Summertime in the Department of Easy Refutations.

Big IdeasThe Atlantic magazine has put out its yearly Ideas Issue.  I always look forward to it -- sure, not all of the ideas are great, and many are questionable, but that's to be expected when a lot of ideas are gathered together.  They're often still instructive, sometimes the more so for being deliberately provocative.

But every so often, there's one whose most interesting characteristic is that it managed to get past the editors at all.  This year, it's from Elizabeth Wurtzel, and it reads, in full:

Of the Founders’ genius ideas, few trump intellectual-property rights. At a time when Barbary pirates still concerned them, the Framers penned an intellectual-property clause—the world’s first constitutional protection for copyrights and patents. In so doing, they spawned Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Motown, and so on. Today, we foolishly flirt with undoing that. In a future where all art is free (the future as pined for by Internet pirates and Creative Commons zealots), books, songs, and films would still get made. But with nobody paying for them, they’d be terrible. Only people who do lousy work do it for free.

Er.  Where to start?  The vertigo-inducing ahistoricity?  The clumsy attempt at guilt-by-association through a spurious double mention of pirates?  The unexamined assumption that copyright restrictions are how artists get paid?

Or how about just with a rewrite:

Of the Founders’ genius ideas, few trump intellectual-property rights. At a time when Barbary pirates still concerned them, the Framers penned an intellectual-property clause—the world’s first constitutional protection for copyrights and patents—into a justly famous document that they composed for no compensation and that was in the public domain from the moment it was first published. In so doing, they spawned Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Motown, and so on. Today, we foolishly flirt with undoing that. In a future where all art is free (the future as pined for by Internet pirates and Creative Commons zealots), books, songs, and films would still get made. But with nobody paying for them, they’d be terrible. Only people who do lousy work do it for free.

My suggested edits are in red.

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6 Comments

Re: Summertime in the Department of Easy Refutations.

Possibly it would be even more relevant to point out that what the "Founders" so wisely penned was the LIMITATION of intellectual property from its previously bloated status under British law. The US Constitution reduces the basis of IP -- eliminating the previous "natural law" theory and insisting that it be restricted in both scope and duration, due to the danger it represented to the public domain, whose enrichment was considered the only just basis for enacting any IP laws (at least according to Jefferson's analysis).

Copyright became more limited and shorter in duration as a result of the US Constitution, not longer and more comprehensive as Wurtzel's rhetoric would imply. (Prior to the US Constitution, the relevant law would've been the British "Statute of Anne", if I'm not mistaken).

Re: Summertime in the Department of Easy Refutations.

Along the lines of restoring the Founders intent regarding LIMITATION of copyright, there's a growing movement to restore copyrights to the original duration that the Founders established for them - 28 years. (Back then it was 14-year period followed by one 14-year renewal.) Here's a place where you can sign a petition:

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/support-restoration-copyrights-their-original-duration-28-years/Z7skGfKk

It's not likely to have a drastic immediate affect, but it would be nice to threaten the pocketbooks of those who push for increasingly draconian measures to they can continue to wring revenue out of ancient creations.

Re: Summertime in the Department of Easy Refutations.

Wurtzel statement is based on the assumption that human beings main motivation is economic gain, or as she puts it "But with nobody paying for them (products), they’d be terrible. Only people who do lousy work do it for free."  While economic gain certianly motivates people it is not the only, and not even the most important, motivation.   Examples abound where power, love and hate are signifigant modivations.   Wurtzel's statement says alot about her values.