Brief History of Copyrights – Why the Grateful Dead and Dave Mathews Band Get It and Why Our Founding Fathers Would Spit On The Black Rat

Intellectual Property GraveyardIn AlwaysCreative, I argue that property rights as currently advocated in North America are a human tragedy in their current state.

Balancing cultural needs with artists' and inventors' rights has been an ancient issue and one that our Founding Fathers spent a great deal of time in drafting a suitable framework, which as time has moved forth, has been all but lost.

U.S. property rights seem to resonate the greatest with those rooted in greed, stinginess, insecurity, and/or paranoia. Often found hiding behind soulless bureaucracies, these Darwinian life forms continue to advocate tinkering with a system mostly for their own profits while failing to consider the overall culture's needs (e.g., Fair Use, Public Domain).

Why is it the man most responsible for cementing the democratic framework has been so ignored in this department?

Thomas Jefferson realized that a balance between cultural need and artistic need could be solved by offering the artist limited rights for a period of time. The U.S. Constitution states:

Article 1, Section 8 – "The Congress shall have Power…To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries… Amendment I – Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…"

Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights via the United Nations (1948) places cultural needs above artists' rights:

"Article 27 – 1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits."

Michael Hart's Project Gutenberg newsletter, March 1997, states:

"Copyright in the US was originally proposed by Jefferson to be 14 years – which was extended to 28 years immediately, then 56 years to defeat the first steam and electric powered printing presses of a century ago, and to 75 years to defeat the Xerox machine. Now they are trying for 95 years to defeat text made available via computer networks."

Hmmm.

I've heard intellectual property experts argue that patents are the highest form of absolute protection under U.S. law; they are above trademarks which are above copyrights. The U.S. Patent Office, created in 1836, legislated in 1790, offers patent recipients only seventeen (17) years of free reign. This is only three more years than originally proposed by the great frameworker, Thomas Jefferson, son of the Republic, for copyrights! What's more is that many patent attorneys will confess most patents don't make money. So why the stranglehold on copyrights – greed hidden behind the soulless!

Consider the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, and The Black Rat's approach to intellectual property rights.

Both bands allow their customers to tape the live concerts and share those tapes with friends and family. During an interview with Charlie Rose, Dave Matthews even went so far as to suggest this sharing strategy was a huge part in their growing popularity. And during another interview, Grateful Dead lead guitarist, Jerry Garcia commented, "My responsibility is to the notes. Once they leave my guitar, they have a life of their own."

Yet, The Brothers Grimm who a century before Walt Disney came on the scene, wrote about folklore and fairytales, many of which became the basis for Disney motion pictures. The reason we have the Sony Bono Copyright Act which extended copyright protection another twenty years on average, is chiefly because the Disney corporation's home turf was in Sony Bono's district when he was serving as a Congressman.

So even though the Disney organization (aka The Black Rat) has enjoyed so many cultural heritages leveraged from the likes of the Grimm Brothers, the Disney position can only be viewed as being about money and greed. Apparently, then Disney Rat Pack CEO called Congressman Bono and said, "We're going to loose Mickey if you don't do something. Under current copyright law, Mickey is about to expire and enter the Public Domain."

So here we are with yet another round of unnecessary copyright extensions that prohibit all of us from truly participating with our contemporary cultural heritage for the balance of our foreseeable lives.

But there is a bright spot and a reason for hope despite the misguided government action and corporate one-sidedness, and that is with the work being championed by the Creative Commons.

Viva the intellectual property rights' rock stars among us!

And here's hoping a new breed of government leaders will emerge in the near future and help course correct back to Jeffersonian wisdom.

PS – Here is link to Cathedrals and Open Source: Bazaars of Rights – a chapter from AlwaysCreative that further explains why copyrights are out of control

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