Several jobs that I am currently applying for require some knowledge of copyright, so I have set about reading up on it. Fortunately, I’m finding it fascinating. For one thing, it illustrates the weird sort continuity that we have with the past. Take for instance, this quote from a judgement rendered in 1785:
[W]e must take care to guard against two extremes equally prejudicial; the one, that men of ability, who have employed their time in the service of the community, may not be deprived of their just merits, and the reward of their ingenuity and labour; the other, that the world may not be deprived of improvement, nor the progress of the arts be retarded. (Lord Mansfield in Sayre v Moor, 1785, as cited in Katz, 2013)
This was written at a time when slavery was legal in the British Empire, married women had no property rights, and hardly anyone questioned the fact that a tiny fraction of the population appropriated nearly all of society’s wealth. Yet it was a concise statement of the problem then and (aside from the sexist language) it is a concise statement of the problem now.
Katz, A. (2013). Fair use 2.0: The rebirth of fair dealing in Canada, in Geist, M. (Ed.). The Copyright Pentalogy: How the Supreme Court of Canada Shook the Foundations of Canadian Copyright Law. Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com