Tea Party Cherry-Pickin’ Copyright Edition
The Tea Party fetishisizes and cherry-picks the constitution (Fourteenth Amendment anyone?) the way the Religious Right fetishizes and cherry-picks the Bible (Adultery? Pork? Money lenders?).
Here some originalism I’d like to see the Tea Party embrace:
John Adams’ very first political essay was an attack on the Stamp Act. Now, when I was a kid, they taught me the Stamp Act was bad because it was taxation without representation.
But Adams never talks about that. What he talks about is this was a tax on paper, and paper was how ideas were carried, and therefore it was a tax on ideas, and therefore it was like the old monopolies that the church and the state in Europe had used to keep the population in what he called a “state of sordid ignorance and staring timidity.”
That’s Lewis Hyde, Kenyon College professor and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, discussing his new book, Common As Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership:
The very first Copyright Act in this country gave owners 14 years that they could renew once. That’s 28 years. The puzzle here is where to place the limit.
One way I come at this is to talk about what used to be called Civic Republicanism, and it begins with the assumption that the point of property is not simply to enrich individuals but to give them a base from which they can then begin to turn their attention to their community.
So there’s two steps to this. I call it the Republican Two-Step. On the one hand you have individual autonomy, but then the question is, why are you autonomous? Why are you free? And the answer to that for the 18th century was, you are free to try to serve your community. And I think that the early copyright law had this built into it. It gave a short-term private privilege in exchange for a long-term public benefit. …
The founding generation was very wary of what’s called perpetuities, situations in which property was owned forever, because perpetuities were one of the ways that the aristocracy in Europe controlled their power for centuries. This is one reason that they put a limit on the term of copyright.
And what we’ve done now is to extend the term of copyright such that it is statistically almost perpetual. The founders would be astounded.
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