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Essay title: Legality

Today the vast majority of authors get little or no income from copyright royalties. For instance, scientific, technical, and academic journals usually pay nothing to their authors, and most scientific, technical and academic books earn only a few hundred dollars in royalties. Newspaper writers work on salary, and so do magazine writers, or they are free lancers who are paid a flat rate, not a royalty. Only a tiny percentage of authors make any significant portion of their personal income from royalties. Even in the case of books, typically only around five percent of the retail price goes back to the author. Yes, it is good for writers to be paid, but copyright royalties are a very inefficient way of doing it.

So why was copyright developed? It was because of the invention of the printing press. For thousands of years, the only way written works could be duplicated was through a slow and extremely expensive process of copying by hand. But then the printing press was invented and it became possible to produce an unlimited number of inexpensive copies.

However, there was a catch. To produce a printed book requires a very large expense ahead of time for things like editing, typesetting, running off at least a few hundred copies of the book, and promotion. A publisher would be willing to invest all this money only if it knew it would have exclusive rights to publish the book. Otherwise any book that was a hit would immediately be copied by other publishers, and the original publisher would get little or no return on its investment. So copyright law was created to promote publishing so that the public could enjoy the fruits of the new technology of printing.

We have copyright for music recordings for the same reason. The invention of the phonograph made possible cheap copies of music. However, a great deal of money is required to produce the record--recording studio time, paying musicians, editing, producing a master, producing records at a factory--and also for promoting and distributing it. Copyright for music guarantees exclusive rights to sell a record, so music companies are willing to put up the money ahead of time to produce records in hopes they will make a profits from them.

So copyright was invented so that society could enjoy the fruits of new inventions for reproducing works. But now we have new technologies that radically change the economics of reproduction. The result is that copyright no longer benefits society.

We don't need a huge up-front investment to produce and distribute a book. A word processor program produces readable copy, and the book can be publicized and distributed over the Internet for next to nothing. The same goes for music. Thanks to personal computers, any band can have its own sound recording and editing studio for a few thousand dollars. And it can burn its recordings to a CD or distribute them over the net.

If there is no need to invest huge sums of money, then there is no need for copyright laws that guarantee publishers or recording companies exclusive rights so they will be motivated to invest said sums. Copyright was needed for the old technology, but now we have a new, vastly more efficient system that doesn't need copyright. In fact, copyright now is functioning as a block to the new, better system.

We are going through a transition period in which electronic distribution is gradually replacing material (paper, vinyl records, plastic CDs) distribution. Material works should still be

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