Saturday, March 2, 2024

Another Copyright Lament (too bad it’s from the WSJ)

CopyrightPicLet me make on thing clear. I read the Wall Street Journal, and I like it. In fact, I like it much more than the New York Times. The WSJ has wide and succinct coverage on numerous issues without being preachy, dated, or irrelevant (just try reading the Times’ Arts section and you’ll see what I mean). This being said, I am occasionally disappointed by the WSJ in its choice for writers and their subject matter.

Point in fact. This past Friday, the WSJ printed an article by Tony Woodlief, a self-proclaimed “memoir writer,” on copyright and greed. The title of the article says it all: Curse of the Greedy Copyright Holders. I know it’s a bit much to expect anyone these days to have a sense of duty or accountability, but I do hope that someone at the WSJ is keeping track of how many articles they publish on the evils of copyright and the so-called negative effects it has on creativity and “Western culture.” Woodlief takes the same and tired argument of how his own “creative” impulse was thwarted when he either had to pay a rightful copyright owner for content, or when he was refused permission to use copyright content. Woodlief uses another tired argument–the economics is always good for everyone argument–to try and illustrate how denial of access to copyrighted content by copyright owners hurts not only creativity and culture, but financial windfall to copyright owners. One example:

The estates of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway have historically restricted which stories can be used in anthologies, which means that students often have a narrow exposure to two of our country’s finest writers.

Boo hoo. The only place where young students can read Faulkner and Hemingway are in anthologies. How about these teens–sorely aching for some American literature–put some money aside that instead of funding donuts, weed, and wine funds a book by one of these two authors? (Note: one may purchase a Faulkner book on Amazon for as little as .55 cents, or a Heminway for as little as $2.71.)

Like many other free-culture-arians, Woodlief fails to note that this refusal by copyright owners to profit from their creative assets is one of their property rights granted by copyright law. In fact, isn’t that the beauty of sovereignty and property, that property owners have–with limited exceptions–the right to do as they wish with their property? Secondly, if Woodlief is so traumatized and repulsed by this property right, he may do well in reading Section 107 of US Copyright Law, which many know as the “fair use” exceptions. If Woodlief is so gung-ho about extending Western culture with his writing (which I’m sure is at the level of Kafka, Borges, and Emerson), why not do what many say but don’t do and test copyright and fair use laws? Test it I say, and roll the dice and see if you can help Western culture by expending the reading of fair use. After all, must not we admit that this “dreaded” copyright law is bringing Western civilization to its knees, depriving it of cutting-edge music, art, literature, poetry, design, graphic design, painting, architecture, dance, performance art, and dare I say, blogging?

Please, WSJ, don’t drive down the same road as the New York Times and become another tired and nagging voice. We all have mothers and yet, unlike Lebron James, do not need them dictating our every thought and move. In case you haven’t gotten around to it (or can stomach another free-culture prayer), you can read Woodlief’s lament here.


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