Copyright An Engine Of Free Expression Cultural Studies Essay

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The term "Copyright" refers to a set of exclusive rights enjoyed by the authors of "original works". It allows a person to protect their ideas, views and opinions from others. On the other hand, free expression or freedom of expression is the right of a person to express their ideas and opinion without any control or restrictions. Copyright enables a person to protect his ideas whereas free expression enables a person to express his ideas freely to the public without any constraint.

Copyright includes things like literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual creations, both published and unpublished. Copyright does not guarantee the protection of ideas, but it can protect the original work. For example, many films have the common theme in which the hero kills the villain. According to copyright laws, it is easy to protect the original film from copying, but it is impossible to protect the common theme. In other words, the theme or idea cannot be monopolized, but the original film can be protected.

According to Erwin Chemerinsky (2002), "there is an inherent tension between copyright laws and freedom of speech. Copyrights restrict the ability of people to disseminate speech; when material is protected by copyright there are legal limits on who can circulate or sell it" (Chemerinsky, p.83). Moreover, copyright laws are permitted even in modern civilized societies which value freedom of expression. Many people believe that copyright may enhance freedom of expression. Because of the strong linkage between copyright and freedom of expression, copyright is often referred as 'the engine of free expression'. As we know an engine's abilities is necessary for driving a vehicle or to do some effective work. For example, a car is idle or dead if the engine fails. It is the same if free expression is not allowed; no creative works will happen and the term copyright may become meaningless. This paper critically analyses the accuracy of the statement "Copyright: an engine of free expression".

Liu Xiaobo, who was jailed by the Chinese authorities for his open stand on freedom of expression rights, has won the 2010 Nobel Peace prize. Even though most of the countries asked China to release Liu from jail in order to receive the Nobel Prize, China is still turning a blind eye towards this issue. It is unlikely that China may exhibit a generous gesture towards Liu for receiving the Noble Prize because China is a country in which freedom of expression is restricted. Even the foreign medias operating in China cannot broadcast or publish anything as they like. All the printed and audiovisual media products in China undergo strict censorship before they reaches the public. Even the internet media cannot work in China with the same freedom it enjoys in other countries. Communist administration in China is adamant against anything which contains some elements against communism. In short, those who have a different ideology or opinion cannot say anything openly in China. In simple words, freedom of expression is limited in China. The term copyright has no or limited meaning in China since nobody is allowed to express anything freely. Chinese social life has become mechanical since communism controls everything in China. Chinese people were tuned to a particular frequency band so that they were able to do, speak, think or hear in a particular way alone. Diversity is an unknown word in Chinese societies. In short, in the absence of free expression rights, the word copy right may become an engine without oil.

It is interesting to think about a scenario in which Karl Marx and Engels living in a country where free expression rights were restricted. If their views and opinions were restricted by their mother country, communism would have never prospered or appeared in world politics. In other words, Karl Marx was able to spread his innovative ideas of communism only because of the immense freedom of expression rights enjoyed by him in his mother country. China should remember that. A product may become more attractive only after it gets the customer feedback. In fact many new products are tested in the market (Beta testing) before they are actually introduced into the market. For example, Microsoft has unveiled Windows 7 only after beta testing. Beta testing will help the product manufactures to test their products or ideas in the real world so that they will get the much needed feedback from the public in order to make it more attractive. By blocking freedom of expression, China is wasting the opportunity to give a more humanitarian face to communism, as demanded by the modern civilized societies.

Copyright enables a person to sell his intellectual product just like selling his physical properties. Superior intelligence is the major difference between a human and an animal. Intelligence helps the human to innovate new ideas. It is ethical or logical to give something in return to the creator of a creation. For example, there are many cases, in which some people failed to take the honor or benefit even though they discovered something new. On the other hand, those who copied the ideas of the original creator are earning a lot which is illogical. Copyright protects the rights of the owner. If the rights of the owners are not protected adequately, most of the people will stay away from creative works.

