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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird) The Purpose of Copyright (76* d) RE: The Purpose of Copyright 17 Dec 02

Alice's remarks don't seem to have any connection to anything I have posted to this thread.

Our guest who claims to be from Dublin is mistaken in stating that "[copyright] by law protects [an author's] ownership of [his] work....If someone composes a song, a piece of music, a lyric, a poem or whatever, they and only they, or the company to whom they sign over certain rights own it. It is their property."

Just as Professor Loren states in her essay, in the U.S., the purpose of copyright is "to promote the progress of science". That's all. The temporary monopoly to authors is a means, not an end in itself.

I know of nothing in the U.S. copyright statute that states that an author "owns" the work in itself. The statute discusses the ownership of the copyright, not of the work. The court cases, as I read them, tend the same way. When the judges choose their words carefully--they don't always do so--it is the copyright, not the work, that is someone's "property". And the existence of termination rights, which allow an author to recapture the copyright after 30 years, makes a copyright less like a piece of property than most other forms of personal property, which can't be recaptured in this way.

I recognize one way that the work (as distinguished from the copyright) can be considered analogous to "property": if it is considered analogous to public property. The author, in a manner of speaking, trades the work to the public in exchange for the copyright. James Madison used this analogy in his posthumous essay on monopolies:

The Constitution ofthe United States has limited [monopolies] to two cases--the authors of books, and of useful inventions, in both which they are considered as a compensation for a benefit actually gained to the community as a purchase of property which the owner might otherwise withhold from public use. There can be no just objection to a temporary monopoly in these cases...

In this analogy the public has "purchased" the work; the temporary monopoly is the "compensation", the payment.


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