Who is copyright for?

Here's Google's senior copyright counsel, William "Patry on Copyright" Patry, with a pithy little zinger about the idea that copyright law is made for creators:
While one hears, constantly, corporate chieftains claiming that they're out there fighting for the creators, we all know that is b.s.: the creators are merely an expense item on a balance sheet, to be reduced as much as possible. We also hear politicians make similar paeans to creators, yet when was the last piece of legislation that was passed that benefited creators at the expense of corporations? When was the last time you heard a government official suggest such a thing?
Barbara Ringer (via Blogzilla)

26

  1. Well, if copyright doesn’t benefit the creators of content, how about we just do away with it entirely?

  2. Wow. The CEO of Google, who wants to digitize all written knowledge (and is having difficulty doing so due to copyright laws), questions the value of copyright laws?

    I’m shocked, shocked, to learn that gambling is going on in this establishment…

    Sk

  3. As a creator with no corporate affiliation, I can assure you that copyright DOES benefit me, even if the powers-that-be crafted the laws with their own selfish interests at heart.

    Patry makes the mistake in logic that Cory makes all the time: just because there is abuse of copyright out there, they think the premise itself is flawed.

    Following that logic, we shouldn’t have any laws at all, because corporate America will always abuse them any time they can. So I guess we should do away with tax law, FDA regulations, SEC regulations, etc. That’ll show ’em!

  4. …and all this time I didn’t think copyright was *for* the creators at all! I thought it was supposed to be for the *public* good…

    (At least in the USA– that’s how it’s defined in the constitution. Progress of useful sciences and arts and all of that.)

  5. This chap works for an extremely large corporation, so must be expressing that corporation’s belief that “creators are merely an expense item on a balance sheet, to be reduced as much as possible”, in order, presumably, to increase their own profits.

    On the other hand, he is a corporate “chieftain” himself, so whatever he claims on the matter of copyright is, pretty much by his own definition of what corporate chieftains do, self-serving b.s.

    So it is hard to know what to think.

  6. Just eliminate the damn middlemen. They don’t help the system, they just make everything more expensive and I’m sure they know that.

  7. Rob Knop is exactly right – copyright isn’t supposed to be for the creators OR for the corporations, it’s supposed to be a public good. The fact that creators or corporations benefit is a side effect of the public good, not the intent.

  8. Folks, read carefully. He’s not saying that copyright doesn’t benefit creators. He’s saying that corporations and legislators are not working in the best interests of the creators with respect to copyright and new laws regarding it.

  9. @ Chris #6

    Just eliminate the damn middlemen.

    Who are the middlemen you refer to? If they are the corporate media giants, vote with your wallet: listen only to non-commercial radio (not NPR, they have sponsors, too), don’t read books from major publishers, don’t read most newspapers and, above all, turn off the TV.

    I don’t mean this sarcastically, I really do mean that you should act accordingly if you are so dissatisfied with the system.

  10. Just turn off the TV anyway.

    Copyright – if people aren’t rewarded for their work, they don’t really try very hard. Ref ex USSR – nothing happening!

  11. @Bingothechimp: Patry doesn’t argue against copyright – you’re putting words in his blog that quite simply are not there. Neither did Patry in the blog piece argue that copyright is fundamentally flawed.
    If there was any point made about copyright in the blog, it was that when corporations are in the picture THEN creators are not favored by copyright. Would you mind addressing this issue instead of the straw-man?

    Regards
    Fake

  12. Patry is advocating the interests of “Google”, his own corporate behemoth. After all, who would most benefit from Google’s project of digitalization of copyrighted material, not the publishers, not the creators, but not the public in general either.

  13. “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”

    There, that was easy.

  14. @Bingothechimp: You are confusing Cory’s repudiation of *DRM* for his position on copyright, I think.

  15. The middlemen aren’t ENTIRELY useless.
    In my case, quite helpful, in fact.
    I’m a freelance photog and by pure chance discovered that someone at a highly respected art museum had lifted one of my images from Flickr and published it under a false name in a 350,000 run brochure for the city.
    Now, if the middlemen hadn’t defined a pricing structure for us, I would have no idea that the image is worth around $1k with that exposure. (That’s before my lawyer whacks on the 100% damages surcharge.)
    We just have to define middlemen clearly

  16. Yes, copyright is for the public good. The whole point of it was to enlarge the amount of creative works. It has been twisted obviously, but it was a fine idea.

    Silly things like the GPL and Creative Commons licenses wouldn’t be possible without copyright law after all.

  17. Yes, copyright was twisted. Just look at the Sonny Bono/Mickey Mouse act. “….by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors” …..RIP.

  18. I suppose it’s not surprising that the copyright house of cards is built on such flimsy inaccuracies.

    The only valid copyright justification is that it benefits the public as a whole, not creators or businesses.

  19. Government regulations will always benefit the wealthy relative to the not-wealthy, because the former can hire lawyers and lobbyists to make sure those regs work in their favor. There’s really no way around this.

  20. @FAKE51

    Patry doesn’t argue against copyright – you’re putting words in his blog that quite simply are not there. Neither did Patry in the blog piece argue that copyright is fundamentally flawed.

    If there was any point made about copyright in the blog, it was that when corporations are in the picture THEN creators are not favored by copyright. Would you mind addressing this issue instead of the straw-man?

    Patry sez:

    We also hear politicians [there’s your straw-man – BTC] make similar paeans to creators, yet when was the last piece of legislation that was passed that benefited creators at the expense of corporations?

