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The distrest poets society

By Owen Paine on Friday May 15, 2009 01:06 PM

Imagine a city of many millions of people who support themselves and their families solely by arranging words, images and sounds, or in the industries that make this work available to others.... what they do influences most everything, shapes politics and governance, provides a conception of our time, forges the culture such as it is, and stamps the imprint of the present for history to judge.
Thus, purply, the renowned fictioneer, satirist, Zionist and copyright ogre Mark Helprin, shown below about to be crushed, it appears, by a falling bookshelf -- talk about poetic justice.

Note well, in Mark's exordium, the slipped-in phrase "or in the industries that make this work available to others." We will have occasion to return to this idea.

Comes the meta-economics:

"Their work is peculiarly vulnerable in that it is easy to appropriate. If they were farmers, industrialists or surgeons, their problems would be different. It is not possible to copy instantaneously and in virtually unlimited quantities either potatoes, aluminum or gall bladder surgeries, as one might a song or a scanned book.

Were this vulnerability unaddressed, the producers of intellectual property would be put out of business unless they were independently wealthy or worked either as amateurs or drew salaries at the pleasure of, and beholden to, boards, committees and overseers of every type.Always at risk, the independent voice....

Marvelous, eh -- beyond satire. Being "beholden" to a board is a worse fate than abiding the whimsy of a corporate publisher? And "independent voices" -- there certainly are plenty of those around, including your humble servants here at SMBIVA, whose work, let the record show, appears under the Creative Commons License. Mark has a few choice words for the Creative Commons folks, who might as well be amply-funded Somali pirates, to hear him tell it:
So-called public interest groups serve the new information super powers, the Standard Oils of our age, whose interests would be advanced if they did not have to bother with permissions and payments for what they call "content." The Creative Commons organization, for example, is richly financed by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Mozilla, Sun, the Hewlett Foundation, and others of the type."

"Copyright is no more a ... monopoly any more than you have a monopoly on the sale of a watermelon you might grow in your garden, or the monopoly a seamstress exercises over her work."

Mark is very wrong on the facts here. Copyright is -- or rather, used to be -- precisely a monopoly, so understood and so called, a monopoly on reproduction, granted by the state for public policy reasons, good or bad as the case may be. The notion of "intellectual property" (rather than mere temporary sanctioned monopoly) as applied to copyright and patent is a recent innovation, ginned up to justify the enormous expansion in these monopoly rights granted in recent years.
"The opponents of copyright disingenuously maintain that it locks up ideas, comment and debate. Title 17 of the United States Code resoundingly says otherwise, that "in no case does copyright protection... extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described."
Right, Mark. It's patent law, not copyright law, that does that. You can now patent "business processes" and algorithms. Patent law is one arm of the world-bestriding and still-growing Leviathan of "intellectual property", and copyright law is the other.

More Burkean painted history:

"In previous eras, advances in the ease of replication were met by the consistent strengthening of copyright... This did not discourage the production of works, which advanced by orders of magnitude. In Thomas Macaulay's England of 1825, 600 books were published.... 206,000 books [were] published in England in 2005. "One might attempt to argue the counterfactual, that even more books would have been published without copyright, but one would first have to establish that the incentive of being paid for one's work is a disincentive to producing it."
Got that? Copyright is payment for original producing of -- copy?

Recall that earlier line: "or in the industries that make this work available to others".

Hmmm. Other shapes crowd into the frame now, alongside the hustling creatives of Mark's Symbol City -- oddly sterile grasping shapes -- corporate shapes. Could they have sponsored this clown?

Here's the final clarion blast:

"What have you done to protect your life's blood and to guarantee the continued independence of your voice? As distressed as you may be now or not long from now, should copyright go the way of all flesh, some of you may soon be unable even to recognize your own profession, if indeed it continues to exist.
Symbol string creation -- for pay -- may vanish from this browning planet! Aiiee!


This post was a Paine/Smith co-production. Neither author is responsible for anything in it.

Comments (3)


Copyright has worked for me, since no one has stolen my unpublished epic, Portrait of the Wastrel as a Young Man, although they may have made use of some chapter headings, like Clueless (in Cambridge) and Restless (in Tijuana).


IP ....a non issue here at smbiva ???


It's an issue for me, Comrade Paine. As you well know. I wish we could get more people to see how totalitarian and on-the-march it is.

My own analogy is that it's like the "enclosures" of common land back in the 18th century.

Of course it enjoys absolute and complete bipartisan political support, like everything that's truly, deeply horrible.

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