Sun, Jan 16, 2011 - Page 14 News List

The sincerest form of flattery

Copying is everywhere in nature and in human life, and although a general free-for-all isn’t perhaps the answer, a re-examination of what restrictions on copying can realistically mean is urgently needed

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing Reporter

Copyright law, Boon believes, is a product of industrial capitalism. Everyone copied, mimicked and borrowed before that, and in nature everything still does. The legal placing of copyright law in a system of property and ownership rights, in other words, ignores the universal nature of copying itself. In particular it ignores the Buddhist concepts of impermanence and interdependence, and Boon is strongly drawn to Buddhism. None of this world will last, it posits, and everything’s inter-related anyway, so isn’t this idea of ownership and punitive penalties to be paid really rather selfish and small-minded?

Boon notes that his own title is a partial imitation of the great Renaissance humanist Erasmus’ book In Praise of Folly. He doesn’t overlook the irony either that his book is clearly marked “Copyright 2010 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.” But this is small beer, perhaps, compared to phenomena such as China’s Harry Potter and the Hiking Dragon or the fictional hero Porri Gatter of Belarus.

In Praise of Copying was completed too early for the inclusion of the Wikileaks affair, but clearly this too could come under the heading of duplication — the copying of diplomatic e-mails and their publication in newspapers. But then newspapers themselves are these days an issue as well, and the Taipei Times itself could be considered as part of the progressive vanguard in being 100 percent available, and for free, online.

Boon says he appreciates the need for checks and balances. Even so, you can’t help feeling that, in the non-academic part of his soul, what he really believes is summed up in the following sentence, with its breathtaking ending: “One possible and provisional answer to many of the problems that plague humanity today, particularly those predicated on scarcity, is simply to make more copies and distribute them freely — as in the story of Jesus and the feeding of the five thousand.”

The issues this excellent book discusses can only become more urgent as a generation comes to power that simply takes a free exchange of information for granted.

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