Copyleft, right, left, right…

Copyright is contentious…to say the least. It is at the centre of much debate in academia, in society, and certainly between corporate entities and consumers. Companies’ share price and profits often hinge on the protection of their intellectual property and copyrighted materials whether movies, TV shows, music, photographs, articles and much more. In the age of the Internet, of course, there are few barriers to individuals and organizations breaking copyright law, and in some countries copyright laws are permissive.

From fair use to creative commons to copyright theft and digital downloads, opinions diverge widely. Some see the notion that “sharing is caring” as vital to creativity and even democracy and copyright as nothing but an evil whereas others see all breaches of copyright law as morally, legally and commercially wrong.

Writing in the International Journal of Technology Policy and Law, Julian Hauser of the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, UK, puts forward a moral argument for limiting copyright protection. He argues that today’s expansive copyright laws not only hurt consumers and stifle creativity, but do little to protect content creators and authors.

Hauser puts forward a pared-down version of copyright that he defends as consisting of the right to attribution, the right to have one’s non-endorsement of modifications or uses of one’s work explicitly noted, and the right to a fair share of the profit resulting from the commercial uses of one’s work.

“The significance of copyright can hardly be understated as it shapes one of the defining aspects of our humanity: our culture,” Hauser asserts. “Given these stakes, I have no doubt that copyright will remain a domain of heated debates for many years to come. We need more than that however – we need honest efforts at mutual understanding and constructive criticism.”

Copyright has its roots in laws written three hundred years ago. Maybe it is time for a reboot.

Hauser, J. (2017) ‘Sharing is caring vs. stealing is wrong: a moral argument for limiting copyright protection‘, Int. J. Technology Policy and Law, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp.68-85.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.