That’s just (copy)wrong

On July 7 the FT had a good opinion piece on the role of copyright as it relates to online freedom. The point was that we’re kowtowing to a set of principles which – while claiming to support the creation of culture and content – is doing exactly the opposite.

If you search for Elvis Presley in Wikipedia, you will find a lot of text and a few pictures that have been cleared for distribution. But you will find no music and no film clips, due to copyright restrictions. What we think of as our common cultural heritage is not “ours” at all.

Christian Engström, Pirate Party member of the European parliament

I was thinking of this issue especially as I’m reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – a literary mashup that augments Jane Austen’s classic with a new zombie and ninja subplot. It does so much right – taking a familiar story, mixing it, twisting it and making it something new.

Now what would happen if someone were to try to do the same with a current contemporary formulaic novel? There are plenty of commodity authors out there but good luck to you if you were to try to play with that content . . .

Copyright isn’t about protecting and supporting creativity – copyright is about protecting and supporting commercial interests – and more often than not that interest is at least one step removed from the content creator.

Maybe when the tools for content production and distribution were out of the reach of most copyright as it’s currently understood made sense – but now, do we need to have commercial interests dictating the rules of the game when it comes to creativity?

As the opinion piece points out, copyright was intended to foster cultural production – not avarice. But that’s what it’s become. I can’t agree with the author that wholesale distribution of copyrighted works ought to be encouraged; but derivative works that add to rather than diminish our shared culture ought to be applauded.

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