Copyright is a bug¶
The mere word “copyright” is misleading. The laws about what we commonly call “copyright” are actually about two very different things.
One part is the right to claim authorship of your spiritual work. For example when you quote somebody else’s work in your own book, then you must mention the original author, otherwise you get guilty of plagiarism. I’ll call this the author’s right to honour for their work.
The other part is the right to distribute copies of your work. For example if you write a book in the hope of becoming rich by selling millions of copies, then you don’t want somebody else to harvest the money that grew from your seed. I’ll call this the author’s right to revenue for their work.
The honour and the revenue are two important but very different reasons why people do creative work.
Glyn Moody describes these two motivations using other words. He writes: “Textual works that are chiefly designed to convey knowledge are different in important ways from those mainly created for entertainment—novels, plays, poems, etc. Factual productions are generally written by academics and researchers as a way of disseminating their discoveries or ideas. They are not, primarily, written to gain money, unlike novels and other works of entertainment. The creators of factual works are typically paid through recognition by their peers and (sometimes) the wider public, which helps to advance their careers and ultimately leads to indirect financial rewards such as more ready access to grants and a higher salary.”1
Moody calls them “factual” and “entertainment” works, and I agree that the desire to “convey knowledge” is the prominent motivation for writing factual works. I am less sure about the underlying statement that authors of novels and poems would do their work mainly for revenue. The difference is not in the content of the work, the difference is in the motivation of the author. The desire to “convey knowledge” (others say “share knowledge”) is based on the desire for “honour”. That’s why I prefer to call them honour-motivated and revenue-motivated.
Note that honour does not exclude humbleness. Even the most humble author who just wants to share their thoughts and definitively does not hope to get famous would feel dishonoured if they discovered evident plagiarism of their work.
Most people feel that the right to honour is ethically correct and that the desire for honour is a noble one. This is less clear with the right to revenue. There are people who feel that published knowledge is common wealth of humanity, and that preventing others from using it is morally questionable.
Having two concepts in a single word can hide their difference and therefore have a profound impact on our thinking and discussing.
Note that many languages have no own word for copyright. They call it “author right” (German Autorenrecht, French droits d’auteur).
The difference between “author right” and “copy right” is of such importance that I would report this unclear naming as a serious bug if the English language was a software project.
A software product is the result of the collaboration of many humans.
Open access: All human knowledge is there—so why can’t everybody access it? by Glyn Moody (UK) - Jun 17, 2016 7:30pm EEST