would have enjoyed in what remained of my lifetime.

Publishers might be reluctant to take on books like Gilda Radner's which talked about her having cancer if copyright expired on the author's death.

So you see posthumous copyright, to some degree rewards authors while they are alive. Also, public figures have sometimes written memoirs to support their family when they knew they were going to die soon. There would be little incentive for them to waste any of their remaining life if the copyright was going to be essentially useless.



[ Parent ]

Time worn truths (4.00 / 2) (#112)
by mogador on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 12:31:39 AM EST

This is a superb article. Your footnotes are informative without overpowering the rhetorical flow of the argument. You've got to hand it to the English, its exactly this kind of rational and enlightened thinking that has allowed it remain revolution free for hundreds of years. I'm quite ignorant of politics but I had always assumed that if I ever was a fly on the wall in the Senate I could expect similar insight and subtlety in thinking, maybe I'm just being naive.

About the poll (5.00 / 2) (#116)
by piman on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 02:18:54 PM EST

A "social convention" is still a fiction (by which I assume you mean legal fiction, rather than a work of fiction). I had a hard time voting because I believe copyright is a legal fiction, but it's still a (possibly) valuable legal fiction, and if implemented properly, is a utilitarian fiction (if implemented poorly, it's a fascist or plutocratic fiction).

I had no idea that the poll was so important (none / 0) (#120)
by jolly st nick on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 02:56:18 PM EST

Or I would have given it some more editorial thought. If it is any guide, I read the second option as "a fiction with social utility" and the third as "a fiction with no social utility". In a sense you can divide the poll in two parts rather than three: answer 1 is that there is a natural right to creative works, answer 2a is that there is no such right but it is useful to pretend there is, and answer 2b is that there is no such right and it is damaging to pretend that it is.

[ Parent ]
For PalmOS readers (5.00 / 1) (#117)
by thebrix on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 02:42:23 PM EST

To make reading such a monumental piece easier for some I've created a Plucker version of the article (no fancy formatting, and without the 100+ comments) at:

http://www.thebrixton.btinternet.co.uk/macaulay-copyright.pdb

(It was quite easy to do; 'the daily PDF file', as discussed earlier, could probably also be 'the daily PDB file' :)

Thank you! (none / 0) (#119)
by jolly st nick on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 02:50:52 PM EST

I'm impressed you took this effort. I will definitely take a look at this.

[ Parent ]
Wrap-up: some clarifications and historical notes (5.00 / 6) (#118)
by jolly st nick on Sat Apr 27, 2002 at 02:48:10 PM EST

First, let me thank all of you who have taken the time to read and think about what was, admittedly one of the longest, and hopefully one of the most challenging articles to appear in any web discussion I've seen. You see? There is hope for the elevation of public discourse beyond sloganeering. In conclusion, I would like to make a few clarifying comments about the situation Macaulay was addressing, and to say a few words about the man himself.

It may be of some use to understand how the law stood at the time. The law provided for a copyright term of twenty eight years or until the death of the author whichever was later.

The proposoal of Mr. Talfourd appears to have been to extend copyright to the lifetime of the author plus sixty years (i.e., ten years longer than current US law would give). Judging from Macaulay's second copyright speech on the subject given some weeks later (also excellent but of less theoretical interest), this first speech seems to have hit the supporters of Talfourd's extreme measure like a bombshell. Thrown in to disarray, proponents offered various ammendments addressing the problems Macaulay identified, finally settling on a greatly diluted version of the proposal in which copyrights were to be extended to twenty five years posthumously. If I recall correctly, even this watered down version was defeated 45-38, a margin of 54% to 46%.

Macaulay's support in this speech for a more reasonable form of copyright extension was probably not a rhetorical position. In his second speech, he proposes that the basic copyright term be extended to forty eight years, arguing that this would reduce capricious variation between the protection given to various works, and that it would afford stronger copyright protections to the superior work of an author's maturity.

Macaulay's first copyright speech seems to have been one of the most successful of his career. However, there were many other important ones. He advocated Jewish political rights, more limited work days for child laborers, for the rights of the people of India to take part in their own governance, and for public support of education. In virtually every one of his speeches I've read, he makes points that are of amazing contemporary relevance and show his profound ability to frame a problem in an insightful way. Another feature they have in common is his persuasive way of not minimizing the values and concerns of his opponents, but showing how they can be served better by steering a thoughtful course between extremes of government intevention on one hand, and legislative lassitude and indifference on the other.

On all these issues, Macaulay is on what most people today would consider the right side. It is striking that of all these topics that it is only in area of copyright that our current laws would place us far outside of Macaulay's vision of a moderate, humane and well-governed society.



plus ca change (none / 0) (#129)
by valentine9 on Sun Apr 28, 2002 at 11:11:36 PM EST

Bravo.

[ Parent ]
Macaulay on Copyright | 138 comments (108 topical, 30 editorial, 0 hidden)
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