The Volokh Conspiracy's David Post shreds the Authors Guild editorial in this week's NYT. In it, Scott Turow and James Shapiro argue that America should introduce COICA, an official censorship law that blocks websites that large companies from the entertainment industry don't like. It's alarming to see authors arguing in favor of censorship, but the argument put forward in the editorial, "Would the Bard have Survived the Web?" is also profoundly ignorant account of how Shakespeare wrote his works:
To begin with, how odd is it that they'd invoke Shakespeare in this context? "We need stronger copyright or else we won't get the next Shakespeare" is like arguing "We need the designated hitter, or how will we ever get the next Babe Ruth?" In a copyright-free world — not that I'm advocating such a thing, but hey, you brought it up — we'll get the next Shakespeare the way we got the last Shakespeare, in a copyright-free world. The first copyright statute, the Statute of Anne, wasn't passed until 1709, long after Shakespeare was a-moulderin' in the grave. [That's what we need a name for — this kind of absurdly misplaced historical argument]
What's more, old Billy the Shake's great plays were largely based on works by his contemporaries and forebears — works that would have been illegal "derivative works" had our contemporary copyright laws been in place then.
If you want to read something by an author who understands both copyright and Shakespeare, try James Boyle's "The Search for an Author: Shakespeare and the Framers."