The Guest List: Alex Sayf Cummings
Alex Sayf Cummings
Copyright law can be arcane and confusing, but it affects our lives every day as students, teachers, creators and consumers. Alex Sayf Cummings, assistant professor of history and co-editor of the site Tropics of Meta, offers 10 interesting facts about copyright.
1. The first copyright law in the United States only provided protection for 14 years, and only covered "maps, charts and books."
2. In 1909, Congress chose not to grant record companies a copyright for their recordings, as they viewed copyright as a monopoly and feared that a "phonograph trust" would emerge to control all music.
3. As a result, sound recordings were not eligible for federal copyright in the U.S. until 1972.
4. The oldest known sound recording was made by French printer Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in 1860, but recent changes in U.S. copyright law may mean that even this 152-year-old record is not yet in the public domain — and won't be until 2067.
5. The longest copyright could last was 56 years until 1976, when Congress extended the length of protection to the life of the author plus 50 years.
6. A 1998 law added 20 years to all copyrights. Critics alleged that Congress acted because Mickey Mouse and numerous other valuable properties were about to go into the public domain at the time.
7. The same year, Congress passed legislation making it illegal to tamper with anti-piracy mechanisms on media like CDs and software, or to disseminate technologies that aim to subvert those mechanisms.
8. Thanks to a little-known feature of copyright law called "termination," many authors and musicians will be able to regain rights to their work from publishers and record labels starting in 2013. Artists such as Bob Dylan and the Village People have already declared their intention to do so.
9. A new movement has emerged in the last 10 years to counter the idea that more copyright is better copyright. Operating under the banners of Copyleft and Creative Commons, it has argued that copyright is too restrictive and should be relaxed to promote greater creativity.
10. A recent eruption of protest over the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) led to copyright critics winning their first real victory in years, and suggested that a movement against the continued expansion of copyright may be winning wider public support.