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GUEST,Okiemockbird The Purpose of Copyright (76* d) RE: 'The Purpose of Copyright' 13 May 00


"The influence of the imaginary Law of Nature over modern thought has been all-pervading; on the whole, however, still greater on the Continent than in England...As a general rule, French speculation knows no distinction or barrier between the province of morals and that of politics or legislation...it invests the creations of pure legal institution--the law of property for example--with the sacredness and indefeasibility of the fundamental doctrines of morals; and cannot bear to discuss such a question, for instance, as copyright, on grounds of general expediency, but insists on clenching it by affirming or denying an assumed absolute right in authors to hold the produce of their brain, by themselves or their representatives, as permanent property to the end of time."
--John Stuart Mill, Edinburgh Review #242, October, 1863, pp. 461-462 (from a review of John Austin's Lectures on Jurisprudence and On the Uses of the Study of Jurisprudence)

In many ways I am like one of Mill's "French" theorists: when I take a "natural rights" approach to copyright, I start with the premise that every human being has a "natural right" to copy any intangible work of the human mind (so long as the act of copying itself is non-invasive and non-destructive), whether created by himself or another. But I am also like Mill's hypothetical "English" theorists because I think that this "natural right to copy" can be constrained slightly on its margins, for purposes of "general expediency". We the public are permitted marginally to refrain from exercising our right to copy a limited class of works for a limited time, if by so restraining ourselves we "promote the progress of science and useful arts." But (here I revert to an "unailienable rights" approach) this right to copy can only be modified on its margins. If we give up too much of it for too long, the core of our freedom of expression is threatened.

Simply imagine this: Suppose the Hebrew Scriptures (about 2100-2200 years old now in their present form) were protected by copyright. If the copyright came under the control of Jew-haters or anti-Christian bigots (in some places the government might use its power to create this situation, in other places it might happen as a result of the vicissitudes of inheritance or the twists and turns of individual religious opinions), Jews could be forbidden from copying the Torah onto vellum scrolls, and Jews and Christians could be forbidden from using the scriptures in their worship, or publishing editions of the bible, or making new translations of it. Hence an overly-long copyright can end up threatening freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of worship.

T.


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