September 25, 2002

Copyright, "limited times", and "legal hacks"

I was thinking about this passage regarding copyright and "limited times", from copyfight:

Jack Valenti on the Constitution's Copyright Clause, quoted in Dan Gillmor's Valenti Presents Hollywood's Side of the Technology Story: "[Just] read Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to 'promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.' There's no ambiguity...'limited' is whatever Congress says it is."

There's certainly a logical problem here - if "limited" could be a million years, that's not limited in any but the most formal sense. I'm not claiming any special insight on that point, it's been said many a time. However, I was struck by the thinking going on here. It's a mirror of exactly the sort of geek-mindset that tries and fails to come up with a "legal hack". In discussion of the DMCA, I've seen so many programmers say something along these lines: the DMCA language talks about a measure which "effectively controls access", but if such a measure is broken, it must not have been "effective", gotcha, ha-ha. This was in fact addressed as a legal argument in the DeCSS case, and the court didn't buy it all. But it seems the copyright interests are doing precisely the same sort of word-gaming - "limited times", sure, limited to expire 20 years from now, always, an unreachable limit, but still a "limit", gotcha, ha-ha. And so far, they have been prevailing with this argument, though with a shade of dissent.

There's a lesson (politics, or maybe "Critical Legal Studies") in here somewhere.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , infothought | on September 25, 2002 09:54 AM (Infothought permalink)

Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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