Letter to the Editor: Hellmer mistaken on copyright, laws hurt poor


I recently started a career in writing, and while I’m enjoying it immensely, I’m barely making enough to get by. I sell my work online and yes, I have been pirated. That said, I am very much against current copyright laws.

I don’t think you can fully appreciate how infuriating copyright is until you’ve been poor. Imagine that it was possible to give everyone in the world infinite food for free, but the law said, “Everyone must keep paying, for cooks and restaurant owners must make money. As for those who are too poor to pay, let them eat cake.” Or imagine that it was possible to give everyone in the world infinite free medicine, but the law said, “Everyone must keep paying, for doctors and pharmacists must make money. Those who can’t pay will have to continue to suffer disease.” Now imagine that it was possible to give away infinite books, music and art to everyone in the world for free.

Recently, I suffered from some worrying health problems. I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, so I started searching for advice online. I tried to access medical papers that dealt with my questions, but they were copyrighted and locked up behind paywalls. I wanted to buy a book that could help me, but it was copyrighted too.

Finally I stumbled over a book that a doctor/author had put up on the web for free. This, plus a free snippet from a 90-year-old Google Book, finally helped me with my problem. How is it that in an era where knowledge can be shared infinitely for free, I had to get help from a charitable doctor and a computer generated snippet of a book? The sad part is that the Google Book was still under copyright, and it costs $150 for the e-book – the e-book!

Perhaps these complaints seem hypocritical, since I rely on copyright to sell my own creations. All I can say is that there is copyright, and then there is reasonable copyright. Copyright normally lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator. I release my creations into the public domain five years after publication. When a book goes into the public domain, everyone can read it for free. That’s a price even the poorest can afford.