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My latest Guardian column, “Copyright, companies, individuals and news: the rules of the road,” is a start on a coherent framework for a copyright system that recognizes the difference between commercial use and non-commercial use, incidental copying and unfair copying, and many of the other exceptions that copyright needs to keep from devolving into a stupid caricature of itself:

We’re trying to retrofit the rules that governed multi-stage rocket ships (huge publishing conglomerates) to cover the activity of pedestrians (people who post quotes from books on their personal blogs). And the pedestrians aren’t buying it: they hear that they need a law degree to safely quote from their favourite TV show and they assume that the system is irredeemably broken and not worth attending to at all.

It’s an impossible situation. As an author, I depend on there being some rules of the road when I negotiate with my publishers, and it’s in every commercial creator’s interest to try to find a moderate, coherent copyright rule that avoid dumb absolutes in favour of nuance and fairness. I don’t pretend that I have all the answers, but here’s some of the principles that I think a good copyright system must embrace if is to succeed. Many of these principles are already in various nations’ copyright rules as part of “fair dealing” or “fair use,” but these user-rights in copyright are complex and difficult to navigate and vary from country to country.

Copyright, companies, individuals and news: the rules of the road

(Image: Breach of Copyright – The Independent, from PeteZab’s photostream)

3 Responses to “Sane copyright doesn’t treat all copying as the same”

  1. turn.self.off

    i would add that sane copyright do not treat all copyrighted material the same. Books have a shelf life thats potentially 10 times as long as computer software, for example.

  2. Jason

    This is tangentially related. I’ve been looking into ebook user agreements because we are a small educational publisher with an increasing demand for PDF’s of our material.

    I find it ironic that nearly everyone who has published some sort of user/license agreement in order to protect their digitized intellectual property has plagiarized the wording of the license agreement.

    This phrase, for example, turns up everywhere from WGBH in Boston to tiny one person literary magazines.

    “You may not copy, print, alter, delete, publish, transfer, transmit, sell, resell, create derivative works from, or in any way exploit any of this ebook content.”

    Check the google.

    I don’t know if this wording has become like air and is free due to its ubiquity, but most of the places that use this put a copyright notification at the bottom of their plagiarized agreement.

    BTW – My 9 year old and I just finished listening to the Martian Chronicles podcast together, and we loved it. Would it be pushy to ask for Part II so we can continue to follow the exploits of the chums?

  3. e.lee

    I’m a writer too and can relate to this post. Yet more mud and crap stirred up in the murky waters of intellectual property laws.

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