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The "Copyright Black Hole" Swallowing Our Culture 278

An anonymous reader writes "James Boyle, professor at Duke Law School, has a piece in the Financial Times in which he argues that a 'copyright black hole is swallowing our culture.' He explains some of the issues surrounding Google Books, and makes the point that these issues wouldn't exist if we had a sane copyright law. Relatedly, in recent statements to the still-skeptical European Commission, Google has defended their book database by saying that it helps to make the Internet democratic. Others have noted that the database could negatively affect some researchers for whom a book's subject matter isn't always why they read it."
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The "Copyright Black Hole" Swallowing Our Culture

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  • Democratic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) * on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:21PM (#29342547)

    helps to make the internet democratic.

    Lets ask ourselves how many governments around the world don't want the Internet to be more democratic.

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:32PM (#29342645)

    There's no problem as long as the population actually believe they live in a democratic country.

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shikaku ( 1129753 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:37PM (#29342669)

    We're too lazy

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mascot ( 120795 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:39PM (#29342705)

    There are valid reasons to think twice before allowing online voting. The most common being that it's impossible to verify that the voter is not being influenced by someone at the time of voting.

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jurily ( 900488 ) <jurily@g m a i l . com> on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:47PM (#29342779)

    Exactly [].

  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:49PM (#29342801) Homepage

    I think we can almost take it for granted that current copyright policy is damaging to our cultural development. How could it not be to have all our creative expression tied up and limited based on whether or not someone created something similar? However, whenever the whole issue gets raised, questions get quashed by talking about "the economy" and economic benefits bestowed on certain groups by copyright.

    Those are certainly issues to think about. By what means would authors and songwriters make money if copyright ceased on exist, or even was much more limited? What happens to all the jobs created by the publishing industry, the music industry, and the movie industry? It's particularly a concern in the US because we don't manufacture very much anymore, and a lot of what we export are our ideas and creative works.

    On the other hand, what almost no one talks about is the economic waste generated by all this. The broken window fallacy [] doesn't just apply to damage, but it applies to all money that need not be spent. How much money do businesses spend figuring out copyright issues, dealing with lawyers to protect copyrights or to defend against copyright lawsuits? How much more cheaply could Google do this indexing if the restrictions were eased? If movies and music and books were cheaper, then we would have the extra money in our pockets to spend on other things.

    We keep hearing about how much money is "generated" by creative industries, and how big a portion of our economy they represent. The information is always offered as evidence that these industries need to be protected, because of the economic damage caused by loss of jobs and loss of profit. However, there's a flip-side to that coin. All that money they're making is coming from somewhere. I'm not claiming it's a zero-sum game because it's not that simple, but for all the billions of dollars these industries make, there's a question of how that money would be spent and where it would go if the government weren't actively protecting fat profit margins for these business models.

  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:53PM (#29342831)'ll know when you do it, though; a squad of lawyers will show up on your doorstep with a $1 bill, a quitclaim agreement, and a host of delightful comments upon the hazards of a lifetime spent in courtrooms - particularly when considered in light of circumstances and how the latter affects your ability to retain good legal representation...

    That would be the perfect opportunity for me to show up at the other side of the door with a shotgun and an attitude.

    Seriously, the more unreasonable the laws become, the greater the self-justification for breaking them, whether by shotgun, or P2P digital file sharing.

  • The Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KwKSilver ( 857599 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:55PM (#29342847)
    Nothing short of eternal copyright and unlimited damages has any chance of satisfying the copyright cartel... and even that may not be enough as their desires are limited only by their imaginations. Like two year olds they want the moon, the stars and ... EVERYTHING. They think that they are divine.
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:59PM (#29342893) Homepage
    If a work of art does not make any money for the author in 10 years, it will never make real money. If in ten years you have a hit, then you will have made so much more money that the next ten years is not worth all that much. The TINY amount of cash that art makes past he 10 year mark supports the distributors, not the artists. Why because they make pennies from thousands of low level 'successes'.

    Simple solution is copyrights work for ten years, plus another 10 if you have a full sized derivative work, 5 years if you make a smaller work. (The derivatives get 10 years from their own creation).

    This pays the artists a fair amount of cash, keeps the publishers/distributors in business, yet allows people to do reasonable fair use.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:31PM (#29343165)

    The "broken window fallacy" was a pro-capitalist argument made by someone arguing against Keynesian economics and the use of government spending for economic stimulus. It had nothing to do with copyright reform. You could as easily twist Hazlitt's argument as saying that this justifies shoplifting at the mall, since that leaves customers with more money in their pockets to buy other things with.

