Article 1 Section 8 of the United States Constitution states that “The Congress shall have Power… To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” This is known as the Copyright Clause. Over the years as new technologies and creative outlets have been invented, new laws have been written to create and protect copyrights over anything created by the human mind, whether it be literature, music, video, art, etc.
The difficulty of copyright laws today is the balance between ensuring the creators or artists get compensated for their effort, and ensuring the public can benefit from that effort. The large problem is that creators (and their publishers) want to be compensated as much as possible, and this often cuts into the public benefits. We see this in the limited selection Netflix has for streaming, or Pandora being sued right and left by the RIAA, to name just two examples. The advent of the digital age has turned the balancing act into an all-out power struggle.
And, sometimes, that power struggle results in the most ridiculous situations.
I am taking a political science class this semester. The assigned textbook is The Promise and Performance of American Democracy, 10th Edition, by Jon R. Bond and Kevin B. Smith. I decided to take the easy, cheap option of renting the Kindle e-book version. Sure, renting the print edition was even cheaper, but I didn’t want to be carrying a 720-page book around with all the other heavy books I needed. Having this entire textbook on my Kindle Fire is awesome. What could go wrong?
The book you see in the picture is the print version of the textbook’s 9th edition. The chapter is about civil rights, and you can’t talk about civil rights in the United States without talking about Martin Luther King Jr., and you can’t talk about him without talking about his “I Have A Dream” speech. The textbook provides the entire speech for students to read… if you get the print edition. The e-book edition, on the other hand… well, you can see in the picture. My Kindle Fire is on the page the speech is supposed to appear on… but the content is missing. Instead, I have a “not available” line, and it’s not even apologetic like YouTube’s infamous frowny face.
Why is this? Well, I’m not privy to the details, but it appears the estate of Martin Luther King Jr. gave permission for his famous “I Have A Dream” speech to be reproduced in its entirety in the print edition of the textbook, but withheld that same permission for the e-book edition of the textbook (for reasons unknown to me).
Here’s the thing. The Copyright Clause of the U.S. Constitution declares the purpose of copyright is to “Promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts.” Some have said that “the Progress of Science” obviously should include education. After all, that’s what the word “science” originates from- the Latin word for knowledge. One of the purposes of copyright is to promote knowledge.
Yet here it is, hindering my pursuit of knowledge. Not only that, but it’s being used to prevent me from reading one of the greatest civil rights speeches ever written. I mean, yes, I was able to find the speech in an outdated version of the textbook that is held on reserve at the college library (meaning I’m not allowed to remove it from the building), but after spending the money on the e-book, I shouldn’t have to look elsewhere for the content that was supposed to be there in the first place!
And now I get to wonder what else didn’t make it into the e-book version.