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Copyright entails the right of the creator of a work to exert some control over how it's used, who can copy and distribute it, and a right to have their authorship acknowledged.


Stephan Kinsella:

"Copyright is a right given to authors of “original works,” such as books, articles, movies, and computer programs. Copyright gives the exclusive right to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, or to perform or present the work publicly. Copyrights protect only the form or expression of ideas, not the underlying ideas themselves.

While a copyright may be registered to obtain legal advantages, a copyright need not be registered to exist. Rather, a copyright comes into existence automatically the moment the work is “fixed” in a “tan¬gible medium of expression,” (


"Copyright gives authors legal protection for the following types of work:

  • literary works (e.g., books, film scripts, and even private correspondence);

  • dramatic and musical works (e.g., plays and music compositions recorded in the form of musical notation);

  • artistic works and works of applied art (e.g., paintings, ceramics, carvings);

  • maps and technical drawings;

  • photographic works;

  • motion pictures and sound recordings (e.g., movies, documentaries, and interviews);

  • computer programs and databases.

Copyright law is intended to protect authors by granting them exclusive rights to sell copies of their work in whatever tangible form (printed publication, sound recording, film, broadcast, etc.) is being used to convey their creative expressions to the public. Although registration is not usually necessary, it is advisable for authors to place their name on the work. However, legal protection covers the “expression” of the ideas contained, not the ideas themselves, which are not actually required to be novel at all. Copyright gives owners exclusive rights, usually for the life of the author plus at least 50 years. In the case of sound recordings, copyright is usually conferred for 50 years and is available to the person or company responsible for making the recording.

Copyright owners have the legal right to stop others from:

  • copying or reproducing the work;

  • performing the work in public;

  • making a sound recording or motion picture of the work; and

  • broadcasting, translating, or adapting the work.

Others who wish to exploit copyright material in these ways must usually seek the permission of the copyright owner or an organization that represents copyright owners in a particular industry. Permission is likely to require payment of royalties. In some countries, copyright owners may have the legal rights to be identified on their work and to object to distortions of the work. These are known as moral rights and remain with the author even if the author transfers the copyright to somebody else, although in some jurisdictions these rights may be waived by agreement of the author.

The concept of neighbouring rights arose in response to technological developments which allowed a much broader dissemination of artistic works, and made manifest the failure of copyright law to protect the rights of performers, recorders, and other disseminators. These groups were responsible for the enormous increase in public exposure, but only the copyright owners of the works were able to benefit from this.

There are three kinds of “neighbouring right”. These are:

  • the rights of performing artists in their performances;

  • the rights of producers of phonograms in their phonograms; and

  • the rights of broadcasting organizations in their radio and television programmes.

In 1961, the International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations (the Rome Convention) provided so-called neighbouring rights protection from the following acts carried out without the performer’s prior consent:

  • broadcasting or communication to the public of a “live” performance;

  • recording an unfixed performance;

  • reproducing a fixation of the performance, provided that the original fixation was made without the consent of the performer or the reproduction is made for purposes not permitted by the convention or the performer.

If a phonogram is made for commercial purposes and communicated publicly, the user must pay an “equitable remuneration” to the performers or to the producer of the phonogram, or to both. The minimum term of protection is 20 years from the performance, fixation, or broadcast.

The 1996 WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. Article 2 defines “performers” as

actors, singers, musicians, dancers, and other persons who act, sing, deliver, declaim, play in, interpret, or otherwise perform literary or artistic works or expressions of folklore.

The Treaty provides two main categories of right: moral rights and economic rights. The moral rights of performers regarding his or her live aural performances or performances recorded in phonograms persist after the transfer of the economic rights, and include:

  • the right to claim to be identified as the performer of his performances, except where omission is dictated by the manner of the use of the performance, and

  • to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of his performances that would be prejudicial to his reputation.

The economic rights of performers in their unfixed performances consist of the exclusive right to authorise:

  • the broadcasting and communication to the public of their unfixed performances except where the performance is already a broadcast performance; and

  • the fixation of their unfixed performances.

  • the direct or indirect reproduction of their performances fixed in phonograms, in any manner or form.

  • the making available to the public of the original and copies of their performances fixed in phonograms through sale or other transfer of ownership.

  • the commercial rental to the public of the original and copies of their performances fixed in phonograms

  • the making available to the public of their performances fixed in phonograms, by wire or wireless means, in such a way that members of the public may access them from a place and at a time individually chosen by them."



