Week 4. Works of Authorship in the Free Digital Society. History, Philosophy, Practice.

4.1. History of Copyright Law

  • Our basic principles are deep, technology is superficial. But it can make the very same act more or less good.
  • Copying in the ancient world:
    • Slow and inefficient.
    • No economy of scale.
    • Required skills: only reading and writing.
    • Required equipment: only ''equipment'' needed to read and write.
    • Decentralized system of copying. Nothing like copyright law.
  • Copyright and censorship were closely related throughout the history.
  • Copying in the age of printing press:
    • Economy of scale.
    • Special expensive equipment is required.
    • Special skills (very different from reading and writing) are needed to operate printing press.
    • Centralized system of copying. Beginning of copyright.
  • Beginning of copyright. Copyright as a tool for industrial regulation:
    • Appeared in England in XVI century.
    • Started from perpetual monopoly to publish certain book. Changed in XVII century: monopoly to an author (not a publisher!) for 14 years. Could be renewed once if the author was still alive.
    • Idea of copyright: scheme which encourages writing.
    • US Constitution (1788) allows congress to create a copyright system with the purpose to promote progress. Copyright can not be perpetual, only time-limited.
  • In the age of printing press copyright was used as an industry regulation tool. It regulated publishers and was controlled by authors. Copyright law was:
    • Mostly uncontroversial because it restricted the publishers and not the readers. If you are not a publisher, you don't have strong reasons to object.
    • Easy to enforce because it was easy to understand who published certain book. No need to visit every reader to enforce the copyright law.
    • Beneficial for the society - public traded part of its natural rights which it did not exercised to the real benefit - more books written.


4.2. Copyright in the digital age

  • Computer networks - new advance in the technology of copying.
  • Copying became more effective and benefit of printing press in mass production almost disappeared.
  • Situation now reminds antiquity with the difference in efficiency of copying.
  • Copyright law now restricts everyone and controlled mostly by the publishers in the name of authors.
  • The reasons copyright was beneficial for society in the age of printing press are not valid anymore:
    • No more uncontroversial because now it restricts everybody, not only publishers.
    • Not easy to enforce because the copyright law shall be enforced against everyone.
    • No longer beneficial. Public wants its natural rights back because now we are able to exercise them.
  • Changes in copyright practices:
    • Wave of copyright time extensions all over the world. Examples:
      • EU: extended copyright time for sound records and textual work.
      • USA: Mickey mouse copyright act (20 years extension of copyright time).
    • Real reasons to extend copyright time - companies had valuable rights which were about to expire.
    • We are on a way to perpetual copyright with constant extension of copyright law.
    • Mexico example: copyright validity time is 100 years after author's death.
    • Previously copyright was an exception and not a general rule. Not anymore. Publishers try to have total control over public through digital technologies (Digital Restrictions Management).
    • Attempts to take total control over public are made with non-free software - it's not possible to do this with the help of free software.


4.3. Digital distribution: Ethical and Unethical

  • What is wrong with Amazon ''Swindle''?
  • ''Swindle'' is an appropriate name for Amazon's e-reader because it swindles readers out of the traditional freedoms of readers:
    • Freedom to buy a book anonymously. Amazon requires its readers to identify themselves and maintain a list with the books which were read by the user. Existence of this list is dangerous for the fundamental human rights. But Swindle also reports to Amazon the pages which are read, sends notes and highlights to Amazon. Swindle is a complete surveillance of reading device.
    • Freedom to give a book to a friend, to sell it through used book store. Swindle End User License Agreement (EULA) rejects an idea of property - the book is owned by Amazon, not by the user! ''Swindle'' DRM and EULA together swindle readers out of this right.
    • Freedom to keep a book as long as you wish. Amazon can remotely delete books from Swindle and was doing it already ("1984" case).
    • Swindle has universal backdoor (autoupgrade, see lecture 2.2) which means additional restrictions can be installed later by Amazon.
  • Swindle is not the only malicious e-reader device: most of other e-readers are doing a lot of snooping too.
  • Requirements to be met in order for digital distribution to be ethical:
    • No DRM (Digital Restrictions Management).
    • No EULA - books shall be your property.
    • Possibility to purchase anonymously.
  • Currently in most cases distribution of digital copies over Internet is ethically worse than distribution of physical copies.
  • The same problems arise with audio and video (e.g., DRM is used with streaming services).


4.4. The Why, What and How of Creative Commons

  • Different Creative Commons (CC) licenses give more or less freedoms:
    • Six main CC licenses. Two of them are free.
    • CC BY - push over license. CC BY SA - copyleft license
    • Four other CC licenses are non-free. E.g., NC license restricts commercial usage and ND license restricts modification.
  • Which CC license to use for the project?
    • For statements of opinion, artistic works non-free licenses are OK.
    • If the works shall be free (e.g., practical work, reference, educational) - use one of two free CC licenses.
    • License choice is crucial - don't delay this decision until the end of the project. Agree with project team in the very beginning!
  • ''This work is distributed under CC license'' - confusing statement. Which CC license? It makes a lot of difference.
  • Never distribute software under CC license! See lecture 3 for software licenses information.


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