Copyright reflects far more than economic interests. Embedded within conflicts over royalties and infringement are cultural values--about race, class, access, ownership, free speech, and democracy--which influence how rights are determined and enforced. Questions of legitimacy--of what constitutes "intellectual property" or "fair use," and of how to locate a precise moment of cultural creation--have become enormously complicated in recent years, as advances in technology have exponentially increased the speed of cultural reproduction and dissemination.
In Copyrights and Copywrongs, Siva Vaidhyanathan tracks the history of American copyright law through the 20th century, from Mark Twain's vehement exhortations for "thick" copyright protection, to recent lawsuits regarding sampling in rap music and the "digital moment," exemplified by the rise of Napster and MP3 technology. He argues persuasively that in its current punitive, highly restrictive form, American copyright law hinders cultural production, thereby contributing to the poverty of civic culture.
In addition to choking cultural expression, recent copyright law, Vaidhyanathan argues, effectively sanctions biases against cultural traditions which differ from the Anglo-European model. In African-based cultures, borrowing from and building upon earlier cultural expressions is not considered a legal trespass, but a tribute. Rap and hip hop artists who practice such "borrowing" by sampling and mixing, however, have been sued for copyright violation and forced to pay substantial monetary damages. Similarly, the oral transmission of culture, which has a centuries-old tradition within African American culture, is complicated by current copyright laws. How, for example, can ownership of music, lyrics, or stories which have been passed down through generations be determined? Upon close examination, strict legal guidelines prove insensitive to the diverse forms of cultural expression prevalent in the United States, and reveal much about the racialized cultural values which permeate our system of laws. Ultimately, copyright is a necessary policy that should balance public and private interests but the recent rise of "intellectual property" as a concept have overthrown that balance. Copyright, Vaidhyanathan asserts, is policy, not property.
Bringing to light the republican principles behind original copyright laws as well as present-day imbalances and future possibilities for freer expression and artistic equity, this volume takes important strides towards unraveling the complex web of culture, law, race, and technology in today's global marketplace.
"...Perhaps the most impressive thing about Vaidhyanathan, a superb writer and speaker, is that he has made such complicated issues not only understandable but almost, well, entertaining." Library Journal "A fascinating journey through the cultural history of copyright law. Copyrights and Copywrongs is remarkably readable, mercifully free of legal jargon, and entertaining. It is also thoroughly researched and includes extensive notes and references. This text belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in the ethics and development of copyright." International Journal of Law and Information Technology "Vaidhyanathan traces the expansion of American copyright from the late nineteenth century on, giving an especially interesting account of the complexities and absurdities raised by its application to film and music." American Quarterly "This book makes it clear that copyright struggles are not new and will continue in the years ahead... He makes that case readable, understandable, and even entertaining." Portal: Libraries and the Academy "Remarkably readable, free of legal jargon, and entertaining ... the author's arguments are cogent, enlightening, and important to all information professionals." College & Research Libraries "Illuminating" Bookforum April-June 2002 "It has taken lawyers 200-plus years to morph copyright law from the balanced compromise that our framers struck to the extraordinary system of control that it has become. In this beautifully written book, a non-lawyer has uncovered much of the damage done. Copyrights and Copywrongs is a rich and compelling account of the bending of American copyright law, and a promise of the balance that we could once again make the law become." Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School and author of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace "Siva Vaidhyanathan has done a big favor for the academic and library communities. In this book, he has spelled out in clear, understandable language what's at stake in the battles over the nation's intellectual property. The issues brought forward are critical to the future of scholarship and creativity. Librarians and academics are wise to purchase this book and add it to their 'must read' lists." Nancy Kranich, President, American Library Association, 2000-2001 "Copyrights and Copywrongs is an urgent information-age wake-up call to a public cocooned in belief that 'copyright' is a seal and safeguard for consumers and producers of culture-ware. This book guides us into the legal labyrinth of a new world of so-called intellectual property, in which 'fair use' isn't fair, where rights are waived and free speech - when we can get it - costs a great deal of money. From print books to video games, Copyrights and Copywrongs shows free expression in a legalistic chokehold. Clearly written, meticulously argued, this book is a must." Cecelia Tichi, author ofEmbodiment of a Nation: Human Form in American Spaces "Bravo! When you read this brilliant, often-amusing, always-penetrating book - and you must read it as soon as possible - you will be persuaded that our Founding Fathers were wise and right when they made the law allowing an author's copyright to exist for a limited time only, either 14 or 28 years." CU Cityview