Whose Idea Was This, Anyway?

Intellectual property laws were originally conceived to protect
and nurture creative expression. Simply put, Artist A didn?t want
Artist B ripping off her song, her painting, her plot-line, photo,
poem, or prose. Consequently, laws were introduced to make the
plagiaristic impulse not only taboo, but punishable, and artists
had a certain institutional encouragement to be more original.

But, argues Fiona Morgan in the Durham [North Carolina]
Independent Weekly, in an increasingly cut-and-paste creative
culture, the laws often suffocate artistic expression. ‘Copyright
law,’ she writes, ‘has gone from promoting creativity to hindering
artistic expression, thanks in part to the efforts of a few giant
corporations that are sitting on billions of dollars worth of
intellectual property.’

In the past, a creator slapped a copyright notice on the work,
it was protected for twenty-eight years, and then it became part of
the public domain, where anyone could have access to it. But in,
1976, corporations like Disney influenced lawmakers to extend
protection to fifty years, and in 1998, with Sony Bono’s Copyright
Extension Act, proitection was stretched to seventy years for
individuals and ninety-five for corporations. The result, Duke Law
Professor, James Boyle, told Morgan, is that ‘we?ve locked up all
of twentieth century culture. Every book, every movie, every poem,
every song [will be protected] for nearly 100 years.’

Morgan offers hip-hop music and documentary film as examples of
art forms that suffer under these laws. Hip-hop’s tradition of
sampling, which once ‘[churned] the raw material of media
saturation into biting commentary with a good beat,’ has lately
become a liability, as record labels are wary of paying high prices
to sample even the shortest segments, and even more wary of
potential lawsuits if they try to maneuver around copyright law.
Ditto for documentary film makers, who have to be careful about
showing any copyrighted material within the frame, lest they be
made to pay for it.

Despite the big and oft-confusing business of intellectual
property, Morgan cites several groups — including Creative
Commons, Electric Frontier Foundation, and Center for the Public
Domain — who advocate for more realistic laws, attempt to make
more accessible works that already exist in the public domain, and
seek to educate artists about their choices.
Eric Larson

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Idea Was This, Anyway?

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