Lessig's Essay on a More Sensible Copyright Law

Prof. Lessig’s essay in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal is available here. One thing that caught my eye was an anonymous reader’s comment, containing the following text:

A few years ago I taught about copyright at my son's elementary school class. After having all the students draw a picture or write a poem for one minute, the cards were sent around the room and other students were encouraged to "add" to the cards. While most had fun marking up their classmates cards, some were visibly upset that their work had been changed without permission. These children instantly understood the purpose of copyright.

The purpose of copyright is to encourage and support authors and artists -- providing them the economic return to make a livelihood. Academics like Professor Lessig (and myself) have the luxury to have university patrons to pay our salaries and allow us the ability to write without compensation. Most musicians, poets, playwrights, authors, painters, and filmmakers have no such support.

I think that this comment is misleading, because it would be incorrect to say that “the purpose of copyright” – at least as far as American federal law is concerned – is to prevent changes made in the work without its author’s approval. The second paragraph is perhaps more accurate, and it better echoes one important point made in the essay, as I read it. That is, non-voluntary licensing should be simplified and cover more territory than it does today, especially in case it better serves the economic concerns of authors, as compared to an exclusivity rule (or “property rule”).

By the way, I do not comprehend why the title of the essay reads “In Defense of Piracy”. This does not represent the spirit of the essay, and perhaps “In Defense of a More Sensible Copyright” could serve as a better lead-up.

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