Faculty Forum Papers
April 1976 - The Right to Steal
Jesse F. Bone
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.