According to Simpson (2010), the six rights that a copyright owner has are the rights of: reproduction, adaptation, distribution, public performance, public display and digital transmission of sound recordings. Knowing what a copyright owner possesses is key to understanding how to interpret most copyright situations. Rights are similar to property rights in that the owner may rent, lease lend or sell outright any or all of the rights in the work (Simpson, p.16)

Today, copyright law covers a wide range of creations. It gives the authors a monopoly over a lot more activities than just copying. The copyright law is attached to every new original creation even without registration or notice and that also at the moment it is reduced to a tangible form. In fact most people don't realize that they own the copyright to every photo they take and every letter they write (Donaldson, p.6-7)

Copyright laws are implemented on a wider canvas today so that every creative work is protected from theft. Today, intellectual property rights are conserved in every country legally because of its importance. "Intellectual property (IP) is the general name given to the laws covering patents, trademarks, copyright, designs, circuit layouts, and plant breeder's rights" (Cessation of Paid Advertising in IP Australia's Official Journals Effective 26th May 2005). The major objective of copyright is to encourage people to contribute more to the wellbeing of the society. If people are able to get some benefits out of their opinions or views, they will work hard for fresh ideas. On the other hand, people will unlikely to show an effort if they fail to achieve anything out of their ideas. In many cases, people are unaware of the value of their thoughts and ideas. They recognize the value of their opinions only when they receive the responses of the public. Free expression helps people to share their opinions or demonstrate their ideas to the public. For example, when electricity was invented, even the inventor failed to forecast the value of his invention in future. In the same way, when the internet first appeared in the scientific world, nobody anticipated that it would revolutionize the human life in the same way as it did. In other words simple discoveries can become great discoveries once they are unveiled to the public. It is quite possible that the public can add more features to a simple discovery so that it may become a great one. When Marconi invented the radio, he never thought that his discovery of wireless communication would one day attain greater proportions. In short, the public can contribute heavily to the growth of an idea expressed and hence the original owner may get more recognition. Freedom of expression rights and copyrights complement each other so that people will achieve greater energies to innovate new ideas.

Giving credit for all borrowings does not relieve a person of the need to obtain permissions. People are legally required to obtain permission to reproduce, photograph, translate, or paraphrase any work or part of a work that is protected by copyright. Copyright law protects not only printed materials of all kinds, but also works in all other media, whether published or unpublished-including content on the web, cartoons and other drawings, photographs, movie production stills, musical compositions, and advertisements. Most countries have signed international agreements to enforce the copyright laws. This means that people must obtain permission to reproduce works created or published outside as well as within the United States (JOURNAL COPYRIGHT GUIDELINES, p.2-3)

Copyright laws are applicable to internally circulated materials as well as externally circulated ones. A person must sufficiently acknowledge the property of others while citing them in their works with the permission of the intellectual property owners. If a copyright owner feels that their creations have been imitated by somebody, they can seek the legal advice to protect their creations to get compensation for them. "A copyright owner can approach a person infringing copyright to seek redress. It is best to seek legal advice. Where enforcement is required it is generally done in the court system" (How can copyright rights be enforced?). It is impossible to argue for a stolen idea in the name of freedom of expression. It is possible for a person to mention the ideas of another person in their work, at the same time they must make sure that the credit is given to the idea generator.

Erwin Chemerinsky (2002) has mentioned that copyright protections encourage speech. In his opinion, "extending copyright protections after the speech has occurred does not serve this purpose". Moreover, he also criticized the enforcement of copyright protection after the speech. He has argued that "the enforcement of copyright protections that existed when the work was created can be justified because they were part of the incentive for the speech to have occurred, at the same time extension of copyrights after the speech occurred should not be allowed because extending copyrights has nothing to do with encouraging more speech" (Chemerinsky, p.85).

Copyright encourages freedom of speech only if it is enforced at the time of speech. On the other hand if a person decides to enforce the copyright laws after a few months from the date of their speech, it does not guarantee them many benefits. The question of whether copyright laws should be applied based on the content or not, has provoked many discussions in America. Some people argue that copyright should be enforced based on the content of the ideas expressed whereas some others believe that copyright should be content neutral. It is essential, copyright should be enforced in all cases, irrespective of the content. The utility of an idea expressed can be varied in different places or countries. For example, suppose a person staying in the Antarctic regions developed a dress which is suitable for wearing in extreme hot weather conditions. That dress may not yield much attention in Antarctica whereas it may gain popularity in India like hot countries. In other words, if the person fails to register his product under intellectual property laws, he may not get any benefit out of his invention and he will never attempt further research in this filed. On the other hand if he registers his product under intellectual property law, he will get big returns from hot countries and which can motivate him further for discovering similar products. The case of copyright is also the same. The figure given below illustrates the various copyright models.