Crosbie Fitch:

"So, what is copyright?

What we call ‘copyright’ is an 18th century privilege.

It was granted by Queen Anne in her statute of 1709 for the ulterior benefit of the crown and its Stationers’ Company, so that the de facto printing monopolies established by the guild during its control of the press could become law.

The Stationers’ Company resumed enjoyment of its lucrative monopolies and effective control of the press.

The crown resumed its ability to quell sedition via indirect control of the consequently beholden press.

Why was this Statute of Anne wrong?

Privileges are unconstitutional, inegalitarian, and unjust.

Paraphrasing from Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’, the liberty and right to copy is, by nature, inherently in all the inhabitants, but the Statute of Anne, by annulling the right to copy in the majority, leaves the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few – or, as we term them today, ‘copyright holders‘.

Consequently, copyright, as any privilege, is an instrument of injustice.

What is the consequence of granting copyright?

Copyright is now a cultural pollutant and has effectively created cultural gridlock. Today, individuals face jeopardy in any significant engagement with their own culture.

Morever, copyright fools the very same people into believing they have a natural right to control the use of their work.

Although we have privacy, the natural exclusive right to prevent others copying our work whilst it is in our possession, this does not provide us with the power to prevent others making further copies of what we give to them.

Such unnatural power is only provided by copyright, because that annuls everyone’s liberty and right to copy, leaving it in the hands of the copyright holder to restore by license.

Even so, to prosecute the privilege, to detect and sue infringers, can be very expensive, and tends to require the wealth and economies of scale of a large copyright exploiting publisher. But then why has copyright lasted so long?

In the 18th century the press could be controlled.

In the last couple of centuries, when printing presses were relatively few and far between, the state and publishers, via their crown granted privilege, could expect to police and control the press.

Why can’t copyright work today?

Today, the press is us, the people

Today, we are all authors, all publishers, all printers.

We, the people, are the press.

To control the press is to control the people – a people supposedly at liberty.

What is the current approach to making copyright work?

The people are being ‘educated’ to respect copyright through draconian enforcement – severe punishments of a few as a deterrent to the many.

   * 2005: Jammie Thomas-Rasset, 28, mother of 4, shared 24 files. Found liable for damages of $1.9m.
   * 2005: Joel Tenenbaum, 22, shared 31 files. Found liable for damages of $675,000.
   * 2010: Emmanuel Nimley, 22, iPhoned 4 movies and shared them. Sentenced to 6 months’ jail.
   * 2011: Anne Muir, 58, shared music collection. Sentenced to 3 years’ jail.
   * 2011: Richard O’Dwyer, 23, linked to sources of illicit copies. Faces extradition and prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Not only are publishing corporations trying to subjugate the people through extortion, intimidation, and fear, but the state is complicit, interested, as ever, in both pleasing their sponsors as well as quelling sedition.

Will we ever learn to respect copyright?

Mankind’s cultural liberty is primordial.

Our liberty, our natural right, our power and need to copy has never left us

Our right to copy may have been annulled by Queen Anne, but youngsters are finding out every day that they innately possess the ability and instinctive need to share and build upon their own culture.

We will never learn not to copy, because to learn is to copy, and we will never stop learning.

Copyright is a historical accident, a legislative error made in a less principled era.

It is time to rectify that error, not the people." (


Karl Fogel:

"The first copyright law was a censorship law. It was not about protecting the rights of authors, or encouraging them to produce new works. Authors' rights were in little danger in sixteenth-century England, and the recent arrival of the printing press (the world's first copying machine) was if anything energizing to writers. So energizing, in fact, that the English government grew concerned about too many works being produced, not too few. The new technology was making seditious reading material widely available for the first time, and the government urgently needed to control the flood of printed matter, censorship being as legitimate an administrative function then as building roads.

The method the government chose was to establish a guild of private-sector censors, the London Company of Stationers, whose profits would depend on how well they performed their function. The Stationers were granted a royal monopoly over all printing in England, old works as well as new, in return for keeping a strict eye on what was printed. Their charter gave them not only exclusive right to print, but also the right to search out and confiscate unauthorized presses and books, and even to burn illegally printed books. No book could be printed until it was entered in the company's Register, and no work could be added to the Register until it had passed the crown's censor, or had been self-censored by the Stationers. The Company of Stationers became, in effect, the government's private, for-profit information police force.

