[Videolib] was copyright talk; changed to a hermeneutical lens

Troy Davis (tdavis@email.lib.utk.edu)
Thu, 23 Sep 2004 08:57:04 -0400

Hi folks,
I'm not responding to any post in particular..i've just read through
them...

I've said this before but I think these discussions are a good thing.
As a new librarian, these questions of copyright have forced me to do
what the statute says I should do (exercise some "judgment" in
determining if a use is fair.) A couple things should be clear: smart
people (even judges and lawyers) disagree over copyright (is it a
property right or just a statute that seeks to equitably regulate the
flow of information?). This depends on who you ask. Infringement of
copyright is defined simply as a violation of any of the exclusive
rights of the copyright owner. But, the statute and supreme court
rulings say that to own the copyright of a work does not give you
complete control over all possible uses of that work . So we're on
safe ground when we assume that copyright is intended to serve/benefit
the public's interest rather than the copyright holder's interest (at
least the U.S. constitution says so, and the Supreme Court in a variety
of rulings relating to copyright). There is of course a balancing act,
but understanding copyright law, reading the statute through a "this is
for the public good" lens will in fact lead you to certain "radical"
(but in the end, legal) conclusions. The radical conclusion is that the
INTENT/OBJECTIVE of the copyright statute is to serve the public good.
So in particular situations, one has to exercise some judgment (for,
after all, there is no quantification of fair uses in the statute). And
since supreme court decisions (and the U.S. constitution) privilege the
public good over author's labors this is one way to make practical
decisions. We should respect the law, for the law is designed to
promote knowledge and serve the public good.

So, for example, in Feist Publications Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service
Co, the supreme court decided that there is a CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT for
a user to copy uncopyrightable (public domain) material that is within
a copyrighted work. Now is this fair? The Supreme Court says yes. Why?
because the public domain is crucial to a democracy. Now the copyright
holder would say "I went through all this work to assemble this public
domain content and copyright this work, and you're ripping me off by
copying it." The Court says, "wrong answer;" the public domain is more
important. The court continues in this ruling that the monopoly
privileges of the statute are limited and "must ultimately serve the
public good." In Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken, the Court
plainly says that the PRIMARY OBJECTIVE of copyright is to promote
knowledge, RATHER than to reward the labors of authors.

So, its seems there's a place (and philosophical room) to talk about
the "objective" of copyright. And if the supreme court has said (and
remember, since copyright law is a federal statute, its only the
Court's decisions that are nationally binding) that the primary
objective of copyright law is to promote knowledge, not reward the
labors of authors, then, for me, this objective offers an hermeneutical
lens I use in reading the statute.

great stuff.

Troy