Copyright revisited

Most people these days think of Copyright as a fundamental right – but this is not in the spirit of the original copyright laws, as Eric Raymond prominently stated 1998 in the Cathedral and the Bazaar. Instead, it is "a bargain with the public." It is nice to see that this idea is being discussed more widely these days, as in this Economist editorial.

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The initial idea behind copyright was to accept concessions from all parties involved – authors, publishers, the public – so that everybody would be better off in the end. From the Economist editorial:

The alternative is to return to the original purpose of copyright, something no national legislature has yet been willing to do. Copyright was originally the grant of a temporary government-supported monopoly on copying a work, not a property right. Its sole purpose was to encourage the circulation of ideas by giving creators and publishers a short-term incentive to disseminate their work. Over the past 50 years, as a result of heavy lobbying by content industries, copyright has grown to such ludicrous proportions that it now often inhibits rather than promotes the circulation of ideas, leaving thousands of old movies, records and books languishing behind a legal barrier. Starting from scratch today, no rational, disinterested lawmaker would agree to copyrights that extend to 70 years after an author’s death, now the norm in the developed world.