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    “In Defence of Copyright”: My Book is Now Available

    • 05.08.2023
    • By Hugh Stephens
    Hugh Stephens Blogs

    I am pleased to announce that my book, “In Defence of Copyright”, published by Cormorant Books in Toronto, is now available to pre-order through local bookstores, Indigo (stores and online) in Canada, and online through Amazon, and will be in stores as of August 19. If you live in Canada, you can enter your postal code (here) and locate the closest independent book store where it can be pre-ordered or will be available. You might ask why we need a book defending copyright. It’s a good question and one that is at the root of why I wrote it.

    Many people have a general idea of what copyright is although fewer seem to understand its real purpose. It is not to make authors, publishers, record labels or movie studios rich (although one of its premises is to provide a fair reward for creative effort and taking on the risk of distribution). It is not to force cash-strapped students to purchase expensive textbooks (although they should pay a fair price for the valuable content produced by others that they consume). It is not about preventing people from downloading content from the internet (although that is an element of copyright protection). It is to strengthen our society by establishing the conditions for the creation of content that enriches and improves our lives, whether it be literature, art, music, movies, television shows, photography, architecture or even the software that runs computer programs. Copyright constitutes a fundamental pillar of our democratic way of life by giving “authors” (those who create the content that we consume) the rights to control how and where their creative works are used.

    I wrote this book because of the myths I have come across when talking with people about copyright. Some young people, unduly influenced I think by social media, seem to think that copyright is a barrier placed by big corporations between themselves and content they want to access. They seem to think it is there to make their lives difficult, to deny them what is “rightfully” theirs for the taking. Others, who should know better, argue that it impedes fair access to education. Still others claim that it prevents people from building on and using pre-existing knowledge. And then there are those who, while well able to afford the minimal price of obtaining legitimate copies, openly brag of their prowess in getting for free that which they know they should be paying for, because “no-one gets hurt”. These people, most of them perfectly upright and law-abiding citizens in every other aspect of their lives, should reflect on the long-term and indirect consequences of their payment-evading “skills”.

    These myths need to be addressed, and that in part is what I have tried to do. Copyright in no way limits learning or new ideas; it simply protects an author’s expression of an idea. And yes, sometimes the terms for access require payment, although there is a very wide range of exceptions allowing unauthorized (permissionless) but legal use. Even with this plethora of exceptions, however, there are some who would stretch copyright to its breaking point, as I also discuss. As a concept it is remarkably simple, (it requires only originality, expression, and fixation—i.e. being expressed in a material form of some kind) –and today is established automatically upon creation, yet it can be very complex in its application as the imposing corpus of copyright law attests. This book is not written to expound on complex legal cases, although it refers to some key legal decisions to explain concepts. Rather it is written for the lay reader, the interested public, the informed but non-specialist practitioner and for anyone who wants to understand the basic concepts of copyright, illustrated through various examples (many of them drawn from this blog) written in a way that is, I hope, entertaining.

    The book starts with my personal explanation about how I came to have a deeper understanding of the true importance of a good copyright regime in contemporary society. Chapter One provides an overview of what copyright consists of, with a focus on the role of the author, (shorthand for all creators, whether writers, artists, songwriters, performers and so on), from both an economic and moral point of view. Chapter 2 delves into the history of copyright, explaining its roots particularly in British and US jurisprudence, how it has played out in Canada, and its international dimensions. Chapter 3 looks at copyright’s limitations and exceptions, addressing the essential issue of user’s rights. In Chapter 4 I discuss piracy, its antecedents, its manifestations today, and its consequences with three case studies in Chapter 5. The sixth chapter looks at what I call “Contested Uses”, the legal and social debates about the application of copyright protection to specified uses, such as Google’s indexing of books, “Controlled Digital Lending” by libraries and the Internet Archive, use of news snippets and content by online platforms and the ongoing saga of widespread unauthorized copying of copyrighted educational materials by educational institutions in Canada. Chapter 7 deals with emerging issues related to copyright, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain technology and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and the application of copyright to Indigenous Cultural Expression. I wrap up with my summary defending copyright, followed by a selection of several of the most popular blog posts from this blog over the past seven years. (I am not going to tell you which ones; buy the book!).

    While of particular interest to Canadian readers, this book is written for a wide audience in other English-speaking countries. It is certainly not a textbook but could be useful at an undergraduate level for students interested in gaining a broader background on copyright’s place in law and society, for example students enrolled in communications or creative writing courses, and as general reading for those interested in gaining a deeper appreciation for the role, function and effect of copyright today, in Canada and elsewhere.

    Roanie Levy, CEO & President of Access Copyright, has read an advance copy and posted a very generous review on her LinkedIn page.

    She enjoyed the book. I hope you will too.

    This article was first published on Hugh Stephens Blog