Sat, January 18, 2003

Eldred reactions

Richard Koman’s article Eldred Opinion Met with Anger, Determination written for the O’Reilly Network expresses the general feeling and reactions in the technical community to the copyright case:

The hackers and activists who make up the Electronic Frontier Foundation are seething, said EFF spokesman Cory Doctorow. “There’s widespread anger and even rage that this decision came down the way it did, and there’s a renewed sense that something must be done as soon as possible to counteract the harmful effects of bad laws like the Sonny Bono act. … We are now at a point where the issue of copyright reform and the public domain, which two years ago was so obscure as to be invisible—even among very technical people—is now a mainstream issue, at least within the technology world. We can hope now that this [decision] will vault this issue into the nontechnical world, but certainly a generation of technical people have been changed forever by the preparation for and the outcome of this case.”

Eric Eldred, the Internet publisher who was the lead plaintiff in the case, … believes in the virtue of putting as much as possible on the Net. The court “seemed to accept the argument that the copyright law gives financial incentive to copyright owners to make things available, and extending the term only increases the chance of availability,” Eldred said in a telephone interview, “which seems to me just wrong, actually.”

Eldred thinks the burden is now on the publishers to make works available online. “If the court says this law is the best way to do it, then fine, let’s do it—put up or shut up.” If this doesn’t happen, he warns, Internet users will start taking the law into their own hands. “I think people will just kind of disregard the copyright law and make things available if they want to, and if there are suits about it, then maybe this decision will be some sort of defense.” He noted that there’s a section of the 1998 law that allows libraries and archives to publish works in the last 20 years of their copyright term. “As far as I know nobody’s taking advantage of that, but both the government and the court have pointed to that as some sort of escape passage, and I’d like to see people just go ahead and make the works available on the Internet, and we’ll see if there are any lawsuits that come out of that.”

There’s a general consensus among copyright reformers that the decision could be a rallying cry to energize a growing movement of hackers, consumers, and academics.

“I hope this case becomes a rallying point for people who care about the public domain, and this issue, which has been so obscure and hard to understand for most people, creates a more mainstream dialogue in which creators and audiences come to realize how important the public domain is,” said EFF’s Doctorow.

We’ve already seen the breakdown of respect for copyright in online music sharing and, I believe, in some ways in all online publishing. It seems an obvious reaction to the excesses of copyright protection; it no longer serves the good of the people. My own reaction is to look into ways to open my own works. The Founder’s Copyright looks promising. I’ve asked the Creative Commons for more details. I am also seeking to educate my friends and family about what was lost in this case.

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