Here’s an example of the future as envisioned by the megacorporations that are trying to turn copyrights to their advantage. Imagine that you open the cover of your summer reading and find this notice:
“By opening the cover of this book, you agree to the following license terms: You do not own the book, you are merely licensed to read it. The publisher may revoke the license and take back the book at any time they think you might have violated the license. You may not copy the book or any portion of it, allow anyone else to read the book or any portion of it, nor read it or any portion of it aloud. You may not sell the book without consent of the publisher. You may only read the book using a lamp approved by the publisher. When such lamps are withdrawn from the market, you may not read the book, even if the copyright has expired.”
That may sound farfetched, but it’s precisely analogous to the controls that are built in to the audio and video files offered for sale. The rhetoric of the copyright holders would have you believe that any attempt by you to use the material in your hands in any different way is “piracy.”
Jessica Litman’s marvelous book Digital Copyright makes it clear that copyright holders have changed the metaphors we use to understand copyrights – an enormously powerful change. Copyright has changed from being a “bargain” between public and author to a “a system of economic incentives”. There has been a piecemeal repeal of the “first sale” doctrine, which allowed the purchaser of a work to sell, loan, lease, or display it without the copyright owner’s permission. And “fair use” privileges have been narrowed, but “piracy” expanded to include any unlicensed use, not just large-scale commercial duplication.