Friday, January 6, 2012

Copyright and the value of literature

I've a column in today's Canberra Times, 'As copyright ends, we can take the literary plunge'.

On January 1st this year, the works of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and others moved into the public domain.  I discuss the importance of copyright law and the public domain, and the artistic value of literature.  A sample:
Copyright arose because of demand for literature. With the rise of the printing press and a more literate society, there was a sudden clamour for books, pamphlets, magazines. Among the more educated classes, the novel slowly began to increase in respectability in the 18th century.

The result was a boom in pirated texts, with publishers printing works they had not paid for. Hence the need for a ''right to copy'': it gave authors some control over the printing and distribution of their words. The legal dimension is complex in practice but fairly straightforward in principle.

Less obvious is the demand itself: the need for copyright arose because readers recognised the artistic value of literature, and were happy to pay for it, however it came. This was partly fashion, as it is now. But it was also because creative writing by authors like Joyce and Woolf offers a unique reward: a subtle, vivid distillation of the human condition.
(Image: Lupo)

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