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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 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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5.0 out of 5 stars highly recommended May 8 2002
By A Customer
I really enjoyed this book, not least because I am an academic and feel quite strongly about the importance of access to information. The public's rights to fair use of material for research, teaching, criticism, etc. are being infringed upon or ignored, and Vaidhyanathan does a fine job of explaining where those rights came from, how they have changed over the past hundred years or so, and the reasons why they are now in danger. Many current ideas about intellectual property do indeed threaten creativity. I enjoyed particularly the section on sampling in rap music, as well as the author's discussion of current efforts by large companies and organizations to exact payment for viewing any and all "content" (including scientific information, news, and other data that should not fall under copyright). Vaidhyanathan's discussion of the history of copyright law before the twentieth century was not as good as the rest of his analysis; I thought that the English precidents in the eighteenth century and earlier could have been explained a little more fully. However, over all, this was an engaging and informative book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is a a very readable intellectual property!! Nov. 28 2001
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 abroad.
Originally added to the Constitution to encourage creativity and to improve the democratic process, the copyright has evolved into a series of complex rules that seem to work almost in the opposite direction of the original intent.
Have you ever wondered how Mark Twain and Groucho Marx figured into the discussion of copyright issues? If so you can find out in this book - they both had very interesting roles. What about the diversity of legal opinions - from Lawrence Lessig, to the Ninth Circuit, to Mr. Justice Hand - all of who grappled with the rights of the few versus the rights of the many.
Added to the history is an intelligent and readable discussion of the policy issues related to the copyright. What kinds of policies will balance the creator's incentives and at the same time improve the level of public discussions? How long should rights survive? What elements should be included in the copyright? What are the reasonable standards for parody? Should there be differing standards for databases, books, movies, music and computer programs? The risk for all of those questions is that they can evolve into hopeless discussions of legal absurdities. In effect, that is what happened with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
But Vaidhyananathan does not let himself get stuck in all that goo - he deals with each of those issues and more in a concise and interesting fashion. At the same time he has the larger picture of the broader purposes of copyright.
You will be challenged and fascinated by this book and the issues it raises.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Money as a motivation slays creativity.
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... Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2003 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing account of what's going on with Copyright Law
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... Read more
Published on July 2 2003 by Isaac Caputo
1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly written and heavily biased book
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. Read more
Published on May 2 2003
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. 19 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 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
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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