Copyright in the US [1] is justified by the following amendment to the constitution:

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries [2]

The original intent of copyright, therefore, was to encourage authors to contribute more -- to promote progress in the useful arts!

Conversely, many believe that wherever authors can no longer produce new works because they are dead, or wherever authors are contributing for free anyway such as on a wiki, copyright is being used where it was not intended to be used.

See also: CopyrightTrap, MickeyMouseAct?.

Note that this is orthogonal to the question of CopyLeft. Once we have copyright, we might as well use it to prevent some egoists from taking our work, modifying it, and not contributing it back to the community. The reason it is not contributed back is because their modification is protected by copyright. Thus we make sure that our work is also protected by copyright and only allow them to distribute derived works, if we can in turn distribute derived works based on theirs.

What do you mean "on a wiki?" What kind of wiki? Product documentation for an OpenSource project? WikiAsPIM? Discussion forum? Pattern repository? How about a church newsletter? My personal (on paper) diary? You might as well write replace "a wiki" with anything.

Copyrights weren't meant to encourage authors to contribute. They were meant to give them a lever to return commensurate value back to them in proportion to the value they put into the work.

I don't know about the first copyrights handed out by the Queen in England, but reading LawrenceLessig's book I get the impression that you are wrong. Copyright tries to balance two public interests:

  1. The public wants all content to be available without restrictions.
  2. The public doesn't want authors to stop producing new works.

Therefore we only need copyright where authors are about to stop producing new works. Which is why I believe that the current copyright situation is being perverted in many situations.

To give obvious contradictory examples, companies do not have to release their source code or their factory plans, but they can protect them from being leaked through copyright law. Copyright may encourage contribution to the public domain, but only indirectly. It only provides a lever to authors to reap economic value from their works. This may involve publishing, but it does not necessarily. The value may come only from keeping the information secret, and they have the power to do this.

Patents on the other hand explicitly encourage authors to contribute. They were specifically created to encourage people to publish trade secrets.

Copyrights under the BerneConvention are also meant to control personal writing not suitable for public consumption, such as personal diaries. In the United States, personal diaries were in the public domain until 1978.

The BerneConvention also limits derivations to prevent malignment to the original author's honour and reputation. This right is unwaivable. CopyLeft works must always treat their sources with respect, even if they provide an illusion you can do otherwise. (cf. AvoidIllusion)

I don't nurture that illusion. I'm just not careful in my use of legalese, which is why I don't qualify the term "modify" everywhere. -- AlexSchroeder

Copyright law, however, is not capable of controlling criticism. FairUse is quite liberal in most countries. Parodies and satires can malign the honour and reputation of the original author without violating the BerneConvention.

Patents were meant explicitly to encourage authors to contribute. Copyrights are multivarious.

I don't understand this. It seems true but unrelated to the above? -- AlexSchroeder

You wrote, "The original intent of copyright, therefore, was to encourage authors to contribute more -- to promote progress in the useful arts!"

The intent of copyright was to use the well understood property law that existed at the time as a framework to similarly govern, develop, and control speech (not ideas). Copyright is based on capitalist principles of production and value, which in turn are based on liberalism. One critical aspect of liberalism are the rights of the individual to protect his or her Self from others. Property law already provided sufficient and efficient mechanisms to do so; as it makes sense that other psychic aspects of Self should also be protected, it was cheap and effective to make speech--which is also physical, tangible, and distinct--property.

Note that ideas are very intangible (abstract) and indistinct (no one idea is separate from the context in which it exists). Unlike speech in which you can control directly because you can accurately describe what constitutes that speech (e.g. the text on this page), ideas require a different mechanism of protection. In academia, it is publishing that protects your idea as yours, as credit is the only thing that counts in academic. In innovation, it is patenting. The alternative to patenting are trade secrets, which hurts innovation because this information can be lost. Your description, "to encourage authors to contribute more -- to promote progress in the useful arts!" is the precise definition of patents. I believe you have confused the two.


Define external redirect: MickeyMouseAct

EditNearLinks: LawrenceLessig WikiAsPIM BerneConvention FairUse OpenSource AvoidIllusion