CRAVEN’S NOTES: The ©opyright ©ombat ©ontinues
Free Press Music Columnist
If you’re one of those people whose eyes glaze over at the mention of “copyright law,” then you haven’t been paying attention to the news lately. Because in the world of intellectual property rights, this past week was like a war epic, a James Bond flick, a Hallmark Movie-of-the-Week, and a slapstick farce all rolled into one.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at the four stories which have gripped copyright holders and the content industries during the past seven days. Two of those stories have been pretty extensively reported upon, but the remaining pair are flying under most folks’ radars.
By far, the biggest news in intellectual property circles this week was how the so-called “Fair Use” exemption to copyright law swallowed the metaphorical equivalent of a super Viagra in the form of Judge Denny Chin’s ruling in the case of the Authors Guild v. Google.
For the past eight years, the Guild has been up in arms over Google’s plan to digitize books in order to create a searchable database of literature and non-fiction. This week, that plan bolted significantly closer to fruition after Judge Chin found that “Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders.”
Craven has never fully understood the Author Guild’s opposition to Google’s plan. While Google would create digital copies of books, it would not make those books available commercially. No one would be allowed to download a complete scan of a book other than the library which initially lent Google the work in question. Instead, Google is building what could be thought of as the card catalog to end all card catalogs, a massive index which would allow researchers, librarians or even just interested readers to pinpoint volumes with exactly the information or stories being sought. Far from reducing sales of books, it seems to Craven the Google project would breathe new commercial life into older volumes which have otherwise gone out of print, been removed from library shelves, or in some other manner been forgotten.
Furthermore, the Google Books project has already allowed scholars and librarians to engage in forms of meta-textual study previously unimaginable. Judge Chin, in his ruling, noted how it had allowed researchers to look at “word frequencies, syntactic patterns, and thematic markers to consider how literary style has changed over time.”
Judge Chin’s decision was met with jubilation by librarians, free speech proponents and even more than a few authors. Its importance lies not just in what it means for the Authors Guild v. Google case (which will, apparently, continue in appeal), but for the stirring blow it delivers in defense of Fair Use, which has been systematically whittled away and narrowed during the past few decades.
Next week in this space, we’ll look at the already infamous “Trans-Pacific Partnership,” the international treaty being negotiated in secret by 12 nations, including the United States, part of which was published by Wikileaks a week ago Wednesday and set the internet afire. The section of the TPP revealed by Wikileaks was specifically the section governing intellectual properties, and as we will see next week, its ramifications could undo all the good Judge Chin’s ruling did for the Fair Use exemption — and then some.
Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog and also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog at http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog/. You can also find him on Facebook. Notes is made possible by Tina Harbin of Real Estate West, the premier resource for all real estate information and services on the Western Slope.
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