RIAA Lawyers Trying To Rewrite History Of Copyright Clause Through Shoddy Scholarship And Selective Quotation
from the must-pay-well deptOver the last week or so, I've seen a number of folks in the usual crowd of copyright maximalists cheering on a new "paper" put forth by a group hilariously calling itself the Center for Individual Freedom, supposedly trying to establish the "constitutional and historical foundations of copyright protection." The "paper" (and I use that term loosely) itself does no such thing. It's a one-sided polemic about why copyright is property -- argued by selectively quoting a few historical claims, often out of context, and ignoring everything else. The six page document (quick read) was actually written by three lawyers... who admit that they work for the RIAA. The basic argument is that copyright is a "natural right," and that this idea was well established at the time of the Constitution. The framing, then, is that all the Constitution was really doing was codifying a natural right that all agreed was akin to property, and that this right cannot and should not be diminished or taken away.
To do this, the authors rely, almost exclusively, on some arguments that John Locke made. This is the go to move of copyright maximalists. Because John Locke argued that property rights were established as a result of one's labor, and thus a "natural right", and some of the founders were influenced by John Locke, voila, copyright was meant to be given as a natural right. As the paper notes:
The foundational premise of Locke's theory is that all people have a natural right of property in their own bodies. Because people own their bodies, Locke reasoned that they also owned the labor of their bodies and, by extension, the fruits of that labor. When an individual catches a fish in a stream, he has a right to keep that fish because but-for his efforts, the fish would not have been caught. For the same reason, an author has a right to his works because his efforts made the work possible. Under Locke’s view, "[o]ur handiwork becomes our property because our hands—and the energy, consciousness, and control that fuel their labor--are our property."Nearly all of this is misleading or out of context. Or just wrong.....
That is, "a person rightly claims ownership in her works to the extent that her labor resulted in their existence." If anything, under Locke's theory, intellectual property should be even more worthy of protection than physical property. Land and natural resources are pre-existing and finite, and one person's acquisition of a piece of tangible property may reduce the "common" that is available to others. Not so with tangible expressions: the field of creative works is infinite, and one person's expression of an idea does not meaningfully deplete the opportunities available to others; indeed, it expands the size of the "pie" by providing inspiration to others. Moreover, while tangible property such as land and chattel is often pre-existing and acquired through mere happenstance of birth, intellectual property flows directly from its creator and is essentially the "propertization of talent"--that is, "a reward, an empowering instrument, for the talented upstarts" in a society.
Ray Beckerman, PC