Jonathan Lethem would like to see a world where each artist can decide, at the time of their creation’s release, the rights their customers/fans/etc will have with respects to using, copying, recycling, etc that creation. As part of this, he’s going to release certain film rights and other derivative work rights to his next creation, You Don’t Love Me Yet.
He claims “The point is, it ought to be up to the artists.” And as the article on Wired states: “Listening to Lethem, one imagines a world where every artist crafts an idiosyncratic copyright notice, with its own strange rules, to adorn the front page or liner notes or gallery notice fronting her creations.”
What I find troubling about this push for copyright reform is that the “reform” that Jonathan (and others) are asking for already exists. The truth is that even since the beginning of copyright protection, the artist has ALWAYS had the ability to dispense of their given rights in any way in which they feel comfortable.
So, if you write a poem, craft a sculpture, paint a painting or make a movie, you can give away your rights in any form or fashion you choose. You want to allow people unlimited copying ability? You can. You want to restrict copying so that they have to BUY your work, but then they can create something new based on your work? You can. You want 100% restriction? You can do that, too. There’s nothing in the current copyright laws that would prevent anything that Jonathan is talking about wanting to do now.
In all, copyright doesn’t need reforming. Consumers (and artists) need education. Artists need to understand that if they use certain distribution organizations (publishers, printers, distributors, etc), they’re going to give up some of their rights to those organizations in exchange for the services those organizations provide. There are alternatives, of course. For publishing, there’s your own personal PC + Lulu (my favorite); for movies, again there’s your PC + YouTube.
But don’t claim that the current laws need to be changed. Know your rights. Use them.