An Alternative Primer on National and International Copyright Law

Reading the alternative primer on national and international copyright law. recently received a wonderful surprise in the mail: An Alternative Primer on National and International Copyright Law in the Global South, by Prof. Alan C. Story and his colleagues at The CopySouth Research Group. It's a 66 page critical survey of not only international copyright laws and treaties, but of the processes by which those laws and treaties come to be enacted.

I wrote back to Prof. Story:

It's a great relief to see some unembarrassed copyright skepticism in academic legal studies.  In every other field, questioning of assumptions is considered good practice; [copyright] law seems to have somehow been exempt from this for a long time, and I'm not quite sure why.  Too many scholars repeat the same theories of why we have copyright, without looking rigorously at its actual history nor at its effects, quantifiable and otherwise.  Your primer is a breath of fresh air.

He responded with the following offer to all readers:


If anyone would like to receive a printed copy, we now have some available. People should write:

To: contact {_AT_}
Subject: Primer request

Messages should include name and FULL postal address.  Those requesting a copy will get one in the mail within 10 days or so.  We particularly welcome requests from librarians: we will send them two copies, one as a personal copy and one for her/his library collection. ... We also have a fresh supply of printed copies of the CopySouth Dossier.  The same instructions, just put "Dossier request" in the subject line.

You can, of course, read and download the entire primer online.  I recommend sampling it there, because afterwards you'll be much more likely to take Prof. Story up on his offer to send you a physical copy.  It's thoroughly footnoted and obviously the product of both a good deal of survey work and careful thinking, but above all it's simply a good read.  I came out of it simultaneously entertained, informed, and ultimately outraged at the sheer arbitrariness and nonsensicality of these laws.  Some highlights: try the footnotes on pages 34-35, or the discussion on pages 56-57 of why the U.S. and other Berne Convention signatories object to Iran's copyright policy today resembling the United States's copyright policy of the nineteenth century.

The primer is a convincing demonstration of why neutrality need not be a condition of good scholarship.  The CopySouth Research Group has a point of view, certainly, but because of that point of view are able to shed much light on the reality of global copyright law.

Now, please request one copy for yourself and one for your local library!

See also Professor Story's talk "The global copyright system: unbalanced and unbalanceable for educational access in the global South", given at The South Centre, Geneva, Switzerland, November 2009.