There's been a lot of discussion (and by that I mean hysterical blogging) about a proposed new copyright law in Canada, Bill C-61.

Basically it says that because so many people ignored copyright laws, new DVDs will be sold with copy protection so that if you buy one, you can't download it to your own iPod. You'll have to buy a second version for that.

Oh, of course it says a lot more and people are trying to twist it all kinds of ways, and it has brought the whole concept of copyright into question by some people, most notably a couple of University of Ottawa professors. It gets complicated, what with so many people voluntarily giving away their writing online and claiming there's a difference between the "text" and the "book" (which may be true for them, but not for everyone).

My guess is most people here like the idea of copyright. One of my favourite quotes in this debate is:

"Creators need access to the works of others to create. Legislative changes premised on the “need” to give copyright owners more control over their works must be rejected."

Almost makes it sound like it's in our best interest to give up copyright of our work.

They call it "Appropriation Art" and have some slick websites:

http://www.appropriationart.ca/51st-state

Anyway, this is mostly Canadian right now (they claim the problem is American companies wanting too much control of Canadian laws - like I said, it gets complicated and into many different issues), so some people here might be interested.

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I like the balance spelled out in the US constitution (sorry for being US-centric): in Article I the congress is given the right "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."

So you have incentives to create, but you also bear in mind that this exclusivity is for a common good. Hence "limited time." Congress currently defines this as the owner's lifetime plus seventy years. Stand by for an even longer definition when Mickey Mouse reaches a certain age.

The big problem is that culture depends on a certain amount of sharing and borrowing and mixing, and the changing landscape for art as property in a digital environment sets up a serious conflict between locking things up and sharing in ways that threaten profit. (Having the profit go to large corporations also changes the equation. They have lobbyists.)

In collision with all that is the need to compete for attention. Locking things up works against attention, but free works against sustainable economics.

We live in interesting times.
Interesting for sure.

It looks right now like the struggle is between 'users' to lower the seventy years to zero, and corporate owners looking to extend it to infinity.

As usual, the artists are nowhere in the discussion.

A few years ago I would have given it to the owners of Mickey Mouse in a walk, but new corporate entities (suppliers of internet connections, mostly) have a stake in the zero ends of things and they have lobbyists, too.

I think the lifetime plus seventy is still a good compromise (well, no, I wish what I create could benefit my kids, even just a tiny bit, but i see the need to compromise).
I'm not sure why everyone automatically feels that art would be priced out of reach if royalty fees had to paid. It's not like Dickens outsells all those people being paid royalties now. Royalties make up such a small percentage of the cost, I don't see how it makes much difference.

I guess I can see that maybe I'd want to use some other writer's characters in something and I might not make them look good, so I wouldn't want to ask permission. But it does feel rude.
To put it succinctly: Pay me for my work!

Essentially that means everyone who reads a book should pay something to make it possible for the author to live and go on working.

We have discussed elsewhere the protection that exists for music which is sold much the same way books are. I think books should be similarly protected.
This law (I'm Canadian) is ridiculous. It has little to do with artists rights, unfortunatley. The Canadian gov (Conservative, minority, hated) spoke with US lobyists, yet didn't bother to speak to a single Canadian group that has anything to do with music or entertainment here. Luckily the gov will get a good battle out of this in the fall. Or at least we hope so. They need to make something that actually works.
I guess in something with as much constant change as technology we can't expect to carve something in stone. And artists have always had a tough time with rights on their own because they usually have to partner with someone if they want to move from pure art into art for money. That's where it gets tricky. I know some people would say the fight those third parties vs artists, but it's not that simple, either.

Unfortunately this is a debate which gets hysterical pretty quickly. It would be nice to see some reasonable discussion. I can't find any online, that's for sure.
I think it would be good for copyright to last 10 years, and then you have to manually renew it. You could renew it online and for free. That way, the stuff that isn't being used anymore can go into public domain, and those that want to hang onto ownership, can easily. Win win.
I'm with you on this. The vast majority of books covered by copyright are out of print and it's very difficult to find out who owns the rights. (The author vanished, the publisher is out of business...) There's currently "orphan works" legislation in the works in the US, but it's codifying a very high standard for research that will defeat most uses of this work, so essentially - most publications can't be used. It's a huge problem for scholars and anyone else who wants to quote or teach from a work that is out of print and the rightsholders are awol.
Yes, that all sounds reasonable. It would be so nice to have some reasonable discussion around this topic.

Thanks!
It sure is. It's pretty much transferring it from publishers, studios and record companies to phone companies and internet providors. I'm sure they'll work it out between themselves (I don't know if we'll still get the few scraps we've been getting).

I see it as an amusement park and the shift from paying for each ride individually the way we used to, to a "play all day pass," like they have now.

I'm not sure why people aren't worried about more big brother/government control when everything we now (or very soon) acquire will come, if not from the same source, then through the same line.

It's always been illegal for teachers and students to photocopy things and it was never a problem unless it was abused. I find it frustrating sometimes that there's been such a denial of the abuse that's been going on. Even from artists.

Yes, where's the middle ground?
I'm not altogether sure where we're headed with this. The current U.S. copyright laws seem satisfactory to me. They protect me and my heirs against others profiting from my work. Use of material for educational purposes has always been tolerated. I doubt any author would refuse premission. Use of material to augment another's book must be acknowledged in the text or you have a case of plagiarism.
The existence of electronic copying does raise some questions, especially when certain powerful entities like Google resort to wholesale and careless copying without the author's permission. (In my case, one of the google-book texts managed to give away the solution of the mystery).

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