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Copyrights and Copywrongs


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Argues that strict legal guidelines prove insensitive to the diverse forms of cultural expression prevalent in the United States

Table of Contents

ContentsAcknowledgments Introduction l Copyright and American Culture: Ideas, Expressions, and Democracy 2 Mark Twain and the History of Literary Copyright3 Celluloid Copyright and Derivative Works, or, How to Stop 12 Monkeys with One Chair4 Hep Cats and Copy Cats: American Music Challenges the Copyright Tradition 5 The Digital Moment: The End of Copyright? Epilogue: The Summer without Martha Graham Notes Index Afterword About the Author

About the Author

Siva Vaidhyanathan is the Robertson Family Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. His work has appeared on public radio, on CNN, BBC, and in publications such as The American Scholar, The Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, The New York Times Magazine, Washington Post BookWorld, Fast Company, The Chronicle of Higher Education, BookForum, and Dissent.


Vaidyanathan, a professor at the School of Information Studies of the University of Wisconsin and frequent NPR commentator, details the specious ideological evolution of copyright from a set of loose policies intended to encourage cultural expression into a form of property law (now codified in the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 2000) that functions as a seal on creative works. In prose remarkably free of legal and academic jargon, Vaidyanathan begins with a concise, well-paced history of copyright from the framing of the Constitution through the literary world of Mark Twain and the advent of music sampling. The book is surprisingly entertaining, as Vaidyanathan deftly weaves a wide array of episodes from popular culture into a cogent examination of both the creative process and the laws and commercial interests that process dovetails with, then closes with a synthesis and a stern warning for the digital age. Through a combination of copyright laws, contract law and technological controls, Vaidyanathan asserts that corporate copyright holders in the digital age are seeking unprecedented control over the use of software, digital music, images, films, books and academic materials. But copyright law, he argues, was designed to be flexible, and this elasticity is essential for the cultural vibrancy and political balance of our democracy. The argument is compelling. In the age of Napster, digital piracy may be the cause c?l?bre, but this well-crafted and important book shows that there are graver concerns for the public in the entertainment industry's effort to tighten its grip on intellectual property. (Oct.) Forecast: Copyright used to be of interest only to a gaggle of Hollywood lawyers, but with the advent of technologies like Napster, it has become an issue of major importance to many more. This book is simply the best on the subject to date, and it should receive widespread attention. Random House is publishing a book on a similar subject by the Microsoft trial expert Lawrence Lessig in November, which will only further heighten interest. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

The author, a media scholar and cultural historian, presents a reasoned and compelling argument for "thin" copyright policy. Vaidhyanathan traces the evolution of copyright law, arguing that it has come to restrict creativity and enjoin cultural expression that arises outside of white American and European traditions. He begins his look at the history of the law with the story of Mark Twain's call for perpetual copyright and its influence on the current author-centered view of the rights to creative works. He continues with interesting examples of recent contests involving property rights to film and music, the details of which illustrate the tangle of interests that is created by law, technology, and culture. Well researched and thoughtfully presented, this is important for most academic and public libraries and essential reading for the library community. Joan Pedzich, Harris Beach LLP, Rochester, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"...Perhaps the most impressive thing about Vaidhyanathan, a superb writer and speaker, is that he has made such complicated issues not only understandable but almost, well, entertaining." Library Journal "A fascinating journey through the cultural history of copyright law. Copyrights and Copywrongs is remarkably readable, mercifully free of legal jargon, and entertaining. It is also thoroughly researched and includes extensive notes and references. This text belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in the ethics and development of copyright." International Journal of Law and Information Technology "Vaidhyanathan traces the expansion of American copyright from the late nineteenth century on, giving an especially interesting account of the complexities and absurdities raised by its application to film and music." American Quarterly "This book makes it clear that copyright struggles are not new and will continue in the years ahead... He makes that case readable, understandable, and even entertaining." Portal: Libraries and the Academy "Remarkably readable, free of legal jargon, and entertaining ... the author's arguments are cogent, enlightening, and important to all information professionals." College & Research Libraries "Illuminating" Bookforum April-June 2002 "It has taken lawyers 200-plus years to morph copyright law from the balanced compromise that our framers struck to the extraordinary system of control that it has become. In this beautifully written book, a non-lawyer has uncovered much of the damage done. Copyrights and Copywrongs is a rich and compelling account of the bending of American copyright law, and a promise of the balance that we could once again make the law become." Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School and author of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace "Siva Vaidhyanathan has done a big favor for the academic and library communities. In this book, he has spelled out in clear, understandable language what's at stake in the battles over the nation's intellectual property. The issues brought forward are critical to the future of scholarship and creativity. Librarians and academics are wise to purchase this book and add it to their 'must read' lists." Nancy Kranich, President, American Library Association, 2000-2001 "Copyrights and Copywrongs is an urgent information-age wake-up call to a public cocooned in belief that 'copyright' is a seal and safeguard for consumers and producers of culture-ware. This book guides us into the legal labyrinth of a new world of so-called intellectual property, in which 'fair use' isn't fair, where rights are waived and free speech - when we can get it - costs a great deal of money. From print books to video games, Copyrights and Copywrongs shows free expression in a legalistic chokehold. Clearly written, meticulously argued, this book is a must." Cecelia Tichi, author ofEmbodiment of a Nation: Human Form in American Spaces "Bravo! When you read this brilliant, often-amusing, always-penetrating book - and you must read it as soon as possible - you will be persuaded that our Founding Fathers were wise and right when they made the law allowing an author's copyright to exist for a limited time only, either 14 or 28 years." CU Cityview

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