If you have ever read Fahrenheit 451 you probably remember the part at the end where the people are all carrying around parts of great literature in their memories because they have no books. I wonder what copyright lawyers think when they read this part of the book. What do the people in the book plan on doing with all that knowledge? Eventually they will write it down and pass it around to all their friends. Without a licensing agreement! I’m no lawyer, but I think that qualifies as blatant copyright infringement! Wouldn’t it be funny to write an alternate ending to Fahrenheit 451 where Guy Montag and his crew are successful in recovering all the great literature but end up imprisoned for copyright infringement when they start publishing the new books?
The firefighters who set fire to the books in 451 are the copyright enforcers of today. They stifle the growth of culture and intimidate creativity at every turn. Ray Bradbury said,
“There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches… Every dimwit editor … licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.”
Replace “editor” in that quote with “copyright lawyer” and I think you get the same idea.
The quote that I wrote on the bookmark that fell out of my copy of Fahrenheit 451 says, “Those who don’t build must burn.” Today we don’t have firefighters running around burning books, but there is one area where creativity is being stifled. Copyright law makes it hard for people to create new derivative work without fear of being sued. I bring this up because I think that often copyright law makes little sense in the digital times that we live in.
So if lawyers win the copyright war where will the next front be? When you think about it, digital “content” really has no value by itself. It only gains value when it is connected to your brain. Is it that big of a stretch to think that the next battle ground for copyright infringement won’t be in cyberspace, but in our heads? Will you eventually need a license to remember a song? When technology advances to the point where you can download a movie straight to your mind will you have to pay a licensing fee every time you access it?
The irony of Ray Bradbury’s masterpiece is that his dark view of the future was exactly right even though it was completely wrong. We don’t have a shortage of books. We have an overload of information. Books aren’t burned, they are buried in the avalanche of thousands of books published each year. The hard part isn’t finding a single copy of a good book. The challenge is finding a single piece of quality writing in a world flooded by information. And the biggest irony of all is copyright. Copyright is meant to protect the creativity of the author. But the harder copyright law is enforced the more limitations it puts on the creativity of everyone else. You probably would have less people up in arms about burning a copy of Fahrenheit 451 than you would people worried about the copyright infringement of adding a final chapter to the book like I suggested. That is a sad commentary of the times I am afraid.