The system was quite openly designed to serve booksellers and the government, not authors. New books were entered in the Company's Register under a Company member's name, not the author's name. By convention, the member who registered the entry held the "copyright", the exclusive right to publish that book, over other members of the Company, and the Company's Court of Assistants resolved infringement disputes.

This was not simply the latest manifestation of some pre-existing form of copyright. It's not as though authors had formerly had copyrights, which were now to be taken away and given to the Stationers. The Stationers' right was a new right, though one based on a long tradition of granting monopolies to guilds as a means of control. Before this moment, copyright — that is, a privately held, generic right to prevent others from copying — did not exist. People routinely printed works they admired when they had the chance, an activity which is responsible for the survival of many of those works to the present day. One could, of course, be enjoined from distributing a specific document because of its potentially libelous effect, or because it was a private communication, or because the government considered it dangerous and seditious. But these reasons are about public safety or damage to reputation, not about property ownership. There had also been, in some cases, special privileges (then called "patents") allowing exclusive printing of certain types of books. But until the Company of Stationers, there had not been a blanket injunction against printing in general, nor a conception of copyright as a legal property that could be owned by a private party.

For about a century and a third, this partnership worked well for the government and for the Stationers. The Stationers profited from their monopoly, and through the Stationers, the government exercised control over the spread of information. Around the end of the seventeenth century, however, owing to larger political changes, the government relaxed its censorship policies, and allowed the Stationers' monopoly to expire. This meant that printing would return to its former anarchical state, and was of course a direct economic threat to the members of the Company of Stationers, accustomed as they were to having exclusive license to manufacture books. Dissolution of the monopoly might have been good news for long-suppressed authors and independent printers, but it spelled disaster for the Stationers, and they quickly crafted a strategy to retain their position in the newly liberal political climate.

The Stationers based their strategy on a crucial realization, one that has stayed with publishing conglomerates ever since: authors do not have the means to distribute their own works. Writing a book requires only pen, paper, and time. But distributing a book requires printing presses, transportation networks, and an up-front investment in materials and typesetting. Thus, the Stationers reasoned, people who write would always need a publisher's cooperation to make their work generally available. Their strategy used this fact to maximum advantage. They went before Parliament and offered the then-novel argument that authors had a natural and inherent right of ownership in what they wrote, and that furthermore, such ownership could be transferred to other parties by contract, like any other form of property.

Their argument succeeded in persuading Parliament. The Stationers had managed to avoid the odium of censorship, as the new copyrights would originate with the author, but they knew that authors would have little choice but to sign those rights back over to a publisher for distribution. There was some judicial and political wrangling over the details, but in the end both halves of the Stationers' argument survived essentially intact, and became part of English statutory law. The first recognizably modern copyright, the Statute of Anne, was passed in 1709 and took effect in 1710.

The Statute of Anne is often held up by champions of copyright as the moment when authors were finally given the protection they had long deserved. Even today, it continues to be referenced both in legal arguments and in press releases from the publishing industry. But to interpret it as an authors' victory flies in the face of both common sense and historical fact [3]. Authors, having never had copyright, saw no reason now to suddenly demand the rather paradoxical power to prevent the spread of their own works, and did not do so. The only people threatened by the dissolution of the Stationers' monopoly were the Stationers themselves, and the Statute of Anne was the direct result of their lobbying and campaigning. In the memorable words of the contemporary Lord Camden, the Stationers "...came up to Parliament in the form of petitioners, with tears in their eyes, hopeless and forlorn; they brought with them their wives and children to excite compassion, and induce Parliament to grant them a statutory security." [4] To make their argument more palatable, they had proposed that copyright would originate with the author, as a form of property that could be sold to anyone — anticipating, correctly, that it would most often be sold to a printer.

This proposal was a shrewd tactical move, because one of Parliament's concerns was to prevent the re-establishment of a centralized monopoly in the book trade, with its attendant potential for a renewal of censorship by the crown. Benjamin Kaplan, professor of law emeritus at Harvard University and a respected copyright scholar, describes the Stationers position succinctly:

....The stationers made the case that they could not produce the fragile commodities called books, and thus encourage learned men to write them, without protection against piracy... There is an apparent tracing of rights to an ultimate source in the fact of authorship, but before attaching large importance to this we have to note that if printing as a trade was not to be put back into the hands of a few as subject of monopoly — if the statute was indeed to be a kind of "universal patent" — a [legal] draftsman would naturally be led to express himself in terms of rights in books and hence to initial rights in authors. A draftsman would anyway be aware that rights would usually pass immediately to publishers by assignment, that is, by purchase of the manuscripts as in the past. ... I think it nearer the truth to say that publishers saw the tactical advantage of putting forward authors' interests together with their own, and this tactic produced some effect on the tone of the statute.

