Blog from October, 2012

Copyright Miscellanea

As a follow-up to our conversation on copyright in Engl 170-01 last week, here are a few links you may find interesting:


Tattoos and Copyrights

I came across this picture on Pinterest and it immediately reminded me of what we were discussing in class pertaining to copyrights and it was especially interesting because it is a picture from a scene in Through the Looking Glass. Lessig talks about the development of fair use, which means the material can be quoted word for word, as long as it is for commentary/criticism or parody. This could be considered a commentary on Lewis Carroll's work, but that is subjective. If it weren't deemed a commentary, could this person with the tattoo be guilty of copyright infringement? The idea that the person would suffer any type of consequences for tattooing a scene from Through the Looking Glass is absurd and extremely improbable. However, legally, would it be possible? Just an interesting thought when applied to how copyright and publishing have evolved as discussed in the Lessig presentation! At least the person chose the original text, instead of Disney's version.

Judge Baer and the Elephant

Just in time for our conversation about copyright this Friday comes a major federal court decision regarding digitization of books by libraries. The case of Authors Guild, Inc. et al. v. HathiTrust et al. is related to but separate from the higher-profile case of Authors Guild et al. v. Google, which involved Google's large-scale book digitization project.

HathiTrust is, in its own words, "a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future." The Author's Guild describes itself as "the nation's leading advocate for writers' interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts and free expression since it was founded as the Authors League of America in 1912."

In September, 2011, the Author's Guild and others sued HathiTrust for violation of copyright law. HathiTrust has been scanning books for purposes that they argue fall within the law's exceptions for "fair use." The Author's Guild sees the scanning as a dire threat to author's rights.

You can read the Guild's 2011 press release about its lawsuit on their website.

HathiTrust's website offers this response to the Guild's claims of copyright infringement as well as other resources for understanding the suit.

This September 2011 article on the website arstechnica offers a more neutral perspective.

Law Professor James Grimmelmann's website The Laboratorium has followed the case and offers broad coverage of copyright issues. Its post this evening explains the main consequences of the court's decision and links to the decision itself.

Copyright is a complicated area of the law. The HathiTrust case, the Google case, and the many cases in the news related to file sharing, file hosting, digital rights management, etc. can puzzle even the well-informed.

But as culture becomes increasingly digital, those who care about it must do their best to understand what these cases mean for the future of innovation and creativity.

Culture creep

As we begin our discussion of "What is Culture?" this week, I thought I'd submit in evidence this remarkable little creation. It's over a year old, so many of you may already be familiar with it. I discovered it only a few weeks ago. How might it help us understand what we mean by "culture"? How does it use culture? Is it, in itself, an instance of culture? If so, why and how? If not, why not?

A recent Geneseo graduate who is currently attending Columbia School of Journalism just sent me the following link to George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language." Here's a quote from the essay (one of many smart points that Orwell makes about the connection between how we write and how we think): "If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs." We often have this sense that our thinking can be separated from our writing, a sentiment that is perhaps best captured by that hackneyed criticism often written on student papers: "You have such great ideas, but you're having trouble expressing those ideas." It is as if we have a "thought," which isn't in language, and then we try to express that thought. Orwell's essay, though, prompts us to see the connection between thought and writing, to recognize that what we say actually produces how we think. Or, to put it a different way: lazy writing produces lazy thinking; stupid writing makes us stupid. Anyway, just something to think about (and one heck of an essay on how to write) as you work on your own essays for 170. Oh, and it's a great essay to read as you're listening to political ads heading up to the November election.