And in any case, this historic fetishism is very odd. Why do people assert that modern copyright should only do precisely those things which it was originally intended for. It’s as if every time a car drives on the A5 the ghosts of Roman engineers protest that it was only intended for horses and marching soldiers. Copyright law moves with the times (as it has done recently in 1956 and 1988 for example) and an argument against modern practice which roots itself in the minds of eighteenth century parliamentarians is, to say the least, weak. It’s also deeply ironic. The people most likely to peddle this copyright-atavism are precisely those who also claim to have both eyes fixed firmly on the future.
This line of argument is closely linked to another, equally suspect one, which is that scientists and creators should have different copyright. Some very eminent people wrote exactly that in a letter to the Telegraph the other day. It’s a surprising argument – especially when some of the people pushing it always usually claim not to be in the business of undermining copyright. The thought is that there are two species of copyright: a creative sort to protect novels, films and records; and then a scientific sort to look after textbooks, research and the like. And guess what. They think the latter should be shorter and weaker than the former. Legal scholars have looked in vain for this rival species, this shadow star to the copyright system we are all aware of. And as far as I know it has never been found. When eminent people claim to have made a new discovery we should obviously sit up and listen. And then wait for the proof of its existence.
All of this occurred to me after the IPKat/1709 Blog copyright debate I spoke at last week. The motion asked if we should praise copyright or bury it. Speaking with me in praising it was Emily Goodhand of the University of Reading (known as @CopyrightGirl to the twitteratti); against, David Allen Green and blogger-extraordinaire Crosbie Fitch. The audience was mostly made up of copyright lawyers and other legal professionals; and in the same way that a roomful of garage mechanics would never support the production of flawless cars, so too copyright lawyers will always be content with a system which is far from perfect. But the debate was useful in that it exposed to broad daylight the people and the arguments which usually spend their lives pinging around the blogosphere. Hearing someone say out loud that creative and knowledge companies are not needed because writers can do pre-emptive deals with putative fans, for a work which has yet to be written (that really is the proposed alternative to copyright) was a useful reminder that in the industry, we really do have common sense on our side.