Good or bad, American copyright law turned 225 years old today. Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution includes the sentence that "The Congress shall have Power" ... "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries" - words that were submitted to the delegates for their consideration on September 5, 1787.
There are many people who think that this clause needs to be stricken. Many people who feel that this right is used to coerce money from people and limit creativity. And as an attorney who focuses in non-patent intellectual property law, I could be accused of being one of these, on behalf of my clients.
However - the origin of the statute was to protect the rights of artists. This is the part that so many people forget. If you are a creator, this langauge was written to prevent others from stealing your livelihood. If you are an artist, or a writer, or a musician, or one of the many other creative types whose works are protected by the Copyright Act, you understand what I am talking about.
At the time the Constitution was written, there was no protection for creative persons in the Colonies. Only those in Mother England could protect and defend their creative works. For authors, artists, and others in what would become the United States of America, there was no protection - and so it was authors and musicians who fought for the U.S. Copyright law. Today many of the cases we hear about in the courts feature people who are suing because they believe that someone else has misused their creative work - photograph, music - for monetary gain.
The greater danger to artists, however, is not people who don't misuse their work for monetary gain - it is people who take their works without paying at all. Recently, an intern on NPR's All Songs Considered wrote an article in which she admitted that most of her music library comes from stealing. She doesn't pay for music, she swaps tracks with friends or copied albums from the physical discs at her college radio station's library.
Other people copy patterns, recipes, articles, or even whole books and share them. I was appalled at one of my first knitting guild meetings after I moved to Dallas when one of the members - without a single word from anybody - handed out copies of a pattern from a recent magazine because she thought that people would enjoy making it.
Whenever this type of activity occurs, the person making the copy prevents the creator of that work - the songwriter, the musician, the designer, the writer - from receiving a royalty. Royalties are how these people are compensated for their efforts. It is the same as someone eating a meal and not paying the tab, or walking out of a store with a coat for s/he they didn't pay. It is as if they said "I really like your work, so I am going to take it and not pay you." Don't you think it should be the other way around? Shouldn't we say "I really like your stuff and I'll be happy to pay you for it"?
As one author that I enjoy said it:
The same applies to any creative person. When you respect their copyright, you help these people make a living doing something they love: Music. Writing. Painting. Sculpture. Choreography. Graphic Design. Pattern Design. Making movies. Photography.
Respect their copyrights. Help the artists survive. Help them make a living doing what they love to do. Buy their works - don't steal them.
I haven't mentioned plagiarism, although with the starrt of the school year we start a new season, because the problem with plagiarism is not just stealing the writing, but taking credit for someone else's work. Although money may not be involved, academic accomplishment is. An author recently posted an article telling other authors what to do if they find out that someone has plagiarized their work. Students increasingly think nothing of plagiarizing someone else's writing and taking credit for it, even when they face expulsion. Give credit where it's due.