Reflections on Melanie Wrobel’s video lecture Is Copyright a Little Fuzzy? A Guide to Copyright

The video lecture Is Copyright a Little Fuzzy? A Guide to Copyright (2018) by Melanie Wrobel was jam-packed with information and left me thinking about two points in particular. I have some experience with copyright through a pattern line I design here in Canada, which is published in the US and distributed Continuous line drawing of frogs on lily pads interspersed with water lily blooms.worldwide, but even so, there were new things in this talk for me. The big take-aways that I had were around Law of the Land, and the non-protection of ideas.

Listening to Melanie talk about the Law of the Land guidelines from the Berne Convention left me with some questions about how copyright can operate across countries with different guidelines. A simple way to explain the idea of the Law of the Land is that, regardless of the country of origin of a work, the work is subject to the law of the land that it is in – for instance, works in the US and EU move into the public domain after the life of the creator plus 75 years, whereas in Canada, after the life of the creator plus 50 years regardless of the country of origin of the work.

I can see how in a time before the internet, that this would have been a reasonably easy thing to enforce – even thinking of my own print patterns as an example: here in Canada, 50 years after my death, people will be able to trade my patterns freely, to share them without issue while in the US they can be monetized for a further 25 years. Before the internet, one would have to procure a physical pattern in Canada and either mail or deliver it to the US to use or distribute it before that further 25 year window was up. Now, with digital files being so easy to share, all it would take is a post to a public forum and those files could be distributed from Canada for free to the US and world, despite the copyright still being in effect in many of the countries that they would now be available in. Further reading about the Berne Convention has uncovered another rule, which partially answered my question – the Rule of the Shorter Term. This states that the term of copyright in the country of origin will be the guideline for other countries (Berne Convention, Article 7 [8]). Interestingly enough, not all countries abide by this rule – the US in particular has not, to date (“United States non-acceptance of the rule of the shorter term—Meta,” n.d.).

Another piece that stayed with me from the Wrobel video lecture was that ideas themselves are not protected under the Berne Convention, just the unique expression of the idea (Wrobel, 2018, 4:00). I found this interesting in contrast to the idea that traditional knowledge is protected (Wrobel, 2018, 49:00). Wrobel gave an example of the idea of a story about a girl who has a red cape and goes through the forest as a way of explaining the former – that it is not the idea of this little girl that is protected by copyright, but the unique way in which the story of Little Red Riding Hood is told that is protected. This would lead one to believe that traditional knowledge is protected due to the way in which those stories are told, or that information is uniquely expressed through culture. I am interested in this distinction and will do further reading about it.

References:

Berne Convention. (2019). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Berne_Convention&oldid=910814818

United States non-acceptance of the rule of the shorter term—Meta. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2019, from https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/United_States_non-acceptance_of_the_rule_of_the_shorter_term

Wrobel, M. (2018). Is Copyright a Little Fuzzy? A Guide to Copyright. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://moodle.royalroads.ca/moodle/mod/page/view.php?id=347413

One thought on “Reflections on Melanie Wrobel’s video lecture Is Copyright a Little Fuzzy? A Guide to Copyright”

  1. I enjoyed your thoughtful comments about “Law of the Land” and especially your comment from further reading about the Berne Convention about the “rule of the shorter term”.

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