'Digital Barbarism' Wages Online Copyright Battle

On "All Things Considered"

Author Mark Helprin wrote the novels A Soldier of the Great War and Winter's Tale. And two years ago, he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that inspired a huge online backlash.

In the op-ed, Helprin argued that the term for copyright protection should be extended to protect the author's individual voice from the pressures of the digital age. For his boldness, he faced the digital wrath of those who feel the term of copyright protection should be reduced or eliminated altogether.

He's responded to the backlash in the form of a book, Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto.

One of the most prominent opponents to Helprin's idea to extend copyright has been Lawrence Lessig. He's a professor of law at Stanford University and the founder of Creative Commons, a system that allows creators to opt out of certain copyright protections.

Full piece here.


I just submitted a future "Crawford at Large" column to ONLINE based on Helprin's 2007 screed, the group-generated Lessig response and my own "PermaCopyright" notion--that is, permanent copyright, but only for completely original work.

Unfortunately, if the rest of the book is as unreadable and extreme as the excerpt (which, admittedly, I didn't read in its entirety), Helprin's book isn't going to do much to rekindle the argument.

Oh, and let's be honest here: Helprin was arguing for permanent copyright, not merely an extension--or "as far as Congress could throw" an extension. And those of us who countered his argument include lots of people who favor copyright, but Constitutional copyright: Monopoly rights for limited terms in order to encourage new creativity. If Helprin's converting Creative Commons and Lessig into anti-copyright Commies, he's building a straw man.

copyright should only last 20 years.

this guy is a whiny bastard. I couldn't stomach reading the whole thing, but his first example of the corn farmer is that he now thinks that words are like corn. maybe they are, but the corn ripens and must be sold or gets plowed under and the land is used to grow more food. that ear of corn depreciates into worthlessness.

copyright doesn't expire and remove your name from your work; it just removes your ability to profit from it. it depreciates.

if you're a good writer, you'd keep producing and not hoard that one moment of productive labor and demand that others pay for the pleasure of sharing it. screw you.

copyright is just a way to fairly ascertain the value of creative work. some people expect to feed off that same crop forever.

That farmer by the side of the road story he explains doesn't wash. Yes, he planted it and took risks with it, but the land didn't just materialize for the man - he had to buy or steal it from someone. The seeds of his crop had to be provided through neighbors or government programs. The money to start his farm up came from family, government grant, or most likely from bank loans in a system we now have seen nightly on the news. If you go back even further then that any biologist will tell you the corn is a carefully mutated plant which humans have developed over millennia, mostly by creative cultivating of individual plants and then encouraging more mutations via cross-pollination and new plantings.

Plus, nice way to act with starving people in the world. Not that the kid was starving, it's just that individual greed and waste like that on a global scale doesn't help anyone long-term - especially in a place where not a lot of people can afford to buy items they only might want or need.

It might be the farmer's time, money, and effort - but the products still have to go to an open market to be sold and the farmer can only be as selfish as his personal reach will allow him to be. If he encouraged a neighborhood watch type program where everyone in the community was encouraged to look out for everyone else and share the fruits of their labor, the kid could have probably been encouraged to be a bit more on the honor system.

Finally, ideas and facts are not corn. They are, if you do it right, part of a the cultural lexicon that once bought, sold, or shared become part of someone else's life forever. Putting a price tag on that to someone like me who has lived around computers - and people willing to bootleg - her whole life is likely as ridiculous as white people's land rights were to the native Sioux.

The seeds of his crop had to be provided through neighbors or government programs.

Huh?? Corn seed can be purchased and that is probably how this farmer got his corn seed.

I do not question the property rights of the farmer. Did you napster or limewire or bearshare your dinner tonight?

Subscribe to Comments for "'Digital Barbarism' Wages Online Copyright Battle"