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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Turow, Shakespeare, and Copyright Law: Huh?

I join blogger Matt Yglesias in finding this op-ed piece by Scott Turow, which invokes the ghost of Shakespeare to defend copyright, quite bizarre.  (Check out some of the many all-over-the-map comments Yglesias received in response to his blog post and you'll see that lots of other people found Turow's comparison confusing too.)  Turow writes about how men with moneyboxes stood outside the playhouses in Shakespeare's day, collecting a penny admission from audience members.  Then he continues:
Money changed everything. Almost overnight, a wave of brilliant dramatists emerged, including Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson and Shakespeare. These talents and many comparable and lesser lights had found the opportunity, the conditions and the money to pursue their craft.
The stark findings of this experiment? As with much else, literary talent often remains undeveloped unless markets reward it.
Okay, I guess . . .  except that Turow uses this historical circumstance to highlight the importance of copyright law--which didn't exist in Shakespeare's day--and to decry piracy of texts--which was plentiful then.  (Printers or their assistants would attend plays at the Globe, take copious notes, memorize speeches as best they could, and then print the haphazard scripts that resulted, vexing Shakespeare scholars centuries later.)

So if Turow's historical analogy proves anything, it is that the great Elizabethan playwrights were amply rewarded and "incentivized" in the absence of copyright and despite widespread piracy--precisely the opposite of the cause-and-effect relationship Turow tells us to expect.

Funny, I had the impression that attorneys were supposed to be experts at logic . . . 

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