Monday, April 06, 2015

The short-sighted use of copyright power

I recently learned that Bill Luse at Apologia has been asked to take down his excerpts from Whittaker Chambers Witness. Chambers's grandson owns the copyright and has gone to a relatively low-traffic blog asking that excerpts cum appreciative commentary be disappeared from the Internet. Legally he probably has the power to do this, though, given that there was commentary, the excerpting posts might fall under fair use, depending on the percentage of the work they amounted to. However, the blogger has agreed, rightly, to the demand of the copyright holder.

Speaking for myself, I am more than a tad annoyed at the short-sightedness of Chambers's grandson in making this demand. I was motivated to go back and read Witness all the way through by reading those excerpts. It was a book that I had long intended to read but had never gotten around to, and I might have never gotten around to it were it not for the excerpts on Apologia. Since then I have passed on my love of the book to others.

I am not making an anarchic argument for the abolition of intellectual property rights, but I am going to say that holders of intellectual property should ask themselves: Do they want the property they hold to be entombed, or do they want it to be read? It is blinkered thinking to run all over the Internet trying to suppress excerpts of a book to which you hold the copyright. Even from a crassly material point of view (and I doubt that this is what motivates the grandson, though in honesty I don't know what motivates him), reading such excerpts is likely to make people go out and buy the book! I happened to own a copy already, but not everybody does. From a more important point of view, if what is in the book is important, you should want people to be interested in it and to read it. A respectful appreciation accompanied by even fairly extended excerpts isn't taking bread out of anybody's mouth, but it may put ideas into their minds.

I think Whittaker Chambers himself would be more interested in getting his words out to more people than in taking them down. He was, after all, a witness.

1 comment:

William Luse said...

Yeah, to all that.