The Statute of Anne, taken in historical context, is the smoking gun of copyright law. In it we can see the entire apparatus of modern copyright, but in still-undisguised form. There is the notion of copyright as property, yet the property is really intended for publishers, not authors. There is the notion of benefitting society, by encouraging people to write books, but no evidence was offered to show that they would not write books without copyright. Rather, the Stationers' argument was that publishers could not afford to print books without protection from competition, and furthermore that printers could not be depended to reproduce works faithfully if given unfettered freedom to print. The corollary, they implied, was that without the prospect of reliable distribution, authors would produce fewer new works.

Their argument was not unreasonable, given the technology of the time. Making a perfect copy of a printed work required access to the original press and compositor, anyway; if reliable reproduction were to be encouraged, then a single-holder copyright system had a certain logic to it. And the publishers would now be effectively forced to pay authors in return for exclusive printing rights (although in fact the Stationers had sometimes payed authors even before, simply to guarantee the completion and delivery of a work). The authors who succeeded in selling this new right to printers had no particular motivation to complain — and naturally, we don't hear very much about the authors not so favored. The consolidation of author's copyright probably contributed to the decline of patronage as a source of income for writers, and even allowed some authors, though always a small minority, to support themselves solely from the royalties their publishers shared with them. The fact that a given copyright could only be held by one party at a time also helped prevent the proliferation of divergent variations, a problem that had vexed authors perhaps even more than plagiarism, as there was no easy method by which they could endorse or disclaim particular variations.

But the overall historical record is clear: copyright was designed by distributors, to subsidize distributors not creators." (


Greg Bulmash

The General Public License and the Creative Commons are forms of copyright. Therefore, it makes no sense to simply oppose it, argues Greg Bulmash in his essay Should Copyright Be Abolished

Reply by K. Fogel

First argument:

In a reply essayK. Fogel argues that Greg Bulmash confuses copyright with Creditright:

"two completely different concepts: the right to be credited for a work, and the right to control distribution of that work. Attribution and copying are not the same thing: those who download songs illegally from the Internet do not typically replace the artist's name with their own, after all, and yet the RIAA is still filing lawsuits. So attribution is not really the issue here (and in general, letting data be copied freely actually helps prevent plagiarism, a topic covered in more detail here). In any case, no one objects to laws that protect credit. By all means, let's prevent the megacorporation from distributing your work without crediting you proportionally. But it would be a misnomer to call such protection "copyright" law, because it wouldn't have much to do with controlling copying. It would be a creditright, because it would simply enforce proper crediting." (

Second argument is that the GPL only tactically uses copyright but in fact fundamentally opposes it:

"But while Bulmash is technically correct that this part of open source licensing depends (today) on copyright law, he's missing the forest for the trees. The basic argument of copyright abolitionists is that people should be free to share when sharing does not result in any diminution of supply. The GPL simply uses copyright law in a jiujitsu-like manner to enforce this principle, in a legal environment where sharing is prohibited by default and must be explicitly permitted to be legal. All the GPL does is create a space where permission to share is enforced. Take his exercise in imagination all the way: imagine if we had laws that did away with most prohibitions against sharing, but that enforced crediting and permitted authors to enforce GPL-like provisions requiring sharing.

We probably would not call such laws "copyright", since they wouldn't prohibit copying. Even if we did call them "copyright", the word would mean something so different from what it means today as to render Bulmash's arguments inapplicable. Indeed, the GPL today doesn't really prohibit people from copying, it merely imposes certain requirements on those who make and distribute derivative works. If you just want to copy and use a GPL'd work yourself, or even make a private derivative work from it, you're free to do so, and many organizations in fact do that. The GPL's requirement is just that if you want to share, you must enable others to share likewise.

This runs completely counter to the modern notion of copyright, and could be enforced using laws so drastically different from our laws today as to be unrecognizeable. Thus, to say that the GPL depends on copyright is like saying that reading depends on scribes. It may be true for a period of time, but it's certainly not built into the nature of things, and it's not an argument for supporting scribes after something better comes along." (

More Information

  1. Copyright Bibliography at
  2. See also: Patents and Trademarks
  3. Against IP. Stephan Kinsella.