    But I appreciate that the "broken window fallacy" has a hipness factor here, that can be used to help validate an argument by association, even where it doesn't apply. Maybe you can work Benjamin Franklin into your post next time, as well.

    Incidentally Hazlitt's actual argument was one-sided and simplistic - it was like Aristotle arguing that heavy objects fall faster than light ones, without actually having done the experiment - but that is neither here nor there.

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) * on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:33PM (#29343191)

    When the english speaking white man will stop expecting my language to become english by virtue of my shared skin color, we'll talk.

    That actually is incorrect. The reason a particular language becomes a so-called lingua franca has much more to do with economics than politics, racism or anything else. You just have to follow the money.

    The dominant military and/or economic power in any given period in history generally finds its language becoming popular, if nothing else because of all the other countries who wish to do business with it. So yes, I guess you could say that the United States (and the British Empire before it) expect those of other nations to speak English, if they wish to do business with us. Otherwise we don't particularly care.

    Furthermore, in many parts of the world the local dialects are so thoroughly fragmented that people from one village often can't understand the native tongue of those a few miles away. Take Africa for example: widespread knowledge of both English and French have done much to facilitate communication among the various peoples of that continent. Want to do business with a neighboring town? Best learn English (or, as I said, French, since they had a huge influence there as well.) So you may find your ego being bruised by having to learn a language that is not your own but, historically, that's the breaks. And when the American economic empire finally falls (and we're on the way down, now) whoever takes up the reins will force us all to learn their language. Which, oddly enough, will probably be English since China is on the way to becoming the next economic (if not military) superpower, and the Chinese are making a heavy investment in the English language. Last I heard, there were more people learning English there than the entire population of the United States.

    So get used to it. The English language is not going away any time soon.

  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:41PM (#29343261) Homepage Journal

    Its the lawyers that are swallowing our culture.

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by agnosticnixie ( 1481609 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:42PM (#29343275)
    -1 Strawman
  • Re:Democratic? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) * on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:46PM (#29343313)

    -1 Strawman

    -2 Missed point.

  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:57PM (#29343389)

    It's not the lawyers - they are only enablers. It's people who HIRE lawyers, and the citizens who fail to demand a stop to the insanity be enacted by their legislators who cause the problem.

  • by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:59PM (#29343407) Homepage Journal
    It's not just copyright swallowing our culture, which is why I find it ironic that this is being discussed by people on an American site, talking about an American company. It's about time the EU started actually standing up for the people it represents instead of wealthy American corporations.

    I mean bitching at MS about IE and WMP is all well and good, but when the basic standard for proving you can operate a computer - the European Computer Driving Licence [] - is nothing more than a short training course in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, it makes you wonder whose side they're on. At least call it Office skills or something. Why are we entrenching a foreign corporation on one hand and complaining about it on the other ? It qualifies you to operate a computer in the same way operating a washing machine qualifies you as an electrical engineer. You even get points for putting your name in the right place FFS.

    (The tests in that zip are last years version - the new ones mean you have to use vista and Office 2007. They also dropped the Access section completely. Those files have not touched a Windows computer since I got them from the British Computer Societys web site.)

    Some jokers are charging £500 for that shit (training and test). I'd get into it myself, except I would never ever feel clean again.

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @04:01PM (#29343435)
    You're missing the point, on a very shallow level you have a point, if you want to be elected, you're probably going to have to be either a Democrat or a Republican. But as a side effect of having only 2 parties, you get unintended consequences like the people within the party being less likely to go along with the party platform on any given issue.

    There's no reason to dump the current system rather than make a couple of minor adjustments to remedy the worst of it. Moving to a system like we have in WA or they have in IA where the winners don't get to do the districting is a substantial step towards genuine democracy. Taking another step by moving to a form of primary such as the top two where the candidates that best appeal to the voters get advanced rather than getting an automatic opportunity for all parties is another significant step.

    It's also worth pointing out that Canada and the various EU member states have their own problems. Sure they have a huge number of parties, but it doesn't magically improve the quality of the legislation or legislators. That takes a lot of work and for the population to be both informed and care.
  • Why?

    It is an unnecessary complication. One automatic 20 year term, and one optional 10 year extension should satisfy any artist.

  • by sadler121 ( 735320 ) <> on Monday September 07, 2009 @04:13PM (#29343533) Homepage

    The Copyright and Patent laws of 1790 are, imo, is sufficient enough to "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;".

