Imminent (Public) Domain

11/14 Edit: Google recently won a legal fight with the Authors Guild over its Google Books program. All I can say is thank Bog in his Heaven for this. I have found more leads and sources in my research thanks to Google Books than I could ever properly credit the search engine for.

I rarely change my opinion on a matter in a 180-turn over a single book. Usually it takes years of careful thought and reading, and then my mind only changes gradually. Free Culture is one of those rare books that diplomatically shows me how little I understood a subject and in revealing the details of the matter makes it impossible for me to disagree with the book’s thesis. I love these kinds of books. They’re the books I want to write.

The Eldred Act is one of those Hollywoodesque laws that not only serves the best interests of society in the face of corporate oppression, but has such Proletarian genius to it that only the most well-funded campaign against it could convince the masses that it should not be passed. The law would make 98% of commercial work available to the public domain in fifty years? It would make protecting your own copyrights from that fate cost $1 and a registration form? It would save thousands of profitless and forgotten but historically important books and movies from crumbling to dust? Hell yeah! I’ll gladly stand and clap slowly like a moron for that. Now, can someone as persuasive as Lessig write a book on the Robin Hood Tax?

A minor, personal revelation of mine I gained in this book: Reading about the court battle was especially fun because I recognized most of the Supreme Court Justices. I normally dislike the SupCourt’s for-life system (mostly because we’re not allowed to do the same for our Presidents; conservatives would rather force us to meet new, unknown faces and have a new mud-slinging contest every eight years than risk the long and popular rule of another Roosevelt) but permanent judges certainly make the historical profession easier and more satisfying. Perhaps this notion is self-evident to most historians, but it only occurred to me when I read Free Culture‘s narrative of the Public Domain Enhancement Act. Already knowing who most of the SC Justices were made the account highly entertaining. “Hey look, it’s Justice Scalia!” I said in my mind and hopefully not aloud, “The man who equated the idea of requiring citizens to buy health insurance with requiring them to buy broccoli! I think I have a better-than-average idea of what this particular historical actor was thinking at the time!” He’s like the goddamn Robert Walpole of America. Watch, in 50 years I bet there will be more books about him than he probably deserves.

New hypothesis: Historians have overestimated the influence of many long-reigning rulers due to the higher availability of sources about them.

No, that’s too obvious.

New hypothesis: Historians support the idea of long-reigning rulers because it will result in a higher availability of sources about them.

Yeah, that’s it. I even know it’s true from anecdotal evidence. Now to do some research to determine whether a resurrected Franklin Roosevelt would be eligible to run for President again.


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