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Volume Heft 6

Full text: Bibliotheksdienst (Rights reserved) Issue40.2006 (Rights reserved)

Recht Themen Bibliotheksdienst 40. Jg. (2006), H. 6 745 As go America and Europe, so goes the world. Trade treaties make sure that the rest of the world shares this Amero-Eurocentric vision of copyright, whether they like it or not. If lesser developed countries want to export tea or bananas or textiles to Europe and North America, part of the price they must pay is to let European and American producers have copyright control over imported culture. The push for high levels of protection leads logically to a situation where publish- ers get protected for ever. Walt Disney may be dead but the corporation he left behind makes no secret of its intention to ensure Mickey’s worldwide legal im- mortality. This is one silly mouse that will produce mountains of law.2 Perpetual monopoly is of course every business person’s dream; and publishers doze no dif- ferently. That we know from history. From the late 16th century London publishers ran a tightly knit cabal they called the Stationers’ Company. They agreed to recognize one another’s publication rights in perpetuity, and no books in the realm fell outside their grasp. The crown was complicit in their monopoly: the publishers helped the monarch censor, li- cense and tax, and keep dangerous ideas from the rabble. The system eventually crumbled. By the 18th century, others outside the publishers’ circle didn’t share its convenient vision and issued their own competing editions. The publishers went to court. True, legislatures by then had handed them up to 28 years copyright protection, but the publishers, like Oliver Twist, wanted more. They pressed the judges to ignore the legislatures and give them a perpetual copyright as well. They lost in grand style. The supreme courts of England, Scotland and then (in the early 19th century) the US rejected their claims. In England, Lord Camden called their case a “heterogenous heap of rubbish which is only calculated to confound your lordships and mislead the argument”. In the florid rhetoric of the time, Camden dismissed the idea of a common law copyright in published works, in these words: If there be anything in the world ... common to all mankind, science and learning are in their nature public domain,3 and they ought to be as free and general as air or water. They forget their Creator, as well as their fellow-creatures, who wish to monopolize his noblest gifts and greatest benefits. Why did we enter society at all but to enlighten one another’s minds and improve our faculties for the common welfare of the species? ... The booksellers of late years have forestalled the market and become engrossers. If therefore the monopoly is sanctified by your lordships’ judgment, exorbitant prices must be the consequence; for every valuable author will be as much monopolized by them as Shakespeare is at present ... This perpetuity now contended for is as odious and as selfish as any other; it deserves rep- robation and is become as intolerable. Knowledge and science are not things to be bound in such cobweb chains ...4 2 “Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus”: Horace, Ars Poetica, l. 139 (“the mountains labour and produce a silly mouse”). Sorry, Horace. 3 I have turned “publici juris” into “public domain”. 4 Donaldson v. Beckett (1774), Bro Parl Cas 129 HL.
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