Blowin’ in the Wind

I’m sure most of you have read quite enough about the Amazon “1984” incident; it received somewhat less coverage than the Techcrunch Twitter incident, which itself is saying something. I’m not going to comment directly on the merits and demerits of either incident here and now; they deserve considered responses and in the right context, not while emotions are high and views are unduly polarised.

Nevertheless, there are a few points I’d like to make.

One, we should use this opportunity to look at the idiocy of current copyright law. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about 1984’s copyright status:

Nineteen Eighty-Four will not enter the public domain in the United States until 2044 and in the European Union until 2020, although it is public domain in countries such as Canada, Russia, and Australia.

So let’s get this right. A book published sixty years ago, by an author who died the next year, may continue to be in copyright in some countries for another 35 years.

Publishing today is a global business, and the costs of reproduction and transmission are extremely low. Having regionally disparate copyright law is bad enough, trying to impose or police that law borders on insanity. So what happens if I buy a “post-copyright” copy of 1984 from a bookshop in Canada, and then cross over to the US to read it?

In a digital world, the very concept of copyright needs to be rethought. [And I am glad that many people, such as those at the Berkman Center, are doing just that.] What is happening now is as indefensible as region coding on a DVD, the desperate attempts of a historical monopoly to try and retain its rents.

A second point is best articulated via the example of Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. For sure he wrote it. For sure he was influenced by a negro spiritual called No More Auction Block, Dylan himself has admitted to that.

No More Auction Block is cited in literature as far back as 1873.

And No More Auction Block is shown as being under copyright to Special Rider Music in 1991.

What’s wrong with this picture?

In a digital world, we really need to revisit everything to do with IPR, inclusive of DRM and copyright and patents.

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