Copyright is both vital and obsolete.

The New Yorker: Is A.I. the Death of I.P.?

For you (probably) and me (definitely), the rights to our creations are not worth much money to anyone but ourselves. But, if you are the guy who wrote “Born to Run,” it is prudent to assign your rights to an entity that can pay you while you are alive some considerable portion of what your songs will be worth long after you are not. Bellos and Montagu argue that copyright law, originally enacted in Britain in the eighteenth century to protect publishers (and, to some extent, writers) from pirates, has evolved into a protection for corporate colossi with global reach. The law today treats companies as “authors,” and classifies things like the source code of software as “literary works,” giving software a much longer period of protection than it would have if it were classified only as an invention and eligible for a patent (now good for twenty years, with some exceptions).

Copyright is intended to ensure that artists, writers, musicians, and other creators have exclusive rights to profit from their works for a limited time. This bargaining chip fuels creativity by allowing individuals to make a living through their passions and talents. The sheer abundance of entertainment and art in today's world owes its thanks in part to the incentives copyright provides. In that sense, copyright law remains as necessary as ever. 

But in its current form, copyright law is obsolete and even counterproductive. Terms extend to over a century past an individual creator's lifetime, allowing corporate holders of valuable catalogues to reap rewards their original artists never dreamed of. Copyright's bargain with the public - a monopoly for a time until works enter the public domain - has been discarded as repeated extensions freeze the growth of the public domain. Remixing and transforming works remains legally hazardous, choking creation. Fair use rights lag behind technological realities like music sampling and meme culture. And thus far, copyright law has failed to protect creators from the greatest IP threat we have ever faced - LLMs and their training on and reproduction of our work. 

The great irony of modern copyright law is that the creators it is designed to protect lack the means to benefit from it in practice. While copyright theoretically grants rights to artists and authors, enforcing those rights is only possible by navigating a complex legal system that depends on significant financial resources for legal representation. 

For the intended beneficiaries of copyright, legal rights are only as strong as the legal muscle available to back them up. Most individual creators do not have the funds or lawyers to take infringement cases to court, even when their work is clearly being used without permission. A musician sampled without approval or a writer plagiarised by a major publication rarely sees justice. Their legal complaints are drowned out by those with deeper pockets. As a result, copyright becomes a system in which only corporations have the practical power to exercise exclusive rights, while unpaid individual artists cannot protect or profit from their own works. 

Meanwhile, attempts to sustain outdated business models have led to excessive digital restrictions that treat paying customers as pirates-in-waiting rather than fans. 

Clearly, copyright reform is needed to modernise an archaic system. Protections must better balance incentives for individual creators while preventing corporations from gaining excessive control over public culture. Term lengths should be shortened to reasonable limits, and the public domain should be revitalised to better serve the public interest and access. Fair use rights need expansion to keep copyright innovation on par with technological advances. Steps should be taken - whether through legal aid or simplified court procedures - to make justice accessible for creators threatened by unauthorised use. 

But most importantly, copyright must balance public access and corporate profits rather than fully conceding to industry demands. 

Walking this tightrope will be challenging but necessary if copyright is to remain relevant in the 21st century. The system needs repair, not replacement, to reclaim its original purpose. 

With measured reforms that serve both the public and creative professionals, I'm optimistic that copyright can be updated to distribute rights and rewards more equitably. 

There is a compromise to be found that spurs creativity while permitting access, but it will require wrestling concessions from entrenched media and corporate interests to achieve it.

I publish all the essays and commentary on my blog under a Creative Commons open-access license, which allows open sharing and modification of my material with proper attribution to me as the creator. I have always believed in the egalitarian spirit of open-source access and fair use rights that seeks to place educational value over restrictions and exclusivity. In choosing open licensing, I hope to allow my insights to reach and benefit readers more easily without artificial barriers, consistent with my ideological stance that disseminating thought and information should prioritise public enrichment rather than proprietorship.

But that's my decision, and it must be mine to make. Providing creators with the option to protect their works for commercial benefit remains a legitimate choice that should be protected.

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