Sunday, February 22, 2004

“The Tyranny of Copyright?”

Sunday, February 22, 2004 the New York Times Magazine published a letter from the Illustrators' Partnership (IPA) and the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) written in response to “The Tyranny of Copyright?” by Robert S. Boynton, published January 25, 2004:

For those who missed it, here is the letter in its entirety:

January 29, 2004

New York Times Magazine
229 West 43rd Street
New York, N.Y, 10036

To the Editor:

“The Tyranny of Copyright?” (Jan 25, 2004) suggests that “culture” is a public “entitlement” endangered by copyright extensions, and it portrays legal scholars and trial lawyers as visionaries who hope to restore the “Jeffersonian” ideal of a “free society” by rolling back or ending the protections now afforded creative work. But the case against copyrights is academic. Creative work is produced by real people working in the real world. Readers of this article should not confuse the length of copyright enjoyed by corporations with the copyright protection granted to freelance creators.

Corporations don't create. Individuals do. The longer a corporation can extend copyrights produced by employees or obtained from freelancers, the longer it will thrive and try to keep that work out of the public domain. Here the lawyers may have a point. But freelance creators face a different situation. We speak for many of them.

Most freelancers have no other source of income but their creative work. The accumulated value of that work is no different than the value that accrues to your home, and it no more robs the public of its “entitlement” than does the ordinary ownership of private property. Indeed without the incentives guaranteed to individual creators under copyright law, the tradition of independence in the popular arts would be at risk - and with it, the variety of independent viewpoints that freelancers bring to public life. That would rob the public in a noticeable way.

For decades, freelance artists and photographers have given shape to the content of popular culture. Within the last two decades their ability to earn a living has come under assault: from publishers who demand they surrender copyrights in return for assignments, from cutthroat competition with discount “image providers,” and now from legal “visionaries” who wish to make copyright itself obsolete. The case for abolishing copyright can be likened to a scheme for the redistribution of income. In theory it sounds public-spirited. In reality it deadens motivation. Protecting a creator's individual copyrights will cost the public nothing, but it will insure the continued flow of creative work from which the public will ultimately benefit.


Brad Holland
Founding Board Member
The Illustrators' Partnership of America
New York City

Eugene H. Mopsik
Executive Director
American Society of Media Photographers

The original Times article can be found here:

The IPA first noted the movement to abolish copyright in “Mothra Versus Rodan” on the IPA website:

The IPA wishes to thank Janet Froelich, Art Director of the New York Times Magazine for insuring that it was called to the attention of the Editors.

This may be republished, posted or forwarded in its entirety to any interested party.