This wiki is dedicated to helping Elftown members who want to know more about
Copyright and Intellectual Property
It has become apparent to some members of Elftown that there is a widespread lack of knowledge about the concepts of copyright and intellectual property
. So, for those who want to learn more about these concepts, and for those of you who wish to teach or share with others what you do
know, please feel free to participate in the discussion, and post any information and/or links that you might think might be useful to others.
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What would happen if we didn't have copyright laws?
If that were the case, anyone could come along and make hundreds, thousands, or millions of copies of that item, sell them, make a profit, and the person who spent hundreds or thousands of hours creating the concept thus replicated would have no rights in the fruits of their creative inspiration and effort.
The result would be that many of your favourite artists, musicians, programmers, writers, etc., would be unable to afford to spend the time creating the art/music/etc. which YOU enjoy and benefit from, because they'd have to spend that time working to keep food on their table, and a roof over their head. Everyone would lose out -- including the fans, the artists, and even the companies which make their money from distributing the artist's creation.
So it's all about a person being greedy, and trying to claim ownership of an idea?
No, it's about people having the right to benefit from their own work. Some people create for the sheer joy of it -- others have bills to pay and children to feed and need to be able to support themselves from the sales of their creations, in order to be able to devote the time that is necessary for them to create the items in the first place.
And, how is it greedy for a person to expect to be the one to benefit from their own efforts, from which so many others benefit, as well? Is it any more greedy for your favourite musician to expect an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, than it is for a receptionist? They're both selling their time, their face, their voice, and their effort. The only difference is that you can't steal from the receptionist by hiring him or her for one day, and then just making copies of that one day's work, and firing the person, instead of paying them a day's wage for every day's work that the company gets from them. With an artist, though, it's very easy to steal their time and effort; imagine that the same company which pays that receptionist for every day s/he works makes all of their money by selling copies of an album which they bought for $5 from a street busker, who spent hundreds of hours creating that song. The receptionist gets paid for every hour they work, because the company which pays them benefits from that work -- so why shouldn't the artist benefit for every hour s/he worked, in creating the item from which the company derives its sole income?
If there is greed involved in copyright laws, it is the need to protect creative artists from the greed of people who want to own something created by another, without getting the creator's permission, or reimbursing them in any way for the time and effort they put into that creation -- time and energy they could have been spending building themselves a house, or earning the money for one.
So, is it so much to ask for you to reimburse the creator of the works you enjoy, if you want your favourite author/artist/musician/programmer to be able to continue to have the time and energy necessary to create the stories/art/music/software you love so much? Artists deserve to benefit from their own work, just as much as the next person.
Shouldn't ideas be free, for the benefit of the whole human race, not just the person with the knowledge to create them, and the time, energy, and ability to create them?
It's quite true that many people create things which they think should be shared with the world at large, and they'd rather make them available to everyone who needs/wants them, rather than exerting their rights to ownership of the thing they've created.
They still have that right, despite the copyright laws giving every person ownership in their creation from the moment at which it was created. A person can give up ownership of the thing created, entirely, by making it "Public Domain", or they can protect their rights to be given credit for their creation, while still making it available to people without payment, through such schemes as "copylefting".
But it is no more reasonable to expect an artist to give their time and work to the world for free than it is to expect a carpenter to build you a house for free. Sure, they have the right to do so, and many writers/programmers/artists/etc. do so, just as there are many people who volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, and build houses for the needy. But they shouldn't be forced to do so, and their work shouldn't be stolen just because you can do so easily -- or just because they have a talent that other people lack. Some people are stronger than others, too, and some people have better balance, but I've never heard of a mass movement to make laws forcing skyscraper builders to work for free, or claiming the right to avoid paying them for their work, just because it was created before it came time to pay them.
This essay (c) 2004 by Rondel Linder
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