Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Copyright: Educational versus Entertainment Content

Since the introduction and widespread use of digital media, many people have come to believe that copyright law needs to be amended. And while it may not be likely to happen, there are some things worth considering if the laws were updated. For example, it might be helpful to distinguish between types of content to balance commercial interest versus the greater good. Balancing the interests of the private sector (businesses) and the public good has after all engaged government since the Progressive Era of the early 20th century.

With regard to copyrighting publications in the academic world, it would help if the law at some point in the past had distinguished between material which is educational and that which is of entertainment value; this might have avoided much of what is called the Open Access (OA) movement. OA has been an effort by the scientific and research community to make as widely available as possible the publications resulting from research conducted at universities, laboratories and other not-for-profit facilities and which has very little commercial appeal outside of the university libraries which purchase it.

If the law had treated educational content more fairly it would allow for wider distribution and copying due to the general belief that education is a public good whether it takes place in a school or formal institution or on one's own. If material that is designed to inform rather than entertain was easily available and reusable, separate from (for example) feature films or popular music, we wouldn't have what Jim Neal of Columbia University called civil disobedience in copyright violations that take place today at universities among faculty and graduate students.

It is not helpful to subject use of an article on the evolution of reptile locomotion to the same restrictions as the use of a popular music release or a feature length Hollywood production.

This is one fairly easy call that copyright law amendment could address: is the work primarily educational or research in nature or is it purely entertainment. Undoubtedly there would be some debate over certain creative works, but recognizing the distinction would be a good framework for debate. Disputes could perhaps begin with the establishment of whether the work is mostly factual or mostly artistic. Again, a Beatles single is a creative, artistic work while an article detailing the morphology of bone marrow cancer cells is almost entirely factual.

[see my earlier post on other alternatives to rights in the entertainment realm]

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