When I was a kid I wondered why the music store sold blank cassettes. Didn’t they know we took them home and made copies to give to our friends? We’re way past mixed tapes, but the concept hasn’t changed: what’s recorded can be copied. At what point does the art cease to belong to the artist?
Everyone that’s ever burnt a CD has at one time or other known they were breaking the law. It seems so harmless, and what’s the chance they’ll single you out?
When my old laptop broke down I upgraded to a desk console with wireless devices and a high-definition monitor. I wanted to watch movies so my computer expert, being of a similar mind, went ahead and installed a program that – he claimed – would let me download shows and music for free. I enjoyed a brief honeymoon.
Less than two weeks later I received an email from, well, someone intimidating enough to convince me to erase the program and all the movies I’d downloaded and never do it again. Apparently the line has been drawn: 17 U.S. Code Chapter 1 Sections 101-122 lays out the can’s and cant’s of copyright law as it applies to “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.”
Some call it intellectual property. I prefer the term art.
As I browsed through the fine print of copyright law I came upon Section 107: Fair Use. It seems there are some situations in which it is acceptable to copy an artist’s work without payment or permission. The Section doesn’t so much lay out guidelines as list the factors considered when weighing a potential case of copyright infringement. Here they are, as cribbed from Cornell’s Legal Information Institute website:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- The nature of the copyrighted work;
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Sections 108-122 go on to list other limitations to exclusive rights to an artist’s work, including such situations as certain performances and displays, secondary transmissions of broadcast programming by cable, reproductions by libraries and archives, and reproductions for blind or otherwise disabled persons.
Somewhere in the middle of the Table of Contents I began to ask myself: if it takes this much detail to describe the exactitudes of our freedoms, are we truly free? If we can’t understand the intricacies of law well enough to defend ourselves if, God forbid, it comes to that, are they truly rights?
In Book Publishing class I learned that frontier America had a rich history of copyright infringement and plagiarism when it came to European and Russian literature. Not until Americans started producing noteworthy works of their own did we get fanatic about eking every ounce of value out of artistic expression.
It seems to be a symptom of individualism and opportunism and taking advantage of our freedom. I don’t want to say we’ve made a wrong turn, but at times I think we’ve lost sight of what’s really important.
Why do we make art? Is it for the internal process or for our peers’ validation? Would it look different without a profit motive? What do we want to get out of it?
Sometimes the answer is, we do art to discover these things. I’m drawn to write stories. Half the time I know what I want to say and make extensive outlines before penning a word, but my favorite part of the process, where I feel the real magic happens, is when I sit down with an idea and just explore it.
I’m finding my voice. Finding my way. Maybe one day I’ll feel a need to protect my intellectual property. I hope not, but change comes with age, and no one is immune to either. For the present I want to thank you for reading, dear friends who’ve made it this far, and let you know I would consider it an honor, not an infringement, for you to share my work.
I love this planet and the life that moves across its face and under its skin. I have the highest hopes for the future, and our part in it. Let us be a reflection of our gratitude.
- Bo Mandoe December 2014