A friend of mine is going to be a panelist at this event, World’s Fair Use Day, which
is a free, all-day celebration of the doctrine of fair use: the legal right that allows innovators and creators to make particular uses of copyrighted materials. WFUD will take place at the Newseum in Washington D.C. on Tuesday January 12, 2010, and will be organized by Public Knowledge (PK), a Washington D.C.-based non-profit, consumer-advocacy group. PK works to ensure that communications and intellectual property policies encourage creativity, further free expression and discourse and provide universal access to knowledge. As part of its campaign to return balance to copyright law, PK hopes to use WFUD to educate the public about the importance of fair use in an information society.
Enhancing the fair use exception is all to the good, but it does not go far enough. Fair use is a vague, ad hoc, utilitarian legislative exception designed to blunt some of the edges of copyright law so as to help masque its manifest injustice. An analog would be a slavery law that permitted a judge to allow the slave a month of temporary freedom if he can demonstrate to the judge that his master has been mistreating him according to a balance test in which the judge weighs four “factors” to make this determination. Or an exception to tax law that says a judge can reduce your tax rate by 1% for one year, if you can persuade him of a “hardship” as proved by weighing four legislatively enshrined “factors.” If the law is unjust and needs its edges blunted by ad hoc, unprincipled exceptions–the law itself is the problem and should be abolished.
This event is produced by the group Public Knowledge, which appears to be generally IP-skeptical (“Our first priority is promote innovation and the rights of consumers, while working to stop any bad legislation from passing that would slow technology innovation, shrink the public domain, or prevent fair use”; and they seem to be appropriately skeptical of the horrible DMCA), although their approach is somewhat ad hoc and intermixed with the standard pro-democracy (and pro-Democrat), pro-”consumer,” pro-network neutrality (see my A Libertarian Take on Net Neutrality) sentiments, and so on. Still, another ally in the fight against pattern privilege and intellectual monopoly.