In these essay I will discuss open culture through a focus on why copyright is not working to benefit the society anymore. Today copyright in many ways has a reverse effect by slowing down new creative minds. In the first part I will give a very brief history of copyright and fair use, followed by why copyright no longer is fit for our society. In the second part I will discuss how the role of the public has changed from participants to viewers and finally transformed into creators. This part will also discuss how easy it has become to create, remix and share your creations. The last part in this essay will discuss what an open culture has the potential of doing ‘when ideas have sex’ in a place where many can contribute. At the end I will discuss the need to have open data to support a society with open culture.
To be able to discuss copyright, and why it has become an obstacle in the way of open culture, I first have to make a short summary of the history of copyright. In 1710 the first copyright law was enacted in Britain with the name “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned” but it is much more known as “the statute of Anne”.
This law had been made mainly to curb the monopolistic tendencies emerging and to encourage learning. (every copy licensed had to be added to the King’s library as well as Oxfords and Cambridge libraries). With all the licensed works always in the libraries it was always available for the public. Another benefit was that every work was listed which made it easy to find the copyright-holder of the work.
The copyright was valid for 14years and renewable once. In USA they followed the Brittish precedent with a similar law in 1790. 28years was still considered more than enough to protect a work and beyond that the interest of the public would disappear. In the beginning copyright consisted of two words: the “copy right” which explained it very well. The creator of the work was the one in charge and could allow others to copy his work. Remixing was still allowed. (Darnton, 2009)
Key laws regulating U.S. copyrights and their key effects include
- Copyright Act of 1790 – established U.S. copyright with term of 14 years with 14-year renewal
- Copyright Act of 1831 – extended the term to 28 years with 14-year renewal
- Copyright Act of 1909 – extended term to 28 years with 28-year renewal
- Universal Copyright Convention – ratified by the U.S. in 1954, and again in 1971, this treaty was developed by UNESCO as an alternative to the Berne Convention
- Copyright Act of 1976 – extended term to either 75 years or life of author plus 50 years; extended federal copyright to unpublished works; preempted state copyright laws; codified much copyright doctrine that had originated in case law
- Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 – established copyrights of U.S. works in Berne Convention countries
- Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) of 1994 – restored U.S. copyright for certain foreign works
- Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 – extended terms to 95/120 years or life plus 70 years
- Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 – criminalized some cases of copyright infringement
As one can see from this list of extensions to the copyright it is becoming more and more controlled and remixes of works has been severely limited. This prevents much of the copyrighted works to enter into the public domain and restricts the amount of material creators are able to find inspiration from. The creators almost have to avoid looking at other peoples creations because if they are too inspired by a piece of work they risk being sued for copyright infringement. This continuous threat of invading someones “thought property” restricts the creation of some parts of our culture.
‘United States copyright law‘, Wikipedia, wiki article, 12 September 2010, accessed 26 September 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_copyright_law
Darnton, Robert (2009). Google and the future of Books, The New York Review of Books, 56