Wednesday, August 25, 2010

NPR > An Un-'Common' Take On Copyright Law

It's safe to say that most Americans don't spend much time thinking about intellectual property law. But in Common As Air, Lewis Hyde explains why these laws profoundly affect our culture -- and how they are based on assumptions that are artificial, illogical and outdated.


.... [I]ntellectual property laws affect our culture profoundly, in ways that go beyond college students being taken to court for downloading songs. Some people believe that not only are current copyright laws too stringent, but that the assumptions the current laws are based on are artificial, illogical and outdated.

Among them is Lewis Hyde, a professor of art and politics who has studied these issues for years. In his new book Common As Air, Hyde says he's suspicious of the concept of "intellectual property" to begin with, calling it "historically strange." Hyde backs it up with an impressive amount of research; he spends a significant amount of time reflecting on the Founding Fathers, who came up with America's initial copyright laws.

Hyde is a contrarian, but he's not a scorched-earth opponent of all copyright laws. He does believe the national paradigm for intellectual property issues should be changed, though, at one point offering several examples of the absurd situations the current laws have created. [snip]Hyde advocates for a return to a "cultural commons" and quotes, approvingly, Thomas Jefferson, who believed that "ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man."


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