R. A. Hettinga on Fri, 22 Mar 2002 02:09:54 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Re: St. Columba: The patron saint of copyleft...

--- begin forwarded text

Status:  U
Date: Thu, 21 Mar 2002 10:18:03 -0500
From: Somebody
To: "R. A. Hettinga" <rah@shipwright.com>
cc: Other folks...
Subject: Re: St. Columba: The patron saint of copyleft...

It's a little bit more complex than that and the public benefit aspect is
almost a side effect. In law, however twisted by modern sensibilities,
copyright has its origins in the English Stationers Act of 1556, which
basically established perpetual monopolies for printers of liturgical and
other texts and created a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) scenario that
preserved the status quo and prevented heretical texts ("The King is Devil
Spawn of a Mule's Arsehole!") from influencing and exciting the public.
Stationer companies with copyright could literally hunt down unlicensed
presses and destroy them. Wayward stationers companies could be put out of
business by a swing of the monarch's pen.  (Gosh, does this bear any
resemblence to our FCC?) In 1710, however, the Statute of Anne established
copyrights for *creators* that could be maintained up to twenty-eight
years, after which their works passed into the public domain. This is
really the antecedent of our modern copyright law. Creators got protection
to reward them for their innovative expression and the public was enriched
with new ideas and knowledge. Still, it is important to point out that the
politics of the Statute of Anne were complex, driven not entirely by
unalloyed beneficence. A large part of its motivation was to get control
of "pirate" publishers in Scotland - then only recently incorporated into
the U.K. - who were exporting high-quality texts, undercutting
crown-licensed contemporaries in London.  In other words, there was a
little bit of market influence that nudged this relatively progressive law
into being.  That's what we should be looking for now.  I've been asking
the Scots what they're going to do next to inspire advances in copyright
and they've told me to patient. They'll have an answer any day now.

> The facile opposite of copyright is, I suppose, public domain. But then
> copyright was supposedly invented to entice creation into the open that would
> otherwise have remained secret (or un-made), so depending on whose
> politics you subscribe to, the functional opposite of copyright may well
> be "trade secret". Would the monk have lent his manuscript, had he known
> of the intent to copy without compensation?
> <Somebody's .sig>
> P.S.: Great story.

--- end forwarded text

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah@ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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