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Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity [Paperback]

Siva Vaidhyanathan , Pierre Jalee
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 1 2003
Copyright reflects far more than economic interests. Embedded within conflicts over royalties and infringement are cultural values - about race, class, access, ownership, free speech, and democracy - which influence how rights are determined and enforced. Questions of legitimacy - of what constitutes "intellectual property" or "fair use," and of how to locate a precise moment of cultural creation - have become enormously complicated in recent years, as advances in technology have exponentially increased the speed of cultural reproduction and dissemination. In Copyrights and Copywrongs, Siva Vaidhyanathan tracks the history of American copyright law through the 20th century, from Mark Twain's vehement exhortations for "thick" copyright protection, to recent lawsuits regarding sampling in rap music and the "digital moment," exemplified by the rise of Napster and MP3 technology. He argues persuasively that in its current punitive, highly restrictive form, American copyright law hinders cultural production, thereby contributing to the poverty of civic culture. In addition to choking cultural expression, recent copyright law, Vaidhyanathan argues, effectively sanctions biases against cultural traditions which differ from the Anglo-European model. In African-based cultures, borrowing from and building upon earlier cultural expressions is not considered a legal trespass, but a tribute. Rap and hip hop artists who practice such "borrowing" by sampling and mixing, however, have been sued for copyright violation and forced to pay substantial monetary damages. Similarly, the oral transmission of culture, which has a centuries-old tradition within African American culture, is complicated by current copyright laws. How, for example, can ownership of music, lyrics, or stories which have been passed down through generations be determined? Upon close examination, strict legal guidelines prove insensitive to the diverse forms of cultural expression prevalent in the United States, and reveal much about the racialized cultural values which permeate our system of laws. Ultimately, copyright is a necessary policy that should balance public and private interests but the recent rise of "intellectual property" as a concept have overthrown that balance. Copyright, Vaidhyanathan asserts, is policy, not property. Bringing to light the republican principles behind original copyright laws as well as present-day imbalances and future possibilities for freer expression and artistic equity, this volume takes important strides towards unravelling the complex web of culture, law, race, and technology in today's global marketplace.

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From Publishers Weekly

Vaidyanathan, a professor at the School of Information Studies of the University of Wisconsin and frequent NPR commentator, details the specious ideological evolution of copyright from a set of loose policies intended to encourage cultural expression into a form of property law (now codified in the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 2000) that functions as a seal on creative works. In prose remarkably free of legal and academic jargon, Vaidyanathan begins with a concise, well-paced history of copyright from the framing of the Constitution through the literary world of Mark Twain and the advent of music sampling. The book is surprisingly entertaining, as Vaidyanathan deftly weaves a wide array of episodes from popular culture into a cogent examination of both the creative process and the laws and commercial interests that process dovetails with, then closes with a synthesis and a stern warning for the digital age. Through a combination of copyright laws, contract law and technological controls, Vaidyanathan asserts that corporate control over the use of software, digital music, images, films, books and academic materials. But copyright law, he argues, was designed to be flexible, and this elasticity is essential for the cultural vibrancy and political balance of our democracy. The argument is compelling. In the age of Napster, digital piracy may be the cause c‚lŠbre, but this well-crafted and important book shows that there are graver concerns for the public in the entertainment industry's effort to tighten its grip on intellectual property. (Oct.)Forecast: Copyright used to be of interest only to a gaggle of Hollywood lawyers, but with the advent of technologies like Napster, it has become an issue of major importance to many more. This book is simply the best on the subject to date, and it should receive widespread attention. Random House is publishing a book on a similar subject by the Microsoft trial expert Lawrence Lessig in November, which will only further heighten interest.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

