Sunday, December 12, 2010

What is Copyright? Part 3

For the past few weeks I have not posted anything about copyright because I have been busy studying the issue. The more I read, the more I learn about the complexity of the issue. On Friday night I was talking to someone who is close to completing law school. Someone over heard us talking about copyright law and started to ask a question. He wanted to know if he could use a picture from a book. I stated that I am not a lawyer and even if I were a lawyer, the answer would depend on nature of the book and picture. "It depends," according to my sister, the lawyer is a common answer lawyers (and scholars) give.

Copyright is a very complex issue that involves intellectual property, financial rights, and reputation. Yes, some people sue for copyright violation when the monetary damages are insignificant.

The words "public," "publicity," and "publish" come from the same Latin source. When a work is "published," the public can read and learn from it. In my next article about copyright I will talk more about what is the public domain. Here is an imaginary scenario. Later this week, I'll give another.

It is the year 1438, Gutenberg has not yet started to use movable type. You have just completed your magnum opus. You have created the greatest novel of the 15th century. (Reality check-- the modern novel did not yet exist. Yo have created the world's only novel.) Your book is ready for the publisher. [fn 1] The publisher hires an army of scribes to create ten copies. You are given two copies, one for preservation purposes and one to use. One copy is sent to the British Museum Library and one to Oxford University's library. Library of Congress does not exist because this is before the United States was even a dream in British mind. The publisher hopes to sell remainder of the copies.

What do you do to publicize your work? How do you protect your copyright? How do you earn money for the fruit of your labor?

Answers: There is no copyright protection. Once the book is finished by you, there is no copyright protection. It is not within your right to prevent people from copying your words. In fact you may be happy that people copy your work and distribute it. However, it is your intellectual property and people who don't attribute the work to you are guilty of plagiarism. You are not mad when you see accurate copies since there is no tradition of being paid directly for your printed work; you don't even know what you are missing or losing.

To earn money your publisher organizes public readings. You travel around London giving private, dramatic readings of your book. Soon you have people coming to weekly readings and paying you modest, yet satisfactory compensation. By the end of 1439 300 hundred people are listening to you each week. To earn more, the publisher hires other readers for public readings. Even though you get very little additional compensation you are thrilled to find by 1445 10,000 people have heard about your book and at least heard one chapter.

Your publisher learns about movable type and sets up a printing press in 1446. Since he knows your book has an audience, he decides to print your book for his first year in the printing and publishing business. What are you entitled to: copyright protection, fees, royalties, nachas (bragging rights) points, rights to derivative works?

Sorry, the answer is none of the above, save a little fame and publicity for your public readings. There is no common law or legislative copyright. Not only is there no economic protection, there is nothing to stop another publisher from printing and selling your book. You are not protected from someone who wants to make a derivative work such as a drama or musical based on your work. Once the book leaves your hand you have no rights and once the book is published it is in the public domain. To secure fair compensation for both author and publisher, the law needs to be changed. Since people have a right to profit from the fruit of their labor, laws were needed to protect the authors' and publishers' rights to earn a living.

For next time -- You are wondering in the Judea Dessert and you find a scroll that turns out to be the work of a previously unknown prophet. What are the copyright challenges?

fn 1 This picture is for demo purposes only. It is copied from The Friedberg Genizah Project Website It is a page of poems by Donash.

1 comment:

Daniel Stuhlman said...

On Jan 12 at 11 am CST I will be part of a "live" discussion on the Association of Jewish Libraries Facebook page. You may send in questions for me to answer.