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Government

We Were Smarter About Copyright Law 100 Years Ago 152

An anonymous reader writes "James Boyle has a blog post comparing the recording industry's arguments in 1909 to those of 2009, with some lovely Google book links to the originals. Favorite quote: 'Many and numerous classes of public benefactors continue ceaselessly to pour forth their flood of useful ideas, adding to the common stock of knowledge. No one regards it as immoral or unethical to use these ideas and their authors do not suffer themselves to be paraded by sordid interests before legislative committees uttering bombastic speeches about their rights and representing themselves as the objects of "theft" and "piracy."' Industry flaks were more impressive 100 years ago. In that debate the recording industry was the upstart, battling the entrenched power of the publishers of musical scores. Also check out the cameo appearance by John Philip Sousa, comparing sound recordings to slavery. Ironically, among the subjects mentioned as clearly not the subject of property rights were business methods and seed varieties." Boyle concludes: "...one looks back at these transcripts and compares them to today's hearings — with vacuous rantings from celebrities and the bloviation of bad economics and worse legal theory from one industry representative after another — it is hard not to feel a sense of nostalgia. In 1900, it appears, we were better at understanding that copyright was a law that regulated technology, a law with constitutional restraints, that property rights were not absolute and that the public would not automatically be served by extending rights out to infinity."

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