Burning The Library

During the Creative Commons panel this year, Cory Doctorow said something that threw the threat of restrictive copyright into sharp relief: “What we’re seeing is a slow-motion burning of the Library of Alexandria, all over again.”

With the current length of copyright averaging out at around 150 years, we now have a situation where the prohibition on copying a work can be longer than the lifespan of the physical medium that contains it. All media eventually disintegrates. In the case of out-of-print books and music, there’s a real potential for those works to be lost forever.

This idea was like lightning applied directly to my brain.

One of my all-time favorite albums is Fare Well, by an LA group called Uma. The CD is now out of print, and the band long broken up. One day, in a fit of clumsiness, I’ll accidentally drop or step on the CD, breaking it, or scratch it beyond repair, or maybe it’ll melt in the heat of a rogue sunbeam, whatever — and there’ll suddenly be one less copy of Fare Well in the world.

Eventually, all the copies will be gone or lost. My only recourse is to tape it, burn it to CD or rip it to MP3 files — all of which are illegal the moment I distribute the copies. At least until 2165 AD.

It’s just dumb and sad.

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