Monday 03 February 2003

Orthodoxy is not my doxy

Burningbird pulled an anonymous comment that she felt was racist, sexist, and bigoted:

I won’t pull a comment — even one bigoted, racist, or sexist — if the person is willing to put their name on the line. But I won’t provide a forum for a gutless wonder.

Though my comment count passed 2000 a few days ago (sorry, no competition), I’ve only pulled a single comment—a request for “technical support” that should have been sent to one of my clients, not to my weblog.

Then last week, someone included in a comment on my post, Portraying Hitler, the complete text of a recent Ron Rosembaum essay from the New York Observer, Paging Mary McCarthy! Barris and Hitler: Strange Triction.

Needless to say, this put me in something of an awkward position, since I am one of only two people in the whole of Blogaria who accept that writers might wish to exert a degree of control over how their work is used and who also feel no obligation to donate their work to the public domain.

I emailed the person who’d left the (lengthy) comment, explaining my predicament and seeking their agreement to trim the citation to a couple of paragraphs together with a link to the original piece. They unhesitatingly agreed.

Although a copyright lawyer would disagree, I don’t think they did anything particularly “terrible”—I took their quoting Rosenbaum’s entire article as evidence of an enthusiasm for his ideas and his writing as well as a desire to save my readers the trouble of following a link to the original. But the Web is, by its nature, a citing and linking medium and a link, though less convenient, offers access to Rosenbaum’s piece whilst respecting his rights as a creator and the New York Observer’s rights as a publisher.

Those who are entirely opposed to copyright provisions would no doubt argue that Ron Rosenbaum and the New York Observer both gain through my “hosting” his essay on my website. I look forward to reading those arguments in the comments on this post, particularly since the tone of the discussion about copyright has markedly improved in the last week, as evidenced by the comments on my post Still coming to terms with… and Burningbird’s post MT Gets Creative and becomes Common.

My post, which may have given the impression that I’d switched to the anti-copyright side, is perhaps the worst entry I’ve ever published on this weblog: poorly thought out and gracelessly written, it stands as a sorry reminder that a single hour in an Internet café—with a dinner appointment looming—is best spent reading other blogger’s posts rather than trying to write one of my own. But, for all its inadequacies, the post contains one truly useful insight: I’d always assumed that my writing and my photographs were my property whereas I discovered that, as far as both law and custom are concerned, my assumption was false.

Those opposed to copyright might say: “We’ve been telling you that all along.” To which I would reply: “But you expressed your beliefs and values in so objectionable a manner that I neither heard nor understood what you were saying.”

My previous post was meant to say: now I understand what you’re getting at, though I still don’t much like it, and in that understanding lies the possibility of moving the discussion forward. Because I believe, and I suspect Burningbird does too, that this is a discussion worth pursuing, not so much because she and I happen to share a contrary view but because the intertwined beliefs “copyright is bad” and “Creative Commons is good” have almost instantaneously become an orthodoxy in Blogaria (to wit, the inclusion of support for Creative Commons licenses in the next version of Movable Type). And orthodoxies are the enemy of free, creative thought.

My next step—obviously I can’t speak for Burningbird—is to give an account of how I came to (mistakenly) assume that my creative work is my property. There’s a lot of personal history in this account and it’s come as a surprise to me that, although I believe in erasing personal history, these fragments of my past still hold me tightly in their grasp.

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May we short-circuit some unnecessary arguments by remind all participants that only a small number of the participants in this debate suggest that might NOT wish to exert a degree of control over how their work is used? Nor do many feel it an obligation to donate all written work to the public domain.

The argument at what I cautiously take to be the sensible end of the pro- and anti-Commons spectrum takes up what you have already allowed: that copyright doesn't make natural property of one's ideas and expressions, but permits an author a limited monopoly. With that, the question becomes what are the most appropriate limits for that monopoly, and how ought we handle questions of enforcing that monopoly.

Posted by: AKMAdamtheSudsyChaplainoftheUniversityofBlogaria on 4 February 2003 at 01:57 AM

> but permits an author a limited monopoly
Well, for me that means the author and no one else.

I honestly think all this anti-coyright stuff comes mostly from distributors enforcing a copyright monopoly which was trasferred to them.

Posted by: Martin on 4 February 2003 at 05:52 AM

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Posted by: isen on 14 March 2003 at 08:31 AM

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Posted by: foro on 16 March 2003 at 10:27 PM

A temporary monopoly can be a wonderful spur to innovation, it can also open the door to abuse.

I'd just like to add a reminder of a period of time when modern ideas of property were being defined - the period leading up to, and then during, the English Revolution.

Before the modern era the King of England used to sell patents on practically every item the English economy made or used. The abuse was horrific, and stifled the economy, not to mention suppressed the standard of living and the impulse toward progress. Revolt against the system, lead by merchants who wanted free trade, was one of the main causes of the English Revolution, when the English people killed their King and established modern democracy. But before the revolution, the system was bad, as you can glean from this passage from Christopher Hill`s book Century of Revolution:

It is difficult for us to picture for ourselves the life of a man living in a house built with monopoly bricks, with windows of monopoly glass; heated with monopoly coal, burning in a grate made of monopoly iron. His walls were lined with monopoly tapestries. He slept on monopoly feathers, did his hair with monopoly brushes. He washed his face with monopoly soap, his clothes in monopoly starch. He dressed in monopoly lace, monopoly linen, monopoly belts, and monopoly gold thread. His hat was monopoly beaver, with a monopoly band. His clothes were held up with monopoly belts, monopoly buttons, and monopoly pins. They were dyed with monopoly dyes. He ate monopoly butter, monopoly currants, monopoly red herrings, monopoly salmon, and monopoly lobsters. His food was seasoned with monopoly salt, monopoly pepper, and monopoly vinegar. Out of monopoly glasses he drank monopoly wines and monopoly spirits; our of pewter mugs made from monopoly tin he drank monopoly beer made from monopoly hops, kept in monopoly barrels or monopoly bottles, sold in monopoly-licensed ale-houses. He smoked monopoly tobacco in monopoly pipes, played with monopoly dice or monopoly cards, or on monopoly lute strings. He wrote with monopoly pens, on monopoly paper; read (possibly through monopoly reading glasses by the light of monopoly candles) monopoly printed books, including monopoly Bibles, printed on paper made from monopoly collected rags, bound in sheepskin dressed with monopoly alum. He exercised himself with monopoly golf balls and in monopoly licensed bowling alleys. Mice were caught in monopoly mousetraps. ...Monopolies interfered with the normal channels of trade. By the late 1630s, the economy was suffering. "If such a system had been maintained," Mr Unwin wrote of Stuart economic regulations in general, "the Industrial Revolution would never have happened."

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Posted by: isob on 24 July 2003 at 10:45 PM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour