Should we use other terms for copyright: authors rights? WorkRight?

In the November 22'nd issue of StraightGoods, author John Degen discussed a possible renaming of the term "copyright" to "WorkRight" as a transition to thinking of a creative work as an act. He was echoing Abraham Drassinower, Associate Professor and Chair in Legal, Ethical and Cultural Implications of Technological Innovation in the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, who suggested that, "Unauthorized publication is wrongful because it is compelled speech."

The concept of "unauthorized publication" relates to a work that was not yet published, and is very different than the concept of copyright infringement which nearly always relates to published works. While copyright infringement or exceptions to copyright are nothing like being compelled to speak, I find the idea of moving away from discussing creativity as a form of property to being tied to authorship to be a very useful one.

I've never been comfortable with the word copyright. My reading has suggested that the word "copy" is a synonym to "manuscript", meaning it relates to rights attached to a manuscript. While copying if one of the activities copyright regulates, it includes more activities. Any focus on these technological acts misses the importance and purpose of copyright. It should be about the relationship between the manuscript and its author.

While it is true that a copyright can be bought and sold, and thus is a form of property, its traits are more dissimilar than similar to tangible property. While tangible property can have value by keeping it to oneself, copyright gains its value by making it widely available. The acts one can do with a work, whether authorized or not, do not change the property: the copyright holder of a work remains the same even if an infringement occurs. Infringement is very different than theft, with the closest analogy to tangible real-estate property being trespass. Whether trespass or infringement is economically harmful, it is still important to respect and understand why authors feel as emotional about their creativity as they do.

There is a wide variety of motivations for authors to create their works. While some do it for the money, and they are satisfied if people pay for usage of their works, it is not always that simple.

As one example, some authors want to change the business model for educational works from one based on royalties to one based on one-time payments. This has many advantages to both the author as well as the educational sector as a whole. Authors can be paid in a local currency by local institutions, and the results can be shared worldwide without having to worry about the global differences in the currencies and costs of living. It also becomes possible for authors or donors to pre-fund creative works which then have no incremental costs to institutions, as a way to generally support public education.

For these people, policies which would circumvent their choices would make them as emotional as those authors who consider not paying royalty payments to be theft.

This is another important part of the current educational copyright debate. While educational institutions have asked for exceptions to copyright where no payments are made, other intermediaries like Access Copyright have been asking for exceptions to copyright where mandatory payments are made through Access Copyright. If we are to focus on authors and their motivations for their creation of the work, both of these should equally be seen as impositions on the author.

Educational Institutions might be moving away from Access Copyright licenses for their own reasons, but they are doing so. Authors supportive of Open Access and other one-time-payment systems are going to be supportive of this move as it opens the doors to institutions choosing their alternative. Some supporters of Access Copyright claim this is about disrespecting the wishes of the authors, but in this there is strong and emotional disagreement. Which of Access Copyright or educational institutions are the thief or hero is very dependent on the motivations of the individual author.

(Other comments on article made on G+)