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Copyrights are commonplace in our world. We explore where they came from, what their purpose is and how to understand the tradeoff they represent.

  • Library of Alexandria
    • Legend has it that ships were searched and all books found were copied
    • Original copies of great historical works were brought here
    • In several incidents the library burned and tremendous knowledge was lost
  • Public Domain: Anciently, all works were in the public domain. If you made a copy it was yours. The act of copying was difficult.
  • 1476 things change
    • The printing press was brought to England
    • It became significantly easier to make copies of books and other similar works
    • The king starts to get crazy about people publishing things that were false, or worse, critical of the crown
    • Licensing of the Press Act (1662) gave authority to regulate printing (i.e. the press itself) to licensed publishers.
    • This was control on the technology, not the work
  • Statute of Anne
    • First public copyright law
    • 1710 - successor to the Licensing of the Press Act
    • Came about because the publishers wanted their previous monopoly but couldn’t get parliament to agree
    • It gave a 14 year term with a 14 year renewal - focus was on benefit to the authors rather than publishers
    • This was to control the work, not the technology
    • Following the 14 (or 28) years, the work entered the public domain
  • Why copyright?
    • US Constitution Section 8, Clause 8: “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;”
    • The social contract - We get more good works in return for the author getting time to make money. The works are for the public good.
    • Public domain is the final destination for the “public good” as it allows new works to be created
  • Fair Use
    • Purpose: Balance public good against the author’s interests
    • Four factor test
      • Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
      • Nature of copyrighted work
      • Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
      • Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work
  • Changing Technologies and types of copyrights
    • Music
    • Movies and TV
    • The Internet
  • Happy Birthday Song
    • Written by two people
    • Basically the same as “Good Morning To You”
    • Copyright owned by Warner Brothers
    • Aggressively enforced
    • Public Good?


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