Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Response to Mark Helprin...

Yesterday, Mark Helprin of the Claremont Institute wrote a stunning op-ed piece for the New York Times in which he argues that intellectual property rights should be assigned to authors and artists, and all of their heirs, FOREVER (in perpetuity), with no time limits.

To put this in context, Helprin is saying that Shakespeare's descendants ought to still be receiving royalty payments; that Mozart's heirs ought to be able to claim copyright over the musical genius' work centuries later; that perhaps even the offspring of Moses ought to be able to claim ownership and prevent copyright infringement for the Ten Commandments.

The traditional news media has been quick to point out the "extreme fringe" of cyberspace where a few people desire no copyrights whatsoever and to make everything free. Certainly, Helprin must be labeled in a similar vein, as his extreme position clearly represents an equally absurd end of the ideological spectrum. To extend intellectual property rights in perpetuity would put scientific advancement at a standstill, severely diminish the output of creativity through derivative works, and in one fell swoop, completely eliminate the public domain and any notion that we all share a common culture.

In response to Helprin's op-ed, noted scholar Lawrence Lessig decided to reply through demonstration. Rather than simply author a counter-argument published in the New York Times (which would consequently be copyrighted), Lessig created a wiki - an open, publicly-accessible web page - inviting the world to submit and edit responses to Helprin. If you read it, the point becomes obvious: opening up intellectual ideas to the public typically creates higher quality outputs than keeping them closed through exclusive copyrights.


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