Sunday, April 19, 2015

Thoughts about copyright

Two events have triggered my expression of thoughts in this blog post. One is a dream that I had about sharing an article on Facebook and finding out that they suspended my account indefinitely as a result of what they called "copyright infringements". The next event was news circulated within my Jamaican library community about the bill before Parliament to extend copyright from fifty to ninety-five years. (I don't know which one is more irritating, although, I figure that the dream came in response to the news).

Let me begin with the dream or the unreal event or what narratology scholar Georgokapoulou (2010) calls the hypothetical story. In the dream, I shared content from a news report on Facebook with quotations and my commentary. A friend reacted to the article and wrote a response. Then my wife was about to write a response, when all of a sudden she said she did not see my online profile any more. That was when I discovered on my attempt to login that Facebook "suspended" my account "indefinitely" for sharing content from the Associated Press that amounted to "copyright infringement". I felt that there was no means to appeal and that I was not warned before they took this action. I further reasoned that an algorithm had done this, as any human being would have seen that I shared only a portion of the text in quotes and added my own commentary to it.

This leads into my next issue, the pending amendments to the Jamaican Copyright Act. I have not completely studied the act but have merely examined at it to confirm what my library colleagues have been discussing. The chief of peeves is this extension of copyright beyond 50 years to 95 years after the death of the author (See section 11-13a of "A bill entitled An Act ", p. 11). This to me is wholly unjust and unwarranted and I hope to advance three reasons why.

1. Unmeritocratic
Giving copyright extension after an author's death does not benefit the author. It likely benefits the family of the author, the publisher or any other entity (individual or institution) that possesses the copyright. As a result, what this act enables is amounting to creating a new privileged class that do not work to earn their wealth but lives off the wealth and royalties of a dead person. This is unmeritocratic and is as just as having a monarchy or landed aristocracy.  In other words, copyright after a author's death is giving rights to individuals and institutions to exploit a dead person's labour and live a life of privilege from such past intellectual labours. At the same time, these privileged individuals and institutions who have not done the intellectual labour to earn from the intellectual work are given the right to restrict others who want to benefit from the same work.

2. Treats intellectual property as superior to physical products
Similar intellectual property like patents last for 25 years (or definitely less than copyright). Yet, patents lead to the creation of more tangible, useful and beneficial products for humanity. Why is it that copyrighted works need to be longer than a patent?

This is especially questionable as popular culture changes and information gets outdated. Hence, I see no reason why copyright should last any longer than patents where a physical product created can be improved and changed for the better over time.

3. A justification for censorship and an unfair monopoly over ideas
Now for this reason, I include the analysis or the example in my dream. For me, copyright amounts to restricting persons or institutions from distributing a work. This is okay while the author is alive, and perhaps even okay for a few years after the author's death in order for family members of the decease to gain some financial support after they have buried their loved one. However, to restrict the distribution of a work for almost a century after the author's death can in no way be seen as a credible way of supporting the family of the author, but as creating an unfair barrier of entry for others to share and distribute the author's work. It forces a monopoly over the author's intellectual property by a few. This is contrary to a free market logic and to a democratic ideal where individuals and institutions are free to exchange and share information and ideas unrestricted by the state.

Given these reasons, I oppose any copyright limit extension. In my opinion, after an author's death, no one individual or institution should be given any right to benefit from the work of the dead author and monopolize the distribution of their ideas for any amount of time over 25 years.


"A bill entitled An Act to ammend the copyright act" (2015, April 2). Retrieved from,%202015.pdf

Georgakopoulou, A. (2010). Reflection and self-disclosure from the small stories perspective: A study of identity claims in interview and conversational data. In D. Schiffrin, A. De Fina, & A. Nylund (Eds.), Telling stories: Language, narratiev and social life. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

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