The author, a media scholar and cultural historian, presents a reasoned and compelling argument for "thin" copyright policy. Vaidhyanathan traces the evolution of copyright law, arguing that it has come to restrict creativity and enjoin cultural expression that arises outside of white American and European traditions. He begins his look at the history of the law with the story of Mark Twain's call for perpetual copyright and its influence on the current author-centered view of the rights to creative works. He continues with interesting examples of recent contests involving property rights to film and music, the details of which illustrate the tangle of interests that is created by law, technology, and culture. Well researched and thoughtfully presented, this is important for most academic and public libraries and essential reading for the library community. Joan Pedzich, Harris Beach LLP, Rochester, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Intellectual Policy May 15 2004
By J. Pan
Being in a special topics philosophy class, I was new to the whole intellectual policy and computer ethics field. I found this book to be as essential as James Moor's "What is Computer Ethics?" and Albert Borgmann's "Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry."
This book is great for beginners as well as some pros on this matter. It seemed like a perfect blend of what Noel Carroll calls in his "A Philosophy of Mass Art," mass art and avant-garde art - it is written in a style that the mass can understand (which defines mass art) yet challenges convential thinking and equips the reader with enough background knowledge early off to understand the rest of the book (avant-garde art usually doesn't even bother to give background knowledge as it is geared towards a certain field, not the masses).
Siva Vaidhyanathan did a masterful research in law and the history of law as he uncovers a bright story concerning intellectual property even from the time of the founding fathers of this nation. If you are a beginner in the field of IP, I suggest this book to be the first one that you read as it is an excellent base.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Money as a motivation slays creativity. Sept. 4 2003
I have been reading your book and am alternately exhilarated and despairing. From other research on the web on this issue, I keep seeing over and over that without copyright protection, people wouldn't have incentive to create. What a load of muck. Creative people NEED to create. They also need to not starve to death, of course. But creating things in and of itself is rewarding. If money is what motivates someone, they should become stockbrokers or something that more honestly reflects their values. I think that motivation by money, and creativity are almost mutually exclusive; once money becomes the motive, creativity is dead, or at least mortally wounded. I know the thrill of creating. I do art without any compensation at all, because I need to and want to, and have been a computer programmer for years, marvelling that someone was willing to pay me for something that is so much FUN! Creativity is inherently rewarding.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thick and Thin Aug. 5 2003
This timely and wide-ranging book is useful on at least two levels. First, it rehearses some of the major steps and missteps that have brought us to where we are in the realm of copyright and intellectual property. Second, the book demonstrates explicitly some of the perils of the current legal framework.
Vaidhyanathan sets out his own objectives thus:
"This book has three goals. The first is to trace the development of American copyright law though the twentieth century. . . . The second goal is to succinctly and clearly outline the principles of copyright while describing the alarming erosion of the notion that copyright should protect specific expressions but not the ideas that lie beneath the expressions. The third and most important purpose of this book is to argue that American culture and politics would function better under a system that guarantees 'thin' copyright protection -- just enough protection to encourage creativity, yet limited so that emerging artists, scholars, writers, and students can enjoy a right public domain and broad 'fair use' of copyrighted material."
I believe that he succeeds on these terms. Even better, the book is very well written as prose, which we'd expect from a creative academic with long experience in print journalism. (The book is also full of fascinating tidbits. Did you know that Samuel Clemens would spend a weekend in Canada to register each of his books there? He did it to fortify his copyright protection throughout the Commonwealth.)
The chapters proceed more or less chronologically as Vaidhyanathan moves from early conceptions of copyright; through the careers of Mark Twain and D. W.
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Copyrights and Copywrongs is an excellent read because it synthesizes all the important copyright issues into one book, minus the jargon-laden terms that only copyright professionals would understand. During this past winter, I've read roughly 15 books related to contemporary copyright law and this is the best one yet (by a country mile).
My favorite chapter, "Hep Cats and Copy Cats," does a brilliant job unveiling the recording industry's current practices in relation Hip Hop sampling. When you read it your blood will boil because it proves how far our laws have gone astray from the initial statement "To Promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts."
I would recommend this book to anyone who is engaged in popular music- musicians, producers, Dee Jays- as well as those who are interested in knowing more about the one-sidedness of American copyright law. Great job Siva!
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1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly written and heavily biased book May 2 2003
By A Customer
I ordered this book expecting a thorough and unprejudiced recounting of the evolution of copyright law of the past 2 centuries. instead i got a very biased account of it. The author clearly leans toward the notion that copyright law is too restricting and tries to make that point strongly in all the evidence he sites. The evidence itself is not very compelling because it is presented is a very light manner, with very few quotes from actual court decisions. The author instead relies on trying to convince us by presenting his viewpoint of copyright law and his own commentary. instead of a complete account you get a one-sided presentation. The writing is also very elementary and reads as if it was geared toward the second grade. i was very dissappointed with this book and was barely able to finish it. i would not waste my time with this book.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Informative
I read this book as part of my research for a paper on the history of copyright policy. I found Vaidhyanathan to be both well-informed and a good writer. Read more
Published on Sept. 20 2002 by Andrew
5.0 out of 5 stars READ THIS BOOK NOW
If you live or work or play in cyberspace, you need to read this book. If you care about art, literature, music or culture, you need to read this book. Read more
Published on June 26 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars highly recommended
I really enjoyed this book, not least because I am an academic and feel quite strongly about the importance of access to information. Read more
Published on May 9 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable, enjoyable discussion of the issues
Vaidyanathan clearly has some opinions on the topics he discusses. Since I don't have much experience with the history of copyright, I don't know how objective this book is. Read more
Published on March 1 2002 by Technolibrarian
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a a very readable intellectual property!!
I am not sure how I found this book - but I am glad that I did. In about 200 pages Professor Vaidhyananathan presents a very readable history of the copyright in the US and... Read more
Published on Nov. 28 2001 by Jonathan Brown
4.0 out of 5 stars Siva makes this tough subject understandable. Kudos!
Siva Vaidyanathan had translated a sometimes incredibly misunderstood concept/subject into a reasonably understandable story. Read more
Published on Nov. 22 2001 by R. Shaff
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