Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fair Use and Unfair Use

There is much talk among the intelligentsia who know what is good for us of the perversity of the current copyright law. One of the elements being attacked is the Fair Use provision. Because of the strident voices of people such as Lawrence Lessig and Kembrew McLeod (in his book Remix), many, many people are taking objections to the limitations on Fair Use as a license to take "Fair Use" into the realm of unfair use. That is, to copy and share nearly whole chapters from books, complete short stories from anthologies, songs from CDs, and so on.

No, neithre Lessig nor McCleod are telling people to steal and share music, videos, etc. But the buzz about the work of each has transformed the claims against copyright law from just attacks on the evil establishment's unfair regulation into attacks on individual artists. And Lessig & Co. do nothing to discourage this. They throw up corporate greed as examples, obscuring recognition of the invidual artist's right to compensation. (Often the copyright holder is the artist, not a coporate entity.)

Meanwhile, the artists aren't consulted and often some potential for just compensation for their work is destroyed.

In many ways, the attack on copyright is a "Remix" of the 1960s revolution, although--weekend hippies that they probably were in the 1970s--people like Lessig seem to miss the fact that the only people who attacked individuals during the Sixties revolution were the crazed and criminal: the Charles Manson gang and the bombers whose explosions killed innocents.

But, what do I know? I'm not one Who Knows What Is Good For Us. I don't even have a degree. Besides, I digress ...

Getting back to Fair Use, asking permission for Fair Use is not a simple technical consideration. Nor is defining Fair Use an unfair, arbitrary limitation on freedom of expression. It is, first and foremost, a professional courtesy among writers, to let them know their ideas are useful or worthy of critical remark, and are being spread. It is appreciated. Often the quoted writer will buy a copy of the book that contains the quote. And this way, using someone else's work to make a point is honest and in the light, rather than being a furtive, clandestine activity.

The specific (or interpreted) limitations on Fair Use weren't intended to stifle free expression. Rather, the intent was to ensure against diluting the value of a book or other work to the point where no one would need or want to consult it.

Postscript: One wonders why Lessig's and McCleod's books even have copyright notices. For that matter, perhaps they ought to be free downloads, or given away by the Concord Free Press, which makes books available to bookstores and other outlets at no cost, to give away.

Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks, On the Way to the Web

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