Modern-day copyright harbors a dark side. The misunderstanding held by many who believe that the primary purpose of copyright law is to protect authors against those who would pilfer the author’s work threatens to upset the delicate equilibrium in copyright law. This misunderstanding obviously works to the benefit of the content owning industries, such as the publishing industry, the music and motion picture industries, and the computer software industry. This fundamental misunderstanding is perpetuated by the stern FBI warnings at the beginning of video tapes, by overly broad assertions of the rights in the copyright notices, and by the general lack of public discourse about the balance required in copyright law if copyright is to fulfill its constitutionally mandated goal of promoting knowledge and learning.
This dark side, this pervasive misconception, is turning copyright into what our founding fathers tried to guard against - a tool for censorship and monopolistic oppression. This may sound extreme to some, but consider the beginnings of copyright in this country. The first Copyright Act in the United States granted only the exclusive right only to print, publish, and vend a copyrighted work, and it lasted for only fourteen years, with the possibility of a second fourteen-year term. No exclusive rights to perform the work or to create an adaptation of the work were granted, only the right to print, publish, and vend for, at most, twenty-eight years.
Under current copyright law, not only do copyright owners have the right to publish and distribute the work, but copyright owners also have the right to control the public performance of a work, to control the making of adaptations of the work, and to control the reproduction of the work independent of what is done with that new copy. And, as a result of the Copyright Term Extension Act passed in October, 1998, now the basic term of copyright lasts for the life of the author plus seventy years. This new term is a far cry from the original maximum term of twenty-eight years, and results in a much larger monopoly and a much longer time that the public must wait for any given work to enter the public domain.
In 1925 Vsevolod Pudovkin, leaving his studies in physical chemistry unfinished and having worked a few years both in a chemical laboratory and in the experimental filmstudio of Lev Kuleshov, began shooting his first independent film: the “Mechanics of the brain”, a didactic documentary of Ivan Pavlov's physiological laboratory in Leningrad. One year before the Soviet party had started the campaign of “Cinemafication of the whole country”. Factography was the concept, which connected writers, photographers and filmmakers to produce propaganda movies and bring cinema and ideology simultaneously to the largely analphabetic population. This tendency of effectivation, which had started with the death of Lenin, was reinforced by Stalin at the end of 1924, when he presented his program of accelerated industrialization at the 14th Convention.
While eating dinner Sprout told me she’s going to start a metal band called Death Unicorn and their first song is titled “Get Off My Property”. Their second song will be called “Lettuce in Your Teeth”.