Thursday, March 08, 2018

Copyright and the value we place owning property

Statue of someone deep in thoughtYesterday, I gave a webinar for ALA entitled "Understanding and Defending Copyright in Your Library: An Introduction."  As I spoke about briefly about Section 109, it struck me hard the value we put on owning property.  Section 109, referred to as the First Sale Doctrine, is about physical materials.  As a human race, we have shown century after century that we value ownership of material items, whether those items be money, land, equipment, or - sadly at some parts of our history - people. The "American Dream" equates a good life with owning a home and other items.  That Dream was a way of separating people who could afford to own from those who could not.  It is not about community ownership or living a life that is in balance with the world around us; it is about acquiring possessions whether they be immovable (real property, e.g., land) or movable (personal property, e.g., clothes).

Copyright is about asserting property right on our ownership "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression" (Section 102).  The word tangible stands out because  it is difficult to own something that is not fixed in some way.  We know from our use of the Internet that exerting ownership on digital items can be impossible.  We can quickly lose our control over those digital items.  For example, Facebook strips ownership information out of photos that are uploaded to it.  Where that photo came from and who took it is quickly lost.  Our ability to not own digital works has impacted what we can do with ebooks (a topic I discussed yesterday), for example. 

By the way, at the moment, many of us - no matter our station in life - have many digital objects in our procession.  We see them as personal property, yet given how society values property these digital objects has no real value at all.  Does that may it easier to abuse those digital objects (improperly copy, share, etc.)?  Subliminally, perhaps yes.

When people ask questions about copyright, there is always a question about attribution. What if I just acknowledge that the work belongs to someone else, I am okay then?  The answer is "no", because we have not fully respected that someone else owns and controls the work.  We have not fully respected their property.  Consider some equivalent such as moving into your home and acknowledging that is us yours, while simultaneously redecorating in a style that I like!

You might be expecting a thoughtful conclusion to this ramble. I'm not sure that I have one.  I believe that we need to teach children about their rights as creators when they are in elementary school.  I believe that if children understand that they are creators and what that means in terms of their creations, then they will better respect the creations of others.  This, however, is about owning and respecting property.  Perhaps along side those lessons there should be lessons that allow them to think about property in different ways.  That is it not about personal ownership and acquisitions, but about a respectful sharing or co-ownership.  I don't know where those lessons might lead, but I would hope that it might lead to positive changes.

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