Copyright, A Property of Communication, A Link Between Creativity and Control

Meera Patterson
School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
February, 2004
 

Abstract


Copyright represents a delicate partnership between public and private interests. Situated amid the two, copyright reveals itself as a form of private property and an instrument of public policy. It offers a means of compensation to creators by granting time-limited monopoly rights of reproduction and distribution, after which the creative output enters the public domain.

Copyright evolved during the Industrial Revolution in England, entangled within the history of the commodification of literature. In the process, creation was deemed an inspired, solitary endeavour. This perspective obscures an important truth about cultural and scientific production--advancements in culture and science require appropriation and transformation. The control exerted by copyright allows portions of the public domain to be allocated as property. Some may consider property rights as means of possession, yet they represent a relationship between individuals and a community. True for the intellectual as well as the physical realms, it is a relationship where one individual is granted the privilege of excluding the community from access to the property. Against the backdrop of new media development in the United States, I illustrate a strengthening in the position of the individual, to the detriment of the community. By following copyright negotiations and judicial outcomes of the twentieth century, we see increasing support for the rights of the individual, and the partitioning of the public domain.

As the twentieth century closed, Adam Smith's eighteenth century dictum that the wealth of nations rested upon a triad of capital, labour, and resources, shifted to the triad of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. This has implications for another triad--information, meaning, and knowledge are continuously in flux with the elasticity of societal practices binding them together. But when the binding element loses its flexibility, the movement of all three elements becomes stilted. Copyright is one such societal practice--it influences that linkage between creativity and control, between knowledge and information, and, between the rights of an individual and the resources of a community.
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