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Creeping (digital) death of fair use

By Rhizome


excerpted posts from if:book:

copyright 101 (8/25/05)

Richard Lanham, the godfather of electronic text, has written a wonderful piece in Academic Commons calling for a course in copyright for all undergraduates. Lanham, a UCLA English professor who has had a significant second career as an expert witness in copyright cases, gives one of the more cogent summaries of the copyright morass we find ourselves in as the digital tide overwhelms previous notions of property and ownership.

the creeping (digital) death of fair use (11/02/05)

Meant to post about this last week but it got lost in the shuffle... In case anyone missed it, Tarleton Gillespie of Cornell has published a good piece in Inside Higher Ed about how sneaky settings in course management software are effectively eating away at fair use rights in the academy. Public debate tends to focus on the music and movie industries and the ever more fiendish anti-piracy restrictions they build into their products (the latest being the horrendous "analog hole"). But a similar thing is going on in education and it is decidely under-discussed.

Fair use is what oxygenates the bloodstream of education, allowing ideas to be ideas, not commodities. Universities, and their primary fair use organs, libraries, shouldn't be subjected to the same extortionist policies of the mainstream copyright regime, which, like some corrupt local construction authority, requires dozens of permits to set up a simple grocery store. Fair use was written explicitly into law in 1976 to guarantee protection. But the market tends to find a way, and code is its latest, and most insidious, weapon.

Amazingly, few academics are speaking out. John Holbo, writing on The Valve, wonders:

Why aren’t academics - in the humanities in particular - more exercised by recent developments in copyright law? Specifically, why aren’t they outraged by the prospect of indefinite copyright extension?...

...It seems to me odd, not because overextended copyright is the most pressing issue in 2005 but because it seems like a social/cultural/political/economic issue that recommends itself as well suited to be taken up by academics - starting with the fact that it is right here on their professional doorstep...

Most obviously on the doorstep is Google, currently mired in legal unpleasantness for its book-scanning ambitions and the controversial interpretation of fair use that undergirds them. Why aren't the universities making a clearer statement about this? In defense? In concern?
Fair use seems to be shrinking at just the moment it should be expanding, yet few are speaking out.

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