The issue of copyright has been getting a lot of attention lately, because the easiness with which information can be copied makes the rights of authors too unclear. There is a good reason for students to know about copyright, its implications and views on it – so it is a good thing that you can sample an on-topic essay online free of charge, without worrying whether it is copyrighted or not.
The Internet made information of all kinds unprecedentedly easy to acquire. Books, videos, articles, audio recordings – everything seems to be just a couple of clicks away when you are connected to the Net. Education seems to be especially flourishing under this conditions – it looks as if everybody is promoting free online education nowadays, with enormous repositories of knowledge at everybody’s fingertips.
However, it doesn’t mean that books and other sources of information suddenly became free of charge just because it is so simple to copy them in a digital format. They are still getting published, publishers still spend resources to get through with it, authors still have to earn something through their writing to go on writing.
Here we see a collision of interests. Books – especially new and popular ones – are quite expensive both to publish and to buy, and the ease with which they can be copied means that the choice between buying a book and pirating it is often a question of personal preference rather than that of possibility.
Piracy is widely considered to be unethical, and this opinion is fervently supported by publishers – but in reality the issue is much more complicated. Few people know this, but this problem is much, much older than a few decades, as many today believe. The history of copyright goes back to the Middle Ages, and when we start examining it, we will see that there has always been some kind of establishment that opposed what was perceived as unlawful and unethical copying of books. First it was the Church, then the state, now it is mainly done by publishing corporations.
It may sound absurd today, but there was a time when printing was considered to be an infringement of copyright law. It allowed to copy information quickly, cheaply and accurately (does it remind you of anything?) compared to manual copying of texts, and many arguments that has been used against printing, with some alterations, are used today against digital copying.
This doesn’t mean that authors shouldn’t get paid and just be content to give their work away for free. It simply means that the issue is much more complicated that most of us were led to believe, and a much older one. One thing that can be said for sure is that it is useless to try and slow down the progress. Printing eventually became a natural part of our lives, and nobody in their right mind would say that by printing a book you infringe the author’s rights. Something along the same lines is bound to happen with digital copying – sooner or later.
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