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Faculty Forum Papers

April 1976 - The Right to Steal By

Jesse F. Bone
Veterinary Medicine

April 16, 1976

    The January 1976 OSU Library Letter to the Faculty contains a two page statement in favor of unrestricted duplication of copyright material by educators and libraries. Together with this statement is a plea to the faculty to write letters to Congress promoting this so-called "fair-use" doctrine.

    While I am not opposed to limited copying of professional or technical publications by educators and librarians, I think that asking for unlimited copying privileges by academe is asking for the right to steal.

    Possibly those "professional" publications which do not pay authors or which require authors to pay for having their creativity exploited should be denied copyright protection, since their built-in safeguards of charging for publication and a captive readership virtually guarantee them as adequate income. But for that segment of the writing-publishing trade where authors receive advances and royalties and where publication is a speculative effort that results in financial return to both parties, a request for unrestricted copying privileges is morally wrong.

    For some strange reason, many people do not regard an author's work as proprietary. From the beginning of writing, publishers, copyists, plagiarists and others have made authors' lives poorer. It should be evident that literary works are property. They are the result of hard work, creative thought, and commercial activity. They belong to the publisher and the author and should be subject to the same legal protection which is given to other forms of wealth. It is particularly reprehensible that copying without compensation should be endorsed by educators and librarians. These are the very people who should be the philosophical, intellectual, and moral exemplars of mankind. To listen to academe advocating the right to steal is like listening to a minister advocating fornication.

    Barbara Ringer, the Registrar of Copyrights, has suggested licensure to protect authors and publishers from raiding by so-called "fair-use" advocates. Insofar as this applies to authors who write for income, I can see no reason why strict licensure should not be applied - even though it would make libraries licensed premises'.

    I cannot see where payment by the page for copying those works produced by authors who write for income is anything but fair. I doubt if anything can be done about individuals who make copies for personal use, but institutional copying can and should be controlled. There is no justification for educators taking-without compensation the fruits of the creativity of others.