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Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity Paperback – April 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Vaidyanathan, a professor at the School of Information Studies of the University of Wisconsin and frequent NPR commentator, details the specious ideological evolution of copyright from a set of loose policies intended to encourage cultural expression into a form of property law (now codified in the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 2000) that functions as a seal on creative works. In prose remarkably free of legal and academic jargon, Vaidyanathan begins with a concise, well-paced history of copyright from the framing of the Constitution through the literary world of Mark Twain and the advent of music sampling. The book is surprisingly entertaining, as Vaidyanathan deftly weaves a wide array of episodes from popular culture into a cogent examination of both the creative process and the laws and commercial interests that process dovetails with, then closes with a synthesis and a stern warning for the digital age. Through a combination of copyright laws, contract law and technological controls, Vaidyanathan asserts that corporate control over the use of software, digital music, images, films, books and academic materials. But copyright law, he argues, was designed to be flexible, and this elasticity is essential for the cultural vibrancy and political balance of our democracy. The argument is compelling. In the age of Napster, digital piracy may be the cause c‚lŠbre, but this well-crafted and important book shows that there are graver concerns for the public in the entertainment industry's effort to tighten its grip on intellectual property. (Oct.)Forecast: Copyright used to be of interest only to a gaggle of Hollywood lawyers, but with the advent of technologies like Napster, it has become an issue of major importance to many more. This book is simply the best on the subject to date, and it should receive widespread attention. Random House is publishing a book on a similar subject by the Microsoft trial expert Lawrence Lessig in November, which will only further heighten interest.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

The author, a media scholar and cultural historian, presents a reasoned and compelling argument for "thin" copyright policy. Vaidhyanathan traces the evolution of copyright law, arguing that it has come to restrict creativity and enjoin cultural expression that arises outside of white American and European traditions. He begins his look at the history of the law with the story of Mark Twain's call for perpetual copyright and its influence on the current author-centered view of the rights to creative works. He continues with interesting examples of recent contests involving property rights to film and music, the details of which illustrate the tangle of interests that is created by law, technology, and culture. Well researched and thoughtfully presented, this is important for most academic and public libraries and essential reading for the library community. Joan Pedzich, Harris Beach LLP, Rochester, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 255 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814788076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814788073
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #964,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Siva Vaidhyanathan

Professor of Media Studies
Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin
B.A., University of Texas at Austin

Siva Vaidhyanathan is a cultural historian and media scholar, and is currently the Robertson Family Professor of media studies at the University of Virginia. He also teaches at the University of Virginia School of Law. From 1999 through the summer of 2007 he worked in the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University. Vaidhyanathan is a frequent contributor on media and cultural issues in various periodicals including The Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times Magazine, Bookforum, The Nation,, and He is a frequent contributor to National Public Radio and to MSNBC.COM and has appeared in a segment of "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. Vaidhyanathan is a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities.

In March 2002, Library Journal cited Vaidhyanathan among its "Movers & Shakers" in the library field. In the feature story, Vaidhyanathan lauded librarians for being "on the front lines of copyright battles" and for being "the custodians of our information and cultural commons." In November 2004 the Chronicle of Higher Education called Vaidhyanathan "one of academe's best-known scholars of intellectual property and its role in contemporary culture." He has testified as an expert before the U.S. Copyright Office on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

He is noted for opposing the Google Books scanning project on copyright grounds. He has published the opinion, that the project poses a danger for the doctrine of fair use, because the fair use claims are arguably so excessive that it may cause judicial limitation of that right.

