Copyright Act of 1790

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About CopyrightX

Stack Exchange Q&A site proposal: CopyrightX

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All web users are profoundly affected (often unwittingly) by copyright laws because we are constantly copying copyrighted documents as we surf the web.

On 11 January 2013, a highly-respected and brilliant young Harvard researcher named Aaron Swartz tragically took his own life, apparently as a result of facing criminal prosecution for making too many copies of documents he held legitimate access to. According to MSNBC contributor Chris Hayes, “at the time of his death Aaron was being prosecuted by the federal government and threatened with up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for the crime of—and I’m not exaggerating here—downloading too many free articles from the online database of scholarly work JSTOR.

On 28 January 2013, Harvard Law School (HLS) published freely for the first time to the entire world all resources associated with a copyright course previously taught only to law students at HLS. The course is called CopyrightX and is taught by Professor William (Terry) Fisher of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, who published Promises to Keep: Technology, Law, and the Future of Entertainment on copyright reform in 2004. The course materials have been made freely available to the entire world under a Creative Commons license. With the assistance of many others including fifteen-year-old Aaron Swartz, Creative Commons was launched in 2002 by Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics where Aaron Swartz had been a research fellow in 2011 when he was arrested and charged with multiple offenses associated with making too many copies.

On 13 February 2013, Professor Christopher Sprigman of University of Virginia School of Law spoke at a CopyrightX special event and presented data that seem to show the fashion industry is much bigger financially now, without copyright protection, than it could have been today if given the kind of (illegal) copy protection it had in the 1930s, or if given legal copyright protection (now under consideration by the United States Senate) like that now protecting the music and movie and book industries:

In 2009, Johanna Blakley presented a TEDx talk where she questioned the maxim, “Without ownership, there is no incentive to innovate.” and argued convincingly that the fashion industry may be financially better off without any copyright protection system at all. In the United States, the entire fashion industry is not subject to any copyright laws. Trademark laws apply to fashion, but not copyright.

In his second full length book, In Praise of Copying, published in 2010 by the Harvard University Press under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license, Marcus Boon attempts to explain why copying actually creates value in fashion rather than stealing it.

In his 4-part indie movie series, Everything is a Remix released in 2011, Kirby Ferguson argued convincingly that copyright legislation no longer serves its original purpose. He said that copyright laws were intended “…to better the lives of everyone by incentivizing creativity and producing a rich public domain, a shared pool of knowledge, open to all.” and “The common good is a meme that was overwhelmed by intellectual property. It needs to spread again. If the meme prospers, our laws, our norms, our society, they all transform.

It was from Kirby that I first learned the title of the United States' first copyright law, and that served as the inspiration for a new blog. That title heads this section in image and written word: “An Act for the encouragement of learning”. When a brilliant young man is so interested in learning that he copies myriad scholarly journal articles and as a result ends up facing 35 years in prison and $1 million dollars in fines, then it seems to me like copyright laws may no longer be serving their original purpose.

Copyright needs a real cooperative community in the spirit of the Rochdale Principles for co-ops in order to start a global dialog about copyright reform and what copyright legislation should look like in the age of computers and The Internet. That community should be democratic, all-inclusive, and full of good questions and answers.

Stack Exchange Q and A site proposal: CopyrightX

Have a look at the new CopyrightX community proposal at

  1. Follow the proposal by clicking the orange “Follow It!” button,
  2. Post 5 Example Questions in the proposal (listen to Prof. Fisher’s CopyrightX lecture on the music industry for ideas),
  3. Vote on 5 Example Questions (up to a score of 10, but no higher than 10 as higher Example Question scores represent wasted votes, for they don’t contribute to moving the community forward to the next phase),
  4. Spread the word to your network about this proposal by using the “Share This” link below the orange followers status square in the upper left of the page to have the site generate a unique URL (with your own referrer string) to pass to people you think might also be interested in this community proposal. For every one of them who follows the community and confirms their email address, your reputation score will go up by +5 points. The “Share This” link generates both a unique URL as well as code for an embeddable banner (see right) that works well for embedding on blogs.
  5. Read the blog and follow @StackCopyrightX for updates.

The StackExchange (SE) network may seem familiar (like a discussion forum), but if you haven’t had an account there for at least a week or so, then you’ll find that it’s actually very different from a discussion forum. In this video, the CEO describes it for a journalist. The StackExchange community eschews discussion per se in favor of clear and concise questions and answers. StackExchange also incorporates reputation and voting and privileges and other ideas that make it totally new and an extremely positive contribution to The Internet.

One community leader of the Geographic Information Systems site summarized the impact on that community as follows:

I’ve been working in the GIS field for almost 15 years and been active on every applicable BBS, mailing list, online forum and wiki for that time. I can honestly state that GIS SE has something that all those others didn’t, and that something is valuable and worth nurturing.

Thank you to my classmate Nele Noppe (@unjapanologist) whose CopyrightX tumblr encouraged me to get my feet wet with social media like tumblr and twitter.

Thank you Harvard Law School and Professor Fisher for publishing the CopyrightX course to the entire world. This may be a good omen for the future of The Internet.

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