    14 year copyright, with a 14 year extension, and 17 years for a patent is enough. Authors and Inventors shouldn't be allowed to rest on their laurals for the rest of their lives, but actually contribute to society, which is what the original copyright and patent laws provided for. [] []

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Requiem18th ( 742389 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @04:28PM (#29343679)

    Indeed as a fan of artificial languages (conlangs constructed languages) I once wanted to see one used for international communications (specifically an IAL international auxiliary language).

    Rick Harrison, a prominent figure in the international conlang community wrote an essay [] on why IAL will never work. Essentially the point is that people don't choose to agree on a common language, instead whoever wants to start conversation learns the other language first.

    The up side is that you don't *have* to learn English, just be the best burger seller in your country and McDonald's will send someone to ask to buy your business in *your* own language.

  • Science vs Art (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Samy Merchi ( 1297447 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @05:33PM (#29344207) Homepage

    What most people are talking about when they talk about these copyright issues are the copyrighting and/or trademarking of artistic creations.

    What's rarely brought up is the fact that there's a very analogous system in the world, too. For scientific creations, there's such a thing as patents. Patents are basically copyright for scientific inventions, as opposed to artistic inventions.

    Now, if we compare patents to copyright, the vast disparity in protection length becomes obvious. In most countries, patents protect the exclusivity of scientific inventions for 15-25 years.

    Artistic inventions are protected for *95* years. That is to say, 4-5 times longer.

    Why? What makes them worth so much longer a protection than scientific inventions get?

    The purpose of exclusivity expiring eventually (that is, not being forever) is to release the invented concept into the public domain so that the general public can eventually benefit from making use of the invention in whatever way society feels fit.

    However, this right of the general public is by and large being denied at present when it comes to artistic inventions. Copyright terms are being extended and extended by Disney and other megacorporations because they don't want their big brands to become public property.

    Imagine if Alexander Bell would have retained exclusive rights to the telephone for 95 years. The patent was issued in 1876. That means the telephone would have become public domain in 1971! The steam turbine would have become available to the general public in 1979 and barbed wire in 1982. The roller coaster and the diesel engine would have expired in 1993.

    More importantly, what things would still be patented? We'd be waiting for the zipper to expire in 2012. Aerosol cans would become available in 2022, electric shavers in 2023. Radar wouldn't fall out of protection until 2030.

    Imagine how much slower technology would have advanced if things like *zippers* would have to be licensed in order to be used in clothes.

    Excessively long protection times directly harm the public, whether it be in the field of our scientific development or in the field of our artistic development.

  • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @05:35PM (#29344233) Journal

    I think we can almost take it for granted that current copyright policy is damaging to our cultural development
    That's because most right's holders have an intolerable sense of entitlement and really want protection in perpetuity. There is an implied contract with society and the right's holders, we provide you with a legal framework to protect your economic interest in creative works an in return the work passes into the public domain after a defined period of time. By extending the copyright period I feel my future compensation has been seized without being compensated for the loss, I paid my taxes what happened to just compensation?

  • Re:Bad news.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by schon ( 31600 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @06:21PM (#29344531)

    You're missing my point (and simply regurgitating what PopeRatzo wrote.)

    The point isn't that some people will do it for free, the point is that we're stuck in a place where it doesn't matter, because everybody thinks copying anything is illegal.

    Lawrence Lessig says that most lawyers aren't sure if it's even possible [] to put something in the public domain anymore. And if it's not in the public domain, then someone owns it - and if someone owns it, it's not part of our culture.

  • Re:Democratic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by linhares ( 1241614 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @06:38PM (#29344635)
    Hi! Sorry I'm lost. Is this the thread about the copyright blackhole?
  • Re:Democratic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Keen Anthony ( 762006 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @07:43PM (#29345099)

    You're just ethnocentric about your language, and ignorant about other cultures since you don't know...

    Actually, I am a native German speaker. English was my second language. I think you showed more ignorance there than I did. You can attack me for favoring English all you want, but you didn't actually counter anything I wrote did you? No, you didn't. The fact remains, English has a competitive advantage over other languages that will guarantee that English will continue to thrive on the Internet. If you want hedge your bet on the computing world adopting written Cantonese, go for it.

    And no, that's not how all language works. If you studied language, you'd learn this. There are a number of languages that are fairly stagnant. I never said *exclusive*. I said it is a major feature. And I gave an example how said feature works well. Perhaps you required more comparative examples in the other languages I know? I'm sorry, I just didn't have time to meet your exacting demands.

    Modded for informative? Hardly.

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault