Yesterday was the 300 year anniversary of the Statute of Anne, the foundation of copyright. Last week we talked about Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, and I told my story about how UNLV students believed that the reproduction of David set in the mall of Caesars’ Palace is the real Michelangelo’s David. We talked about Walter Benjamin, and how the mechanical reproduction of the art object destroys its aura and whether the access that is gained through the process also has its shinier aspects (‘Hey, you get to have Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss hanging on your dorm wall.’) But to commemorate the anniversary, Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing has sharp things to say, that reflect on the object example I often use in class:
If there’s one lie more corrosive to creativity above all others, it is the lie of romantic individual originality. Today, ‘copyright curriculum’ warns schoolchildren not to be ‘copycats’ – to come up with their own original notions.
We are that which copies. Three or four billion years ago, by some process that we don’t understand, molecules began to copy themselves. We are the distant descendants of those early copyists – copying is in our genes. We have a word for things that don’t copy: ‘dead’.
Walk the streets of Florence and you’ll find a ‘David’ on every corner: because for half a millennium, Florentine sculptors have learned their trade by copying (but try to take a picture of ‘David’ on his plinth and you’ll be tossed out by a security guard who wants to end this great tradition in order to encourage you to buy a penny postcard).