Copyright was created for giving the authors of original works the legal right to use them for receiving different kinds of revenues, usually for a limited time. The protection of legal rights of the creators is supposed to be the factor that boosts the creativity and enhances cultural development, as the authors see more motivation in creating unique pieces of intellectual property. However, recently many debates related to the reverse effect of copyright on creativity have evolved, as more and more cases of copyright infringement provoke the tendency to regard copyright laws as the threat to creative activities. The analysis of the specifics of copyright law, the causes of concerns related to it, and the relevant cases reveals that though the initial objective of copyright is to promote creativity and culture, many of the current tendencies related to the usage of the law put a serious threat to the implementation of its primary goal.
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The Main Goals of the Copyright
The basic goals of copyright include protection of the creators’ rights, enhancement of creativity, encouragement of the development of science and culture, and providing access to information and intellectual assets to wide public (Dodd par.5). Copyright serves as a form of intellectual property owned by content creators; other examples of such property include patents, trademarks, etc. The legal framework for guiding the relationships between the content creators and consumers provided by copyright has vital importance for the prevention of violation of ownership rights and illegal copying of intellectual property for receiving material revenues. Moreover, copyright helps to regulate debatable questions and issues that can decrease the effectiveness of interaction between creators and public willing to use the creations.
The goals of enhancing creativity and encouraging the development of culture and science can be logically explained by the nature of processes supposed to be promoted by the copyright law. In the situation when the intellectual property rights are not protected legally, the chances of abusive copying of already existing content rise significantly. The absence of the legal framework regulating the work of creators provides the environment that favours the usage of somebody else’s creations and presenting copied intellectual assets as innovative ones. Copyright law, on the other side, motivates people to produce unique pieces of intellectual property. In such situation, the creators are stimulated to contribute to the development of society, as all of their original works and inventions benefit the members of the public and bring revenues and exclusive rights to the authors. Therefore, the people involved in creative activities feel protected and respected, as the law provides them with the opportunity to protect their creations and themselves from copying and plagiarism. In such way, the authors whose works are highly appraised by the society receive the right to control and enjoy the material gain from the distribution of these works during their lifetime.
The Arguable Issues in the Relationship between Copyright, Creativity, and Culture
Copyright has become one of the objects of numerous debates, as its role in the development of culture and creativity is considered controversial by many specialists. The following passages present the analysis of the main issues illustrating the negative consequences of inappropriate use of copyright.
One of the first questions raised by the critics of the law is related to defining whether its primary objective is to protect the author or benefit the public. Many specialists state that copyright provides legal protection for the author’s rights to receive revenues from creating something unique but significantly decreases the chances of the public to enjoy the creations. In other words, copyright law favours the authors who are motivated by the financial stimulus but does not benefit culture by regarding the pieces of art as a private intellectual property rather than as the possession of the society (Shi 14). Such one-sidedness is considered an illustration of the fact that copyright is focused on personal interests of the author rather than on the development of the culture. Different cases illustrate the issue, presenting both confirmation and refutation to the claim. The case of John Fogerty & Fantasy, Inc. serves as the evidence of the fact that the Supreme Court of U.S. considers promoting culture as the primary goal of the copyright. The Court argued the final decision by emphasising that the ultimate aim of copyright is to “stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good” (Supreme Court of the Unites States par. 17).
However, the case of “Blurred Lines” illustrates the opposite side of the issue, as the songwriters considered to be inspired by the song written by Marvin Gaye were ordered to pay the children of Gaye compensation worth millions of dollars (McCartney par. 3). Pharrell Williams, one of the authors of the hit, claimed that such decision can “stifle creativity” as creators might be afraid to use inspiration, derived from existing intellectual assets and promoting the creative process (“Pharrell claims Blurred Lines” par. 1). These two cases illustrate the fact, that though the primary goals defined are based on the assumption that public good and development of culture have the first prerogative, the current use of copyright law is characterised by putting the interests of the authors in the first place (Shi 14). Such tendency enables the owners of the copyright to use the law to pursue their material profit and ignore the interest of the wide public.
The case of Blurred lines is relevant to another issue frequently discussed by the critics of copyright law stating that it puts restrictions on the activities of those using research and learning based on existing creative works for the discovery of innovations and creation of pieces of art. Everything new is created based on the knowledge and inspiration received from the works of other authors. For example, in almost every song or piece of music the elements used previously by other authors can be found. Many books have the details of the plot that have already been described in other literary sources. Everything new is well-forgotten old, as the proverb says, and, therefore the development of culture and stimulation of creativity is largely promoted by the usage of existing works for the creation of new ones. In such situation, copyright law cannot be used against the enhancement of creativity. The development of culture can be seriously endangered if authors are sued for using somebody else’s works as the basis for creating new pieces of art.
