Meera Nair

Posts Tagged ‘moon landing’

a good time to look up

In Posts on July 20, 2019 at 5:09 pm

Over the past week, extensive coverage of the Apollo 11 mission and Moon landing have graced our imagination in print and online. Canadians are enjoying a little achievement-by-proxy or perhaps glumly recalling that Canadian scientists and engineers were handily picked up by NASA when Canada’s AVRO Arrow program was summarily disbanded in 1959. But does that matter? At the time, it seemed humanity was capable of shared goals; in terms of science, technology and educational advancement, there was reason to believe that great achievement would eventually lift up all boats. A poignant column by Matt Reed (still known to his readers as @DeanDad) reminds us of what was considered possible then, as we can only hope it remains so now.

In any case, circulating today was Maria Popova’s tribute to the black women mathematicians of NASA. As often happens, readers are offered some verse before leaving her site. The teaser today was the second stanza of W. H. Auden’s work The More Loving One:

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Popova’s exploration of this poem comes with a reading by astrophysist Janna Levin. A little online searching also reveals that The More Loving One is available at a number of sites. Some offer critical reflection, others leave the reader the pleasure of unguided contemplation. And, perhaps as one would expect in this day and age, YouTube serves up readings by Auden himself. My favorite might be this one.

Comments about the video reveal the polarity of opinion when it comes to any type of artistic expression—some see the visual and musical accompaniment as heightening the glory of Auden’s words, others see it as denigration. Grist for intellectual property purists ruminating about moral rights, or simply a prompt to change the channel.

In terms of copyright, Auden died in 1973; by Canadian law we are still four years shy of his work entering the public domain. The United States and European Union countries must wait 24 years. Of course fair dealing and fair use offer some shelter to unauthorized reproduction, as developed by a country’s judiciary.

However, those exceptions can only stretch so far–complete reproduction at a publicly available Internet site may strain the boundaries of legitimacy. And while some sites may operate with permission, others may not.

Fortunately, under Canadian law, the exception for non-commercial user-generated content (S29.21 of the Copyright Act), would shelter amateur presentations involving protected work. Legitimacy is grounded on the critical question of revenue—that when one is not attempting to exploit a work for commercial gain, the use is lawful. A perspective that largely shaped the development of copyright law from 1710 to the later twentieth century—the law sought only to manage exploitation by commercial entities.

Regardless though, copyright maximalists will argue that these unauthorized reproductions are harmful to authors, blithely glossing over the distinction between author and copyright owner.

Which invites the question: when publishers hold the rights of control within the system of copyright, and may deny permission to reproduce a work (or a portion thereof) intended solely for non-commercial purposes, how does that benefit the author? Monetarily, the answer is contingent on the contract between publisher and author. If the transfer of copyright was in its entirety, as appears to be the case with Auden’s published works, it is less likely that an author or heirs gain from extraneous licensing in connection to noncommercial uses of those works.

Stepping then beyond matters of money, how does it affect the awareness of the author? In this case, if those sites sharing Auden’s work had never happened, would his legacy be what it is today? Would it carry for another fifty years? Or would his work be only of interest to those engaged in some formal study of poetry?

Years ago, Graham Reynolds argued that changes to copyright law should be guided in similar fashion to laws affecting the environment—that is, through the lens of a precautionary principle. While he acknowledges the differences between a physical environment and an intellectual one, there is a a critical similarity: ” … not all harms can be remedied after the fact.” Therefore, it becomes of paramount important to anticipate future harm to public interest (which includes authors) served through the system of copyright.

Returning to the matter at hand, the questions become: What would the harm have been in eliminating the possibility of ordinary readers becoming familiar with Auden’s work? Would that have served Auden, his estate, or the public interest?