Cancellation, Culture, and Copyright

Daniel Takash

Daniel Takash is the Regulatory Policy Fellow and Manager of the Captured Economy Project at the Niskanen Center. You can follow him on Twitter at @danieltakash or @capturedecon

Related Post Roulette

33 Responses

  1. CJColucci says:

    This is all very sensible, and I am happy to endorse it. Which is why you won’t see politicians and talking heads on Fox News talking about it.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Excellent essay. The Sonny Bono Act was a bad, bad idea. I understand why it had so much congressional support ($$$$) but… man. It has resulted in worse things than if it had not passed.

    I think that part of the problem is also stuff like this:

    There’s a lot of ink spilled over why this is such a good thing.
    There’s a lot of ink spilled over why this is such a bad thing.
    And there’s a lot of ink spilled over how stuff like this isn’t happening.

    I dislike how quickly the changes happen and how there doesn’t seem to be anything that can be done to change it. Like… can we change the books instead? I guess not. Can we remove an offensive page? I guess not.

    Is there a limiting principle? I guess not.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

      I have to wonder how much this disturbs the actual librarians at CPL, versus the director(s) who have to answer to politicians.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Conor Freidersdork tweeted a complaint about books being removed from circulation and cancel culture and, you know, the litany. Someone else tweeted back “it’s not being removed from circulation!”

        So I posted a link to that story.

        Which became an argument over whether Syllogistic Logic and whether a statement “people X” should be read as “All People X” or “Some People X” and whether it’s dishonest to respond to someone arguing “X has not happened” with a headline saying “These People Here Xed”.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      You could assume that the Sonny Bono Act was a bad idea just from its name.Report

  3. Damon says:

    This is why I buy real books and never considered a e-reader. I own every book I have and the text never changes. I can re-read it anytime I want and never run the risk of the title being removed due to someone else’s actions. It’s also why the majority of music i have ion my ipod was purchased hard media, not downloaded from itunes.Report

  4. CJColucci says:

    Libraries are no more required to keep every book in circulation than copyright holders are to keep every book they own in print. People have been whining about what’s in the library for ages — many of us would never have heard of Judy Blume if people didn’t agitate to get her YA books off the shelves — from classics like Huckleberry Finn to stuff no one has heard of in years for excellent reasons, so none of this is new, or even interesting. Unless there’s political hay to be made. And only if it’s the right kind.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci says:

      They are not required to keep every book in circulation and I don’t believe that anyone argued that they must.

      I believe that the initial argument was something like:

      “X is happening.”
      “X happened here.”

      And now we’re discussing whether X is bad.

      Not whether X happened.

      Is the topic over whether X happened or whether X is bad? Because arguing that X is good actually in the middle of an argument over whether X happened at all is a weird turn for the argument to make.Report

      • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird says:

        I have no idea what you think “the argument” is, and don’t care who, if anyone, is making that argument. My argument is that this sort of thing always happens, and always has happened. And that seizing on a particular instance that confirms one’s political priors is fundamentally unserious.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to CJColucci says:

      “People have been whining about what’s in the library for ages ”

      amusing how you react to self-censorship motivated by fear of religious zealotry with “eh, nothing new”Report

  5. Swami says:

    After reading this and Yglesias’ recent piece on copyrights, my question is why is there not a more limited base copyright period (say thirty years) supplemented by a process where authors and their legal representatives or heirs can pay to extend the copyright? The extension fee could be nominal at first, and grow over time.

    This would allow the “ball to roll downhill,” allowing most works to go into public domain unless the authors were interested in taking nominal action to preserve their ownership. This would optimize the availability of art and knowledge with minimal interference of property rights.

    What am I missing?Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    During the late 19th century, there was a literally movement called aestheticism. The basic argument was that art, especially literary arts, wasn’t moral or immoral but simply well-written or poorly written. You should a literary book by it’s language and how it conveys its plots and themes rather than the plot and theme. It was seen as left-leaning movement over the very conservative Victorian sensiblities, although there was also an element that didn’t like using literature to advance liberal and leftists politics as well.

    I think the current reaction against cancel culture is similar but the poltiics are different. A lot of modern liberals and leftists want to not focus on works they find socially and politically problematic. Maybe not ban them as such but change the conversation around them and how they are perceived by the public. The anti-cancel culture believes, when not trying to simply be trolls which isn’t often, that the works should speak for themselves.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I also think that part of it is the GenX thing where they grew up in the 80’s and Censorship was the PMRC and the Church Lady.

      And now, when someone comes in and says “I’m not saying that it be *BANNED*, I’m just saying that maybe people shouldn’t partake in it?”, they hear the church ladies saying “DON’T LISTEN TO 2 LIVE CREW!”

      Instead of knowing that 2 Live Crew shouldn’t be listened to because they’re problematic.Report

      • JoeSal in reply to Jaybird says:

        “Don’t focus on how the boy is winning the girls 200 yard dash, just focus on the glorious long strides and the developed calves of the youngling.”Report

      • Philip H in reply to Jaybird says:

        2 Live Crew should be listened to, problems or not. The Dr. Seuss books in questions could be read, problems included.

        You are still comparing apples and ice cubes however.

        And most of us in Gen X can see the difference.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

        That is part of it. During most of the post-war period, the censors tended to be on the Right and were also calling for something a lot harder than much of Cancel Culture, an outright government ban. The current crop is more about using moral suasion and pointing out the issues than what the PMRC wanted.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Maybe they could just put a label on the stuff?


          And that way the books with Eskimo fish will stay out of the hands of impressionable minds.

          Edit: If you’ve never read the label that Frank Zappa put on his album after the PMRC hearings, you can read it here. (Content Warning: He uses an ableist slur and uses harsh language against religious people.)Report

    • InMD in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Ehhh I call BS. I was a history major in undergrad. I took history of the holocaust and the reading list included Mein Kampf. There are obvious reasons this was part of the syllabus, and technology being what it was circa 2000 I had to buy a copy at the book exchange. This means that someone, somewhere, this century printed Mein Kampf. I assume they even made some money off of it to run the presses they used to print it, ship it off, etc.

      The cancel culture version of the world you’re defending would not allow that to happen even in situations of obvious scholarly importance. It’s the exact opposite of what you’re saying. They don’t want to change the conversation. They don’t want any conversation at all.Report

  7. DensityDuck says:

    “I don’t need to know how many books you have on your Kindle or iPad to tell you that you own none of them. ”

    Worth mentioning that you don’t “own” the books on your shelves either; it’s just a lot harder for the copyright holder to rescind your access to them. And bro I can see you typing “but! But! FIRST SALE DOCTRINE!” and that ain’t some kind of natural right, that’s a capitulation to circumstance, to the inability to police every possible market.Report

  8. Scott L says:

    This was a very interesting post that touched on several things that I feel passionate about. I agree that the United States has a very flawed copyright system that needs heavy revision. I also like how you mentioned the hypothetical scenario, of people attempting to wipe certain pieces from existence. If this were to ever happen I would strongly disagree with it. History is history no matter how “problematic” it may be today. Instead of getting rid of a piece deemed problematic we should study it and understand that our beliefs and values change with time.Report