Copyright and Copyfraud

The Social Science Research Network has a paper by Jason Mazzone of Brooklyn Law School on copyright fraud, or “copyfraud.” Sounds like an interesting read for anyone interested in the topic. From the abstract:

Copyfraud is everywhere. False copyright notices appear on modern reprints of Shakespeare’s plays, Beethoven’s piano scores, greeting card versions of Monet’s Water Lilies, and even the U.S. Constitution. Archives claim blanket copyright in everything in their collections. Vendors of microfilmed versions of historical newspapers assert copyright ownership. These false copyright claims, which are often accompanied by threatened litigation for reproducing a work without the owner’s permission, result in users seeking licenses and paying fees to reproduce works that are free for everyone to use.

Copyright law itself creates strong incentives for copyfraud. The Copyright Act provides for no civil penalty for falsely claiming ownership of public domain materials. There is also no remedy under the Act for individuals who wrongly refrain from legal copying or who make payment for permission to copy something they are in fact entitled to use for free. While falsely claiming copyright is technically a criminal offense under the Act, prosecutions are extremely rare. These circumstances have produced fraud on an untold scale, with millions of works in the public domain deemed copyrighted, and countless dollars paid out every year in licensing fees to make copies that could be made for free. Copyfraud stifles valid forms of reproduction and undermines free speech.

Copyright law is one of the most misunderstood topics among creative artists and professionals everywhere. In bagpiping circles, the ignorance is almost epidemic. I would argue that copyright not only encourages stifling copyfraud, but in itself also stifles the the creation of new works in the process.

“Reproduction” and “use” are two distinct things and are often confused when the topic of copyright is raised. Use is also often dictated by business models and commerce, not copyright. It gets a bit more confusing when use depends on some form of reproduction, but the distinctions between the two remains. Anyway, the article seems like a good way to get solid info on the topic.

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