How the Google Book [Fair Case] Case Helped Me Find My Passion

As published on January 17, 2014, on the

American Library Association Washington Office Blog, 

District Dispatch, in honor of Copyright Week. 

I thought about how to address these completely unexpected responses.  I talked about the need to maintain balance in order to meet the goal of copyright law.  I quoted the court’s finding that Google Books actually benefits copyright owners by pointing users to places where the books could be bought.  “I’m still concerned about the potential harm to copyright owners,” they said.

I find my passion

How else could I explain?  I had explained the decision as best I could.  I felt responsible for explaining the reason for The Copyright Bargain, beyond encouraging the promotion of Science and the Useful Arts.  Why did the founders of this country consider intellectual property protection so important as to include it in our very Constitution?  What was the underlying value that was so vital to them to make it worthy enough to address in this most important document?

Then it hit me:  Fair use allows us to be American.  Fair use is one of several principles of law that enact fundamental American values, right up there with the Bill of Rights.  (As a matter of fact, fair use cases sometimes invoke the First Amendment.)

We as a society place tremendous value on every individual in our society having an opportunity not only to obtain an education, whether formal or informal, but to have access to knowledge.  To be able to read a newspaper, to buy books or borrow them from libraries, to watch television and movies, to listen to music, to view masterpieces of the fine arts without having to travel to a far-away museum.  We greatly value our ability to share our own knowledge.  To discuss a news item, to write about a political issue, to teach others, to share our religious views.

A strong doctrine of fair use is an absolute necessity to absolutely protecting and enacting these values.  

If we were to allow copyright owners complete, or even near-complete, control over uses of their works, the result would be a society in which those who could afford to pay for education – and even access to the written word, the fine arts, music, software, the Internet – would have it, and others would not.  We would become the ultimate society of haves and have-nots.

This I am passionate about.

Yes, a copyright owner may lose money when others legally use its works without paying, but what it gains is being part of a society in which access to knowledge is considered a defining, core, base value of society.  What it gains is contributing to a society that values education, individual participation in government, and free speech.  Without a healthy doctrine of fair use, we risk losing those rights.

This I am passionate about.