Copyright And The Public Commons

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Remember The Chiffon's 1962 hit "He's So Fine"?

Even if you don't know the song, it would probably sound familiar. That's because George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord," released a few years later, sounds an awful lot like it. In fact, the two sound so much alike that in 1976 a judge ruled Harrison had violated The Chiffons' copyright over the tune, and George Harrison eventually ended up having to pay for its use.

Copyrights and usage fees aren't exclusive to the recording industry. Books, obviously, carry them. But television commercials, pieces of genetic code, even the speeches of Martin Luther King are protected under copyright. If you want to use them, you have to ask permission, and in many cases you're liking going to have to pay up.

"Common as Air" by Lewis Hyde
"Common as Air" by Lewis Hyde

In his new book, "Common As Air: Revolution Art and Ownership", author Lewis Hyde argues the practice has gotten dangerously out of hand. He says the over-copyrighting of intellectual property has encroached on a different, more important kind of property: the public commons — that communal wealth of knowledge built up over generations of discovery and invention.


  • Lewis Hyde, a fellow at the Berkman Center For Internet And Society; author, "Common as Air"

This segment aired on February 14, 2011.


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