Many people have the illusion that once a person earns a copyright, nobody can benefit from their copy protected material. In fact, this belief is flawed. Even though copyright provides financial benefits to the owner, others can also make money using the copy protected materials in some ways. Ewing John (n. d) has argued that the authors will lose control if their works were kept in a public domain. In his opinion, anybody can manipulate or copy it when it becomes a public property; "but the legal system has seldom played a role in addressing these problems" (Eving, p.1-2). A case from India is relevant to mention here.

The fight for copyright between a cartoonist, Thomas (Toms) and a newspaper group, Manorama as to who should have the claim to the cartoon has caught the attention of the public. Toms worked for Manorama weekly for many years, drawing the cartoon Bobben and Molly' (originally known as Bobanum Moliyum). Because of some disputes with the Manorama group, Toms resigned from Manoram and joined another newspaper group, Kaumudi. He started to draw the same cartoon for the Kaumudi group because of the immense popularity gained by Bobben and Molly'. At the same time Manorama was also carrying the 'Bobben and Molly' strip which created the dispute between Toms and Manorama group. The question before the court was after termination of employment of the employee (Tom) from Manorama, who owns the exclusive right over 'Bobben and Molly'. Manorama argued that they had exclusive rights over 'Bobben and Molly' since they paid Toms for developing this cartoon, whereas Toms argued that since he was the original developer of 'Bobben and Molly', it belongs to his intellectual property over which Manorama has no rights. "It seems rather than giving clear reasoning to the legal questions which arose, the court allowed both parties to continue the publication of the cartoons" (Ownership And Assignment Of Copyright). In short, both Manorama and Toms legally benefitted from the cartoon Bobben and Molly' now.

Copyright and freedom of expression are two entities which are mutually connected. Copyright is the 'engine of freedom of expression'. In the absence of the 'engine' or copyright laws, the vehicle freedom of expression may not work. The ideas of a person are the fuel of the engine and these ideas may undergo processing only if the engine copyright functions well. In other words, copyright encourages or motivates a person to develop more and more ideas.

Copyright helps a person to express their ideas freely without any fear from any external or internal sources. Copyright protection is encouraged in modern civilized societies whereas communist countries like China have nothing to protect because of the restrictions in expressing ideas. In short, copyright enhances the freedom of expression and freedom of expression enhances the copyright laws. In short, it is difficult to isolate copyright laws from free expression. Both are complementary to each other.

Works Cited

Charmasson, Henri J. A. & Buchaca, John. 2008."Patents, Copyrights & Trademarks For

Dummies". Publisher: For Dummies; 2 edition (August 11, 2008)

"Cessation of Paid Advertising in IP Australia's Official Journals Effective 26th May

2005". 23 October 2010.


Chemerinsky, Erwin.2002. "Balancing Copyright Protections And

Freedom Of Speech: Why The Copyright Extension Act Is Unconstitutional". 23 October 2010. <>

Donaldson, Michael. C. 2008. "Clearance & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know

for Film and Television". Publisher: Silman-James Press; 3 Rev Upd edition

(August 30, 2008)

Ewing, John. "A Modest Proposal: Copyright and Scholarly Journals". 23 October 2010.


Hoorn, Esther and van der Graaf, Maurits. 2006. "Copyright Issues in Open Access

Research Journals". D-Lib Magazine. February 2006.Volume 12 Number 2.

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"JOURNAL COPYRIGHT GUIDELINES". 2005. Adapted from University of

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Simpson, Carol Ann. 2010. "Copyright for Schools: A Practical Guide". Publisher:

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In this part, the relation between copyright and freedom of expression explained generally. Also the terms copyright and freedom of expression were defined in the introduction.

Copyright and free expression

The body of this paper is included in the general heading "Copyright and free expression". Three book references and numerous scholarly article excerpts were used in the body to strengthen the opinion that copyright is the engine of free expression. An illustration of various copyright models, examples of legal cases which involve copyright laws etc were also included in this part apart from the opinions of prominent scholars.


The opinion, copyright is the engine of freedom of expression is concluded in this part. The major findings of this research were also included in the conclusion part.