Oppression vs. Expression


Does copyright inspire expression or oppression?

Copyright. A life sentence. A guarantee to preserve an original published idea. But at what cost? Does the exponential growth of the term of copyright serve to encourage expression or harbour oppression? And what significance does originality now hold in the realm of the big © as we continue down the path of technological convergence?

Copyright is paradoxical in nature.  As William Patry points out, in Steve Collins’ article Recovering Fair Use, it was designed to “encourage learning and the creation of new works”, however now serves to “supress models and technologies”. The original protection granted by copyright (14 years monopoly) was designed to foster creativity, providing an incentive for budding authors with the promise of exclusive rights, assets and recognition. However as the term of copyright continues to grow, its purpose has become blurred. In the past, many revolutionary works built on the ideas of their predecessors – as Isaac Newton stated, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” (1676).  Although Newton expresses that progression in knowledge and a desire to ‘look further’ stems from collaboration, copyright now restricts works from entering the public domain for at least 70 years after the author’s death- denying prospective authors access to the works of their colleagues and thus to a collaborative approach to creation.

We have been left to rely on our own imagination. But as Emerson Davis points out in Recovering Fair Use “few, if any things, are strictly original throughout. Every book in literature, science and art borrows and must necessarily borrow” . Although we like to think we’re unique (or uni-que as my the title of my blog page suggests), it is guaranteed that almost every inspired idea has been considered before, or that we are basing our work, as Newton describes, on preconceived notions. So what does this mean for copyright? Simply- first in best dressed.   Take the case of Joe Satriani vs. Coldplay- the grammy-winning Viva la Vida used a riff almost identical to one in Satriani’s If I Could Fly. A breach of copyright or a concurrent inspiration?  An out of court settlement was reached, with financial compensation granted to Satriani. Because Coldplay copied…right?

Clearly it is necessary to redefine the intent of copyright to ensure an expressive rather than oppressive creative environment is maintained. Thankfully with the introduction of utilities such as Creative Commons, we are beginning to complement our modern sharing culture and “collaborate across time and space” (S. Collins, 2008) . The jail bars begins to rise.

Picture sourced from http://rosemaryl.blogspot.com.au/2009/10/jail-break-please.html