    My take is that Patry views copyright legislation as a tool of corporations, to the detriment of creators. Perhaps I misunderstand him, but I disagree. It’s not black and white like that. Copyright benefits both groups (and the public at large, IMO).

    Regarding the issue you’d like me to address, again I disagree with that as a generalization. It all comes down to the terms of a particular deal. If an individual signs away his/her ownership to a corp, then that’s the way it goes. If the individual contractually has rights, the law can’t take that away. It’s all about knowing what you are getting into and being willing to walk away, rather than take a bad deal.

    To be sure, corporations a) take advantage of creators’ pie-in-the-sky dreams by dangling the promise of success to get their best deal and b) have deep pockets to litigate any conflict. But I think these are separate issues. (a) is for the sociologists to figure out and (b) speaks to the inequity in access to the legal system.

    @#11 BRIANARY

    I stand corrected :)

  21. The Supreme Court has stated the purpose of copyright:

    “The copyright law, like the patent statutes, makes reward to the owner a secondary consideration . . . . It is said that reward to the author or artist serves to induce release to the public of the products of his creative genius.” United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 U.S. 131, 158 (1948).

    “The primary objective of copyright is not to
    reward the labor of authors, but ‘[t]o promote
    the Progress of Science and useful Arts.’ To this
    end, copyright assures authors the right in their
    original expression, but encourages others to
    build freely upon the ideas and information
    conveyed by a work.” Feist Publication, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340, 349-50
    (1991)

    “[I]t should not be forgotten that the Framers
    intended copyright itself to be the engine of free
    expression. By establishing a marketable right to
    the use of one’s expression, copyright supplies
    the economic incentive to create and disseminate
    ideas.” Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539, 558 (1985)

    “We have often recognized the monopoly
    privileges that Congress has authorized, while
    ‘intended to motivate the creative activity of
    authors and inventors by the provision of a
    special reward,’ are limited in nature and must
    ultimately serve the public good.” Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 114 S. Ct. 1023, 1029 (1994).

    Congress stated copyright’s purpose when it enacted the Copyright Act of 1909:

    “The enactment of copyright legislation by
    Congress under the terms of the Constitution is
    not based upon any natural right that the author
    has in his writings, . . . but upon the ground that the welfare of the public will be served and
    progress of science and useful arts will be
    promoted by securing to authors for limited
    periods the exclusive rights to their
    writings . . . .” H.R. REP. NO. 2222, 60th Cong., 2d Sess., 7 (1909).

  22. I don’t mean the post to be Anonymous, I just can’t get the sign-in to work. The context of my remarks are all important here: my post was a memorial for a former Register of Copyrights, Barbara Ringer. The quote in question from that post referred specifically to a Supreme Court cases, Mills Music, Inc. v. Snyder, that pitted songwriters against the music publishers to whom the copyright had been transferred. I was praising Barbara Ringer’s courage, in testifying at a subsequent Senate hearing, on behalf of individual creators against the corporations to whom rights had been transferred.

    Both she and I agree that copyright is very important for many individuals; the dispute in question was over music publishers’ successful efforts to get a large slice of a pie we thought they were not entitled to. I was not advocating on behalf of my employer, which has no stake in such disputes, and in any event, the passage in question long pre-dates my employment by Google. It is intellectual slothfulness to believe that anything anyone says represents shilling for their current employer.

    As regards Fake51’s points, I would ask since you disagree, show me what piece of legislation has benefitted authors over corporations? Again the context of my remarks was an example where the interests of corporations were favored over individual authors: here is another one: copyright term extension in 1998, when instead of giving the extra 20 years to authors, it went to the corporations that had not negotiated for those 20 years, and did not deserve them. Instead, they got the 20 years simply because their lawyers insisted that contracts, some of which could have gone back to 192,3 had a clause stating that the author transferred copyright for the original term, the renewal term, and any subsequent extensions of the term. These were non-negotiable and authors got no more money up front for transferring 28 years than for 95. Yes, some get royalties (others got only a one-time payment), but at old rates and certainly not at what the current market rate is if they could renegotiate. That is, after all, the point of renewal: to permit the individual authors to engage in fair market negotiations at a later stage when the value is better known.

    My larger point is that copyright is frequently spoken of as honoring individual authors, but when the rubber hit the road, authors are thrown under the bus. The history of copyright law, certainly recently, demonstrates this is the case.
    Bill Patry

  23. @#25 Bill Patry

    I appreciate that you are referring to specific instances, and I applaud you for your attention to detail both in your original post and your comment above.

    However, I have to disagree with your take on the outcome of the case cited:

    copyright term extension in 1998, when instead of giving the extra 20 years to authors, it went to the corporations that had not negotiated for those 20 years, and did not deserve them. Instead, they got the 20 years simply because their lawyers insisted that contracts, some of which could have gone back to 1923 had a clause stating that the author transferred copyright for the original term, the renewal term, and any subsequent extensions of the term.

    So, yes, I agree that this is ethically dubious, and, if given the opportunity, I might have decided that the original contracts could be superseded by newer legislation in favor of the authors. But the fact remains that the authors in question (as far as I can tell) signed really crummy contracts way back when, giving all rights in perpetuity to the other party, and accepting one-time, meager payments in some cases. As a creative professional, I sympathize, but I don’t find it unreasonable that the contracts were effectively upheld.

    It’s sad, but these authors threw themselves under the bus a long time ago. I am as anti-corporation as the next guy, but you can’t always blame the Man for having good foresight.

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