Saturday, September 11, 2010


Ah, copyright law, is there any malfeasance it cannot do? In my life I've "bought" assorted computer programs for myself, my kids, my uncle... physical copies with fancy packaging (that I promptly lost) which take up shelf space in my living room. But I now discover I did not, in fact, "buy" anything at all. I rented. And I do not own these pieces of software, if they contain licenses for use. The Supreme Court says that license is not transferable, as it has been since 1909. My ancient copies of "Family Tree Maker" and "Encarta" and Berlitz are not actually mine- because I am not permitted to sell them. Mind you, not that there's anyone out there who'd actually want my twelve year old copy of FTM, but if they did, I couldn't pop it into a yardsale and let it go for a quarter- because Ancestry (who bought the company) isn't making any money on that quarter. And If I do it, I might be jailed or fined or what have you, like a proper criminal.

And of course, if "shrinkwrap" licensing can apply to software, why can't it apply to everything else? Put a sticker on the book covers, cd covers, etc "Thou shalt not sell or give license to use this product." The First Sale doctrine is dead.

When will the public wake up and realize how much the changes in copyright law have taken from us? I talk about this with most people and get glazed eyes, confusion, or outright hostility. "Why shouldn't copyright be forever? Why shouldn't people get paid for their work?"

And that is NOT the issue. Of course people should be paid for their work- because if they aren't then they've no incentive to go on working and creating new things. But where does that right stop? How long and for how much are we on the hook? Because if copyright is eternal, then ownership never transfers. IDEAS will never transfer, never go viral and morph and change into new things. Cultural transmission will be hampered and crippled, and society as a whole will be impoverished, rather than enriched.

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