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Ask Author Law

More Copyright Bunk

Ask Author Law is a Q&A blog about legal issues for authors. I am a practicing attorney, freelance writer, and publishing consultant. I focus my law practice on the representation of authors, often consulting with or serving as co-counsel to other attorneys on publishing cases. This information is for general purposes only and is not legal advice. Asking a question or reading an answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Q: Isn’t it true that copyright lasts too long and that it gets in the way of the free flow of information? It seems to me like big companies use copyright as another way to be selfish and greedy.

A: There have been wild and misguided claims that copyright law is outdated and that information wants to be free since the advent of the internet. Such claims are simply not true. Many critics of copyright are really asking: "Now that it's cheap and easy, isn't it OK to steal words, music and art?" And I say that the answer is “no.” Copyright infringement is theft, pure and simple. Copyright law is clear and basic – words, pictures, and sounds expressed in a distinctive way and written down or otherwise fixed in a tangible medium of expression are the property of the creator, not the public.

Copyright owners give permission for the use of their work in a variety of ways. Many authors, for example, license their work to publishers or publish their books themselves and make money from sales. Some authors sell millions of books and become wealthy. For most, however, the income is modest. A few authors choose to their work available for free, and that’s fine. But the pricing decision is rightfully up to the author, not the reader. The same concept applies to music and movies. Musicians and moviemakers have the right to decide whether their work should be free or not.

"Thou shalt not steal," is a core tenant recognized in virtually every civilized society and it applies to the rights of copyright owners today. No civilized society recognizes a right to steal physical property, even when it's easy to do so and tempting to rationalize. No civilized society recognizes the theft of intangible property, either. Just as laws, both civil and criminal, provide penalties and sanctions for the theft of tangible property such as jewelry, bicycles, and soccer balls, copyright laws provide penalties for the theft of creators' rights. Stealing is stealing. And it's always been wrong.

So please don’t buy into the myth that “information wants to be free” or that it’s OK to help yourself to anything on the internet. Don’t be misled into thinking that piracy is noble. That’s all copyright bunk!
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