Today's copyright wars can seem unprecedented. Sparked by the digital revolution that has made copyright--and its violation--a part of everyday life, fights over intellectual property have pitted creators, Hollywood, and governments against consumers, pirates, Silicon Valley, and open-access advocates.Read more...
Today's copyright wars can seem unprecedented. Sparked by the digital revolution that has made copyright--and its violation--a part of everyday life, fights over intellectual property have pitted creators, Hollywood, and governments against consumers, pirates, Silicon Valley, and open-access advocates. But while the digital generation can be forgiven for thinking the dispute between, for example, the publishing industry and Google is completely new, the copyright wars in fact stretch back three centuries--and their history is essential to understanding today's battles. The Copyright Wars--the first major trans-Atlantic history of copyright from its origins to today--tells this important story.
Peter Baldwin explains why the copyright wars have always been driven by a fundamental tension. Should copyright assure authors and rights holders lasting claims, much like conventional property rights, as in Continental Europe? Or should copyright be primarily concerned with giving consumers cheap and easy access to a shared culture, as in Britain and America? The Copyright Wars describes how the Continental approach triumphed, dramatically increasing the claims of rights holders. The book also tells the widely forgotten story of how America went from being a leading copyright opponent and pirate in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to become the world's intellectual property policeman in the late twentieth. As it became a net cultural exporter and its content industries saw their advantage in the Continental ideology of strong authors' rights, the United States reversed position on copyright, weakening its commitment to the ideal of universal enlightenment--a history that reveals that today's open-access advocates are heirs of a venerable American tradition.
Compelling and wide-ranging, The Copyright Wars is indispensable for understanding a crucial economic, cultural, and political conflict that has reignited in our own time.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-09-15
- Reviewer: Staff
Baldwin (The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike), a history professor at UCLA, takes on the history of copyright, with all its deep artistic and moral quandaries, in this incisive work that cuts through the warren of legal and legislative wrangling endemic to intellectual property law. Baldwin expertly and economically records the major beats of copyright history in the last 300 years in a surprisingly focused, readable narrative. The author shines a light on the fundamental question that animates all sides of the copyright debate: should copyright exist primarily to protect the rights of creators or the rights of consumers and the cultural progress? Yet, he finds that one side of the debate has prevailed in the last century—the scales have clearly tipped in favor of creators, with copyrights becoming “longer and stronger.” In discussions ranging from the origins of copyright in 18th-century England, through the rise of “moral rights” in Europe and the transition of the U.S. from global pirate to a net exporter of cultural works in the 19th century, to present day battles over Google Book Search and thorny legislation, such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Baldwin both illuminates the past and neatly sketches the contours of the battles to come. “Ultimately,” Baldwin reminds us, “the issues at stake are political and ideological. Nature has precious little to say about how intellectual property is justified.” (Oct.)