Young Katie: Pro-Copyright
When I was fourteen-years-old and working on my first “novel” (a fantasy book written in a series of notebooks, usually during classes I didn’t like), my programmer-brother showed me how he could download free books on his TI-89 calculator to read during class. This was 1999; there were no e-readers. My brother was really into Linux and open source software and stuff like that. After gushing for a while about these free books, he asked me if I would ever consider publishing my book online for people to access for free: “So many people would read it, Katie! Plus you’re supporting information-sharing!”
He was completely baffled at my refusal to even consider this option. “How will I make money off of it if I make it available? I want to be a writer for my career, so I’ll need to make money in order to survive. Plus, people will steal my work and make money off of it by publishing it as their own,” I argued vehemently.
Charles Dickens, my first Victorian love, was also really concerned about ownership and the property of one’s work. His travelogue American Notes and novel Martin Chuzzlewit both vehemently attack the US for various reasons, but one of them was due to the really lax copyright laws over books which led to all of his being pirated all over the place. Dickens was concerned both because writing was his way of life and because the pirated editions often twisted things in a way that he wasn’t comfortable (if Dickens loved anything, it was control).
But fast-forward to four years ago. My fantasy novel career ended in high school, when I became a more serious writer (and then got writer’s bloc and couldn’t write worth anything). I was an office staff person in a philosophy department and insanely bored most of the time (excepting certain seasons when I got to advise students or build the course schedule).
Due to this boredom coupled with a desire to be helpful, I created a fun blog for non-philosophers about how to understand philosophers. After all, I married a philosopher and worked with philosophers all the time, so why not use my observations to help others? The blog exploded with readers, and suddenly I was beset on all sides with emails (asking ME for advice), angry comments from philosophers who were under the impression that they were special snowflakes, and discussion in the comments sections of each entry. I kept my name off of things, and I tried to make it easy for others to use my blog posts in other things (papers, blog posts, emails; whatever they wanted).
That said, my opinion about copyright law has changed dramatically in the past fifteen years. I went from being adamantly for it to slightly-adamantly against it. Lessig discusses this phenomenon in his chapter “Cultures Compared” in Remix. Lessig quotes Victor Stone’s (of ccMixter) comments to him, which I am going to reproduce here: “You know … this discussion will be over in ten or twenty years. As the boomers die out, and they get over themselves by dying, the generation that follows … just doesn’t care about this discussion, and it’s part of the process and that’s it” (97).
I just want everyone to use my material and alter my material and add their own material. I wonder, though, if I also think this way because I am a liberal-liberal (non-democrat liberal). My value system is such that openness and sharing with others—without expecting payouts—is a really great thing. I have several friends who are still very pro-copyright (and very conservative), so I’m not sure that Lessig is completely correct in that my generation will be cool with less control. I am pretty sure that most of my pro-copyright writing friends* (none of who have actually published anything) are also deluding themselves into believing that they will be able to make a living by writing.
Of course, they also won’t be able to make a living by writing because there are people like me who want to constantly undermine the system with my free-words-for-everyone approach.
It’s not for everyone, though. I’m not sure it’s even a good system. What do you think? Do you have any good arguments for the copyrighting of writing?
P.S. Apologies for anyone who was looking for substantive material in my blog post and stumbled into “Katie’s reflections on her ideology of copyrighting journey.” It happens.
*This is excluding Janel. I’m thinking of my college friends who aren’t close to getting anything published for many reasons (vision, for one).