Pit Schultz on Fri, 15 May 1998 19:46:10 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Michael Hart: Information Age - For Whom?

[Forget Privacy Campaigns - Do your own little Public Domain!]

"Information Age": For Whom? 

1.  The Public Domain in an "inalienable right". . .meaning that I could 
NOT get rid of my rights to Public Domain information in any manner, 
either giving them away, or selling them, etc., etc. 

2.  If _I_ cannot get rid of those rights, then no one else must be 
allowed to do that for me. 

3.  The copyright law was created to ENHANCE public information, at least 
in the United States.  Copyright has a somewhat spotted history outside 
the United States, having often been used for an extra methodology of 
censorship. . .when copyright was invented, only 12 legal printing 
presses were allowed [with two exceptions for Oxford and Cambridge 
scholars].  This was also a monopoly on publishing new materials for the 
Stationers' Guild. [Not a major comment, but the copyright referred to 
earlier, was 28 years. . .rather than 26] 

The original copyright was for 14 years, even in light of all of the 
censorship and monopoly issues. . .and could NOT be renewed, except by 
the author. . .which required that the author still be alive!!! 

Please take note that all copyright creation and extensions have been 
ONLY to repress increases in the public's ability to copy--no such 
interest was taken when it was only the RICH who copied; and RICH is an 
honorable man. 

The First Information Age was created by the Gutenberg Press and was 
brought to a screeching halt by the first copyright laws. The Second 
Information Age was created by the steam and electric presses of the turn 
of the last century, and was brought to that same kind of screeching halt 
by the Copyright Act of 1909, which doubled all copyright terms, 
retrospectively:  as long as it was not an already expired copyright. 

The Third Information Age was created by the xerox machine, such a short 
time ago that many of you still remember it, and, it was brought to a 
screeching halt by yet another copyright extension; not by better 
enforcement of the current copyright laws. 

Each one of these three "Information Ages" brought millions, and millions,
and millions, of copies of books to the masses, and it was probably true
that most of them were legitimate copies.  Yet the reply was a "Search and
Destroy" mission to eliminate both a concept of a large Public Domain, and
also the content of Public Domain.  Each time a million books that would
have gone into the Public Domain were kept under copyright. 

The copyright laws, in the United States at least, were designed to 
provide more information to the masses, not less, and we paid for them 
with our taxes. 

These copyright laws are TWO-SIDED COINS. . .when something gets a 
copyright it generates TWO-SIDED RIGHTS. . .for a LIMITED TIME those 
rights go to the copyright holder. . .and after that LIMIT the rights go 
into the Public Domain. 

The public has granted these copyright holders their years of an outright 
monopoly, and the public has a right to the expirations of those 
copyrights ON TIME. . . . 

The proposed laws would violate those "inalienable rights" to do nearly
nothing for the profits of the copyright holders. . .less than 1% of 1% of
1% of works will gain ANY more profit under the proposed extensions.  This
is a law that makes no pretense of an effort to gain anything for any but
"the riches of the richest." Only the best of the best of the best sellers
could even expect, or even hope, to have profitable sales 95 years from
now, but it would eliminate 99.98% of what would enter the Public Domain
for that period of history, which would become an intellectual "Dark Ages"
in terms of comparing "Information Access" a class we have come to call
the "Information Rich," and a class we have come to call the "Information

This, the Fourth "Information Age" is being treated the same way as were 
the other three.  THEY are only interested in copyrights as a way to keep 
US from copying, from being educated.  It NEVER crosses their minds to 
create or extend copyrights unless and/or until the MASSES get too much 
information.  For millennium after millennium no one cared about copying, 
because only the rich had the means to copy anything and why should THEY 
pay for anything? 

Here is an example: 

At the beginning of this century most copyrights expired without being 
renewed, since most copyrighted materials had already gone out of print 
well before the first 14 years of copyright.  It is likely that probably 
7 out of 8 books that were even selected to be in libraries were out of 
print at the end of those 14 years-- probably a much greater proportion 
of other materials.  It would probably be a great shock to many of you to 
find out how many of the books printed are out of print in only 6 weeks.  
The minimal effort required to renew the copyright, still created the 
larger Public Domain, by far, than that that would have been created by 
not requiring ANY effort for renewal. 

After the second major copyright law all copyright periods would be 
doubled. . .28 years. . .plus a possible 28 year extension to total 56 

After the third major copyright law, all copyrights would be for 75 
years, whether any extension was applied for or not. 

If this fourth major copyright law is passed, all copyrights for the next 
period will be for 95 years, no extension required. 

So. . .after over centuries of copyrights of 14 years, plus a 14 POSSIBLE 
extension. . .in this single century we will have moved from a copyright 
law which probably averaged around 15 years for the average item, to a 
copyright regime which will generate a 95 year copyright. 

To put that in perspective:  when copyrights were averaging time periods 
of just over 14 years, and information was doubling at a rate of every 14 
years, you could be sure that at least HALF the information in the world 
was in the Public Domain. 

Now that information is doubling perhaps every 2 years, it is an easy 
math problem to realize that VIRTUALLY ALL INFORMATION WILL BE UNDER 
COPYRIGHT. . .and for a longer period than our children can be expected 
to live. 

THAT. . .is TOO much. 

No one, not even the greatest aristocracies of history, has ever dreamt 
of having such a great portion of anything, be it land or sea, be it real 
or imaginary. 

Michael S. Hart  <hart@pobox.com>
Project Gutenberg Executive Director 

Michael S. Hart, Professor of Electronic Text 
Benedictine University [Illinois Benedictine] 
Executive Director of Project Gutenberg Etext 
Post Office Box 2782, Champaign IL 61825-3231  
No official connection to U of Illinois--UIUC 

"Now Is the Time"
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