The Nature of Copyright in The 21st Century

The typeface designer Erik Spiekermann is interviewed on the nature of copyright. The interview took place on June 4th, 2011 at the Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, Germany and is sponsored by Premsela.org, a Dutch platform for design and fashion. Erik Spiekermann is the founder of FontShop, a popular online marketplace for font-design. This article summarizes the ideas of Spiekermann on Copyright in the 21st Century:

With the dawn of the industrial age in the 19th century came the age of production. Following the age of production came the age of a gradual shift towards consumption in the 20th century. Finally, the symposium hypothesizes that the 21st century will be the age of “modular” or “on-demand” production/distribution. Erik Spiekermann contends that “the whole copyright issue is a fairly new one,” and that it’s “tied to a system that makes more than we need.” This system, he believes, is “ancient” and thus a paradigm shift is necessary. As the interviewer Lucas Verweij states: “The concept of copyright goes back to the concept of authenticity . . . ‘this is mine.'”

The nature of copyright depends on both the product and how that product is sold. Being in a computer data-oriented field only facilitates copyright infringement.

Spiekermann believes the legal concept of cui bono, which has to do with the intention behind an action, should be imposed. He took multiple people to court over illegally copied font designs. All of the font designs seemed identical to the judge, who, like most, was unfamiliar with the intricacies of font-design.

“We used the cui bono argument. If they’re all the same, then why would someone go to the trouble of copying our data, change the name of it, and then [sell] it for 10 Euros instead of 100 Euros.” The judge saw the logic in this and Spiekermann won his case.

Copying with the intent of financial gain is a pure “rip-off.” If someone seeks financial gain from your own personal work, putting maybe an hour of preparation into what took you 100 hours, then that is “mean and illegal,” says Spiekermann.

We should “look at the purpose” behind an imitator’s or copier’s actions. If a student is using the designs of someone else then that is perfectly fine, since the student is not seeking financial gain. If no financial gain is desired by the student, copyright infringement is a non-issue.

Some believe that all copyright issues should be non-issues–that all intellectual properties should be made free and public. However, a person’s livelihood, that with which they make a living, should not be copied–especially if the copier desires financial gain from another person’s work.

“People who are vehemently for copying and against copyright are those people who have never had an original idea in their lives . . . but anybody who’s ever made anything original won’t be so liberal about it,” Erik says.

Spiekermann believes that if a personal relationship is established between the creator and the “copier,” then copyright infringement will become less of a problem. He believes that faceless anonymity has been the cause of many copyright disputes.

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    2 Responses to “The Nature of Copyright in The 21st Century”

    1. erik spiekermann says:

      It’s cui bono, dativ. Who benefits, literally: whom is it good for?

    2. Thanks for the remark Erik, we have changed it :)


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