User:JohnWS/Thoughts on copyright

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With a recent discussion on doing a tutorial on copyright, I am putting up this essay rant on my feelings about the issue.

I think the first question that needs to be asked is "do we need copyright"? I have always been bothered about copyright. Here is a statement from the World Trade Organization website
Intellectual property [a term I hate, see below] rights are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time. [emphasis added]


I am a scientist and if I write an article to most journals, you must sign away the copyright to the journal's publisher. The publisher is not the creator. Then I am explicitly prevented from doing anything else with the article I wrote. I not only do not have an exclusive right, I have almost no rights. I find as a writer that attitude repugnant.

An issue very closely to WE members hearts is textbooks. A problem in many countries is access to textbooks. This is fueled by two things: price and availability. The cost of textbooks is in most countries very high. This is mostly due to the monopolistic practices of textbook companies. A teacher assigns a textbook (usually on its merits and not price) and then the student we buy that single book. By definition that is a monopoly, and the seller can set what ever price they want. But again the author of most the these books is not the copyright holder, so the question is where is this money going?

My point is that there are lots of people are making lots of money off of copyright who show no creativity, while the creative people make little or nothing.

I actually have no problem with the concept of copyright, but rather the way in which copyright is used and often applied. I think the answer to my question I asked at the beginning of the article is: Yes, but not as we have it today.

This is why I strongly support the idea of the Creative Commons license used on WikiEducator. It gives the author control over the content, yet at the same time allowing for other people to freely use the resource. I also support the open textbook initiatives such as Flat World. And I am big advocate of open access journals.

Of course, one of the issues related to copyright as it applies to sites such as WikiEducator is its international nature. Each country has their own laws/regulations, which often differ on several points. For example, the US allows for exemptions for "Fair Use"; however, Europe does not have fair use, instead they give specific exemptions.

Some people have pointed to international conventions, such as the Berne Convention and international organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). However, there are some very serious concerns with these. The Berne Convention, however, has no regulatory mechanism and relies on individual national laws for its implementation. It has been incorporated into the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO). But TRIPS has been highly criticized by the developing world, as biased toward developed countries and locking out knowledge from being able to be freely transferred.

WIPO was originally an international industrial organization, which later became an United Nations agency. As part of this its becoming part of the UN family it was supposed to change its practices to agree with the humanitarian role of other UN agencies. However, the organization has not changed its practices in those thirty years and is still dominated by publishers and producers.

Another major problem in copyright issues is the use of the term intellectual property. Intellectual property is usually meant to mean copyright, trademarks, and patents. But these are three different concepts. Copyright refers to copying a work of art, such as writing, music, or film, it does not refer to technology. Patents are about technology, but are limited in time. Etc., etc. Please do not get confused by the term and do not use it. (See my blogpost here for an example of the confusion it can cause.)

Many people may ask what the real problem is. Is it not a little odd that in the days when we talk about an "information society", we are still trying to restrict the flow of that very information. We often speak of technology transfer and knowledge management, and yet create ways to prevent transfer of technology and knowledge.

John Stampe 10:14, 2 November 2009 (UTC)