Max Hailperin's FTS essay 1 (Fall 2006)

Due September 29, 2006


In the United States, copyright is grounded in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which enumerates specific powers that the Congress has. Specifically, one of the clauses in that section says that Congress has the power

to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

Over the years, the phrase “science and the useful arts” has been interpreted very broadly; you shouldn't worry too much about such matters as whether an art is useful or not. However, the key point about this constitutional clause is that it clearly indicates that the purpose of copyright (and patents) is to promote progress. To make this point, consider the following imaginary alternative:

to ensure that authors and inventors receive the fruits of their labors, by securing to them the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

This alternative was not included in the Constitution.

This key fact, that copyright is intended to foster the social goal of progress rather than the writers' personal goals of being rewarded for their work, implies that a balance is necessary. Creators need to receive enough rewards that they will be encouraged to create and distribute new works; otherwise, progress will be stymied. However, the system for rewarding the creators can't lock the works up too tightly, because progress is also promoted by ensuring broad access to the works. Traditionally, this balance has been ensured by how copyright law functions in concert with the physical realities of how hard it was was to copy and distribute works.

The claim Fisher makes in his first three chapters is that this balance has become badly disrupted by recent technical changes, such that a major revision is necessary in how we ensure that creators receive compensation while users receive access. This sets up the remainder of the book, where he makes an argument for the form that major change should take. However, it is worth first considering carefully whether he has convinced you that major change is indeed necessary.

Your assignment is to argue for your choice of one of the following three theses:

  1. Fisher is right; current approaches to balancing compensation and access are doing such a poor job of promoting progress that a radical shift in approach is necessary.

  2. Fisher is right that the current approach has gotten enough out of balance to threaten progress; however, some simple tweaking of the existing system would suffice to bring it back into balance. No major change of approach is necessary.

  3. Fisher is fundamentally wrong in thinking the current system is broken. Creators are receiving enough rewards and users are receiving enough access. The balance necessary to promote progress is intact.

In arguing for one of these theses, you should make explicit reference to Fisher's book. You are not required to make use of any additional sources, although you are welcome to.

Your audience for this essay consists of Gustavus freshmen enrolled in other FTS sections. That is, the audience members have the kind of background you did when you started this course. They have not read Fisher's book.

Evaluation guidelines

Please rewrite your essay until you are convinced that the answer to each of the following questions is “yes.” I urge you to ask a peer to give you feedback as well on whether he or she agrees that all the answers are “yes.” When I grade your essay, I will again use these questions, both to give you feedback and to come up with your letter grade. Specifically, I will start with an A+ and take off one grade “notch” (e.g., from A+ to A, or from A to A-) for each question where the answer is “no”. Be warned that some of the questions are so critical that if the answer is “no,” then one or more additional answers are necessarily also “no.” For example, if the answer to question 1a is “no,” you are doomed for 1b through 1e as well.

  1. Thesis
    1. Does the essay has some specific point it tries to make, discernible to the reader after reading the full essay?
    2. Is that point within the parameters specified by the assignment?
    3. Does the essay stick to that single point?
    4. Is it immediately clear to the reader what point the essay is going to make, without needing to read beyond the first few sentences?
    5. Is the language used to state the thesis clear and straightforward?
  2. Audience
    1. Is the essay consistent in the assumptions it makes about the audience's background knowledge and vocabulary?
    2. Are those assumptions within the parameters specified by the assignment?
  3. Organization
    1. Does the essay have an introduction that lets the reader know what to expect from the essay?
    2. Does the essay have a conclusion that leaves the reader with a satisfied feeling that the matter has been neatly wrapped up?
    3. Does the body of the essay (between the introduction and conclusion) have a discernible organizing principle?
    4. Does each paragraph and each larger organizational unit contain a clear statement of topic, except where there is a good reason to do otherwise?
    5. Are there smooth, sensible transitions from each topic to the next?
  4. Supporting evidence
    1. Is each claim you make backed up by specific supporting evidence?
    2. Have you properly documented the sources of all your evidence, even when that evidence is not directly quoted?
    3. Do you comment upon each quotation or other piece of evidence and work it into the flow of your essay?
    4. Do you provide evidence that could on its face be taken as counter to your thesis, and explain how it fits into your understanding of the matter?
  5. Mechanics
    1. Is the grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and typography all good enough to not distract the reader?
    2. Is the writing clear, crisp and direct?