The Copyright Bargain

Copyright Explained
Erik J. Heels

Society benefits from creativity, so governments encourage it by giving creators a limited monopoly on their creations.  They do this through the copyright system.  The Statute of Anne, enacted in England in 1710, granted copyright of 21 years to books already in print, and 14 years to new books.  If the author was still alive after 14 years, they got another 14.  After that, and here’s the bargain, it entered the public domain for the benefit of society.

By protecting the rights of the creators for a limited time, society gains the fruits of their creativity.  Without the protection of the statute there is nothing to stop anyone from copying the work and doing whatever they want with it.  Copyright protects the creator from unjust exploitation, and limiting its duration ensures the balance of the bargain.

Copyright is not property.  It is an arrangement between creators and society; a temporary monopoly in exchange for the eventual release of their work into the public domain.  Both parts of the bargain need to be honored to fulfill the aim of the Statute of Anne to be “An act for the encouragement of learning.”


About arjaybe

Jim has fought forest fires and controlled traffic in the air and on the sea. Now he writes stories.
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