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Earlier chapters of this book provide a history of copyright and libraries in the United States, a review of outdated language in the existing copyright code, and a discussion of actions by both copyright owners and the public to rebalance copyright outside of legislation. This chapter simply imagines what copyright could be if we disregard the known political and legal obstacles. It starts with no constraints, which one might argue is both impractical and foolish. Why spend time discussing what could be when treaties, self-interest, and powerful industry lobbies stand in the way?

The answer is simply that environments can be changed. They have been changed throughout history, whether through legislation (e.g., copyright terms), case law (e.g., fair use in relation to technology), or ground roots movements (e.g., the initial movement to recognize authors’ rights). And if one hopes to change history, why not start first by exploring possibilities that we might not consider otherwise? Refusing to consider change out of fear of opposition translates to a voluntary surrender of power.

Beginning with restraints also blinds one to possibilities of a much better construct than could be achieved with them. If everything has to fit in a box, people will often discard anything they think won’t fit at the outset. Only by removing the box can we imagine the full range of benefits of a given course of action. If the outcome is desired, then efforts can turn to whether or not there is a way to fit the outcome into the box. Or to decide if the benefits are so great that destruction of the box is in society’s best interest. A vision should start with where one thinks the world should be, and then reality can help to shape the path.

Because this is the last chapter in the book, to fully understand how the guiding interests were chosen, one would need to read the preceding chapters.

Publication Citation

Forthcoming chapter Copyright Reform: Imagining More Balanced Copyright Laws, in Michelle M. Wu, Copyright, Libraries, and the Public Interest (Hein).