The discussed issue also relates to the process of distinction between the fair and unfair use of the materials owned by other authors. Patrick Cariou & Richard Prince case can serve as an example of the use of copyright law for the prevention of the creation of pieces of art based on the work authored by another artist. Though the judge ruled in favour of Cariou, the case is still in appeal (The United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit 14). The case illustrates the fact that often it is rather difficult to define what is the number of changes that need to be made to the existing work by the author in order to be not accused of unfair use of intellectual property. One of the most controversial and challenging questions are what exactly can be considered as the creation of new meaning and how to avoid subjectivity while dealing with such cases.
Defining what exactly can be eligible to be protected by copyright law is another issue related to analysing whether it enhances creativity. Most people think that such qualities as colours and shapes can be used by any person and should not be appropriated to anyone. The variety of colours enhances the creation of art pieces and can be considered as the intangible asset promoting the development of culture. However, many creators use copyright law to sue other authors using the same combination of shades, shapes, etc. For example, Gucci sued Guess for using such trademarks as green and red stripes, brown and beige colours, and diamond shape patterns in their production. The case illustrates that copyright law opens a possibility of entitling brands and companies to consider the combination of distinct qualities as their intellectual property and forbid others to use the same mix.
Moreover, the case illustrates that interpretation of the issue what assets are eligible to be copyrighted is highly disputable and varies in different countries. For example, Gucci won the case in Australia, but lost in France (Fernandez par.1; The Fashion Law par. 2). Such variation in the decisions of the courts of different countries reveals that defining what is eligible to be copyrighted is rather difficult. Moreover, many specialists express their claims that the development of culture and promotion of creativity can be endangered by entitling the authors to regard the combination of some marks, such as shapes, as their intellectual property.
One more issue revealing the question whether copyright enhances creativity and culture is related to the direct consequences of considering the right to use the financial revenues from creation as the main priority. Many specialists agree that copyright law serves as the driver for making the culture highly commercialised. Motivation given with the help of copyright law to the authors is mostly related to the pursuit of personal interest, and in such situation, such values as reputation, gift-giving, and altruism are substituted with material profit that can be received by the author of an original work. The priority of contributing to the public good in culture is thrown into the background by the dominating emphasis on the author’s right for financial revenues.
Therefore, to some extent, copyright law leads to the situation when the creators are more interested in finding an opportunity to sew another artist and receive huge compensation than in creating some unique piece of art that contribute to the development of culture. Therefore, copyright law makes the art an object of endless proceedings aimed at retrieving maximum financial profit from possessing copyright for a distinct work. The discussed case of Blurred Lines is a perfect illustration of such assumption, as the relatives of Marvin Gaye managed to receive millions of dollars from the songwriters whose creation does resemble Gaye’s song but is obviously not a copy of it. In this situation, copyright law was used not for the protection of cultural development, but for merely commercial purposes, and the consequences of the case can be quite opposite to enhancement of creativity.
The analysis of the issues related to the question whether copyright indeed can enhance creativity for the public good reveals that though the goals of the law are beneficial and good, its use in practice often contradicts the aim of promoting the development of culture. While the law was created to “encourage the production of original literary, artistic, and musical expression for the good of the public”, the real situation shows that securing the authors’ rights has overshadowed the ultimate goal of enhancing the culture (The Supreme Court of the United States par. 12). The analysis of relevant cases also demonstrates that defining what exactly can be eligible to be copyrighted is a rather subjective matter, as the decisions of Courts dealing with copyright cases vary significantly depending on the understanding of the law in different countries. The described issues show that though copyright can enhance creativity and culture, the legal framework of the application of the law should be strictly defined and improved. The current tendencies of giving more importance to the authors’ profit than to the public’s good, restricting creative activities inspired by existing works, and using the law for purely commercial purposes lead to commercialisation of culture and suppression of creativity.
Dodd, Chris. Copyright: Empowering Innovation and Creativity. 2013. Web.
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Case Against Guess in France. 2015. Web.
McCartney, Anthony. ‘Blurred Lines’ Copyright Case Not Over. 2015. Web.
Shi, Sampsung Xiaoxiang. The Place of Creativity in Copyright Law. 2008. Web.
The Fashion Law. Gucci Wins Trademark Action Against Guess in Australia. 2015. Web.
The Supreme Court of the United States. John C. Fogerty, Petitioner v. Fantasy, Inc. 1994. Web.
The United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. Patrick Cariou v. Richard Prince. 2013. Web.