Free Software - Free Society - Journal of Omnifarious
Jun. 20th, 2004
06:42 pm - Free Software - Free Society
In the book I've been reading "Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman", there are a series of paragraphs that I think are key, and I would like to quote them here:
The first is from the constitution.
[Congress shall have the power] to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.
Notice that this does not require Congress to do this, it merely permits it, and the purpose of it is very clearly and succinctly stated "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts". There is nothing about any natural rights of authors or inventors, merely something about a public benefit.
The second is from a Supreme Court decision:
The sole interest of the United States and the primary object in conferring the [copyright] monopoly lie in the general benefits derived by the public from the labors of authors.
So, at one point, the courts actually clearly understood the purpose of copyright law.
And then there's this paragraph:
The copyright system works by providing privileges and thus benefits to publishers and authors; but it does not do this for their sake. Rather, it does this to modify their behavior: to provide an incentive for authors to write more and publish more. In effect, the government spends the public's natural rights, on the public's behalf, as part of a deal to bring the public more published works. Legal scholars call this concept the "copyright bargain." It is like a government purchase of a highway or an airplane using taxpayer's money, except that the government spends our freedom instead of our money.
So, the constitution is written as if the authors considered the right to copy to be a natural right of the people. This is as it should be. When you learn something, or hear something, you ought to be able to tell me what you learned or heard. You should even be able to give me a copy of it. After all, that's the best way to tell me.
Copyright is a restriction of this natural right. A bargain our government has struck on our behalf in the hopes of achieving a certain end.
This is the essence of the debate. And these are all the things the publishers try to obscure or hide with misleading language. The publishers would like us to believe that authors and publishers have a natural right to restrict the copying of their work. And that just isn't workable in a free society. What that ultimately leads to is every idea being owned by somebody, and you having to get someone's explicit permission before telling it to someone else. That makes the creation of new ideas much harder, so it's very bad for us economically. And worse, when that is how things are, we are not free.
Anyway, here is a link to the original article: Misinterpreting Copyright. It's an excellent article. Richard Stallman is always very careful with his words and ideas. It is very hard to assail the things he says with rational arguments because his arguments are so solidly grounded and well thought out.