Sun, 20 May 2007

It's a bargain, not a right

Ya never know what the NYT is going to print these days. A recent op-ed from Mark Helprin proposes that Congress extend copyright forever. I don't know if he is insane or merely crafty, trying to gain negative attention (say what you want, but spell my name correctly). He seems to think that property rights covers intellectual property. If it's improper to confiscate someone's car, house, or land after a period of time, why, then, it should be improper to confiscate someone's intellectual property. He has his rights wrong.

You have the right to anything you can defend, e.g. your person, your real property, your car, the things you carry around with you. You don't have a right to control something I own, e.g. a CD with music on it. You have to bargain with me to get that right. In exchange for being allowed to control copying for a limited time (that's what the Constitution says, "limited time"), I allow you to control certain uses of my property (a CD or book that I own).

Mark would revise that bargain. He would give up nothing, and I would give up control over those certain uses for an unlimited length of time. Why would he ever, even on a good day, think I would agree to that bargain? I propose a different bargain: until copyright starts expiring again (and nothing copyrighted since World War II has gone into the public domain so I don't understand why Mark is asking for what he's already getting) Mark gives up everything, and I can do anything I want with a CD or book, including rip it and post it to the Internet.

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