Vaidhyanathan was born in Buffalo, New York, and attended the University of Texas at Austin, earning both a B.A. in History and a Ph.D. in American Studies.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book, not least because I am an academic and feel quite strongly about the importance of access to information. The public's rights to fair use of material for research, teaching, criticism, etc. are being infringed upon or ignored, and Vaidhyanathan does a fine job of explaining where those rights came from, how they have changed over the past hundred years or so, and the reasons why they are now in danger. Many current ideas about intellectual property do indeed threaten creativity. I enjoyed particularly the section on sampling in rap music, as well as the author's discussion of current efforts by large companies and organizations to exact payment for viewing any and all "content" (including scientific information, news, and other data that should not fall under copyright). Vaidhyanathan's discussion of the history of copyright law before the twentieth century was not as good as the rest of his analysis; I thought that the English precidents in the eighteenth century and earlier could have been explained a little more fully. However, over all, this was an engaging and informative book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Andrew on September 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I read this book as part of my research for a paper on the history of copyright policy. I found Vaidhyanathan to be both well-informed and a good writer. Unlike many resources on this topic, Copyrights and Copywrongs was quite interesting to read. Vaidhyanathan's book is both insightful and entertaining. If you've ever wondered how in the world something like Copyright policy could be interesting or relevant, you should pick up this book. Once you do, you'll almost certainly keep reading until you've reached the end. If you want to learn about the history of Copyright policy and how it affects you, you should definitely read this book. ...
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Walker on August 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This timely and wide-ranging book is useful on at least two levels. First, it rehearses some of the major steps and missteps that have brought us to where we are in the realm of copyright and intellectual property. Second, the book demonstrates explicitly some of the perils of the current legal framework.
Vaidhyanathan sets out his own objectives thus:
"This book has three goals. The first is to trace the development of American copyright law though the twentieth century. . . . The second goal is to succinctly and clearly outline the principles of copyright while describing the alarming erosion of the notion that copyright should protect specific expressions but not the ideas that lie beneath the expressions. The third and most important purpose of this book is to argue that American culture and politics would function better under a system that guarantees `thin' copyright protection -- just enough protection to encourage creativity, yet limited so that emerging artists, scholars, writers, and students can enjoy a right public domain and broad `fair use' of copyrighted material."
I believe that he succeeds on these terms. Even better, the book is very well written as prose, which we'd expect from a creative academic with long experience in print journalism. (The book is also full of fascinating tidbits. Did you know that Samuel Clemens would spend a weekend in Canada to register each of his books there? He did it to fortify his copyright protection throughout the Commonwealth.)
The chapters proceed more or less chronologically as Vaidhyanathan moves from early conceptions of copyright; through the careers of Mark Twain and D. W.
Read more ›
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By R. Shaff on November 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Siva Vaidyanathan had translated a sometimes incredibly misunderstood concept/subject into a reasonably understandable story. And, even more incredibly, it was written by a non-attorney (Siva is a professor at the U. of Wisconsin, School of Information Studies). "Copyrights and Copywrongs" covers the history and bastardization of American copyright law. Siva attempts to make relatively simple suggestions for fixing our complex, arcane system of protecting intellectual property rights.
Siva begins his "story" recounting in incredibly understandable terms, the history of the copyright ranging from the framing of the U.S. Constitution, the rights afforded musicians (recently challenged by the likes of ...) and of course, literary and digital works. Siva does not concentrate on the theoretical nature of this quagmire rather, he examines the issues as it relates to current issues and events making the content interesting and readable. He argues, very persuasively, that the current copyright laws in their punitive and restrictive form y hinder creativity and free expression. Further, he compellingly argues that the original intent of the laws were designed for flexible application to maintain cultural balance.
The issues framed in this book encompass the very future of creativity vital to industry, commerce, and free expression. A very enjoyable read even given the somewhat difficult nature of the subject matter.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Brown on November 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am not sure how I found this book - but I am glad that I did. In about 200 pages Professor Vaidhyananathan presents a very readable history of the copyright in the US and abroad.
Originally added to the Constitution to encourage creativity and to improve the democratic process, the copyright has evolved into a series of complex rules that seem to work almost in the opposite direction of the original intent.
Have you ever wondered how Mark Twain and Groucho Marx figured into the discussion of copyright issues? If so you can find out in this book - they both had very interesting roles. What about the diversity of legal opinions - from Lawrence Lessig, to the Ninth Circuit, to Mr. Justice Hand - all of who grappled with the rights of the few versus the rights of the many.
Added to the history is an intelligent and readable discussion of the policy issues related to the copyright. What kinds of policies will balance the creator's incentives and at the same time improve the level of public discussions? How long should rights survive? What elements should be included in the copyright? What are the reasonable standards for parody? Should there be differing standards for databases, books, movies, music and computer programs? The risk for all of those questions is that they can evolve into hopeless discussions of legal absurdities. In effect, that is what happened with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
But Vaidhyananathan does not let himself get stuck in all that goo - he deals with each of those issues and more in a concise and interesting fashion. At the same time he has the larger picture of the broader purposes of copyright.
You will be challenged and fascinated by this book and the issues it raises.
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