The United States Constitution is one of my favorite works ever written. I don’t hold it in high regard simply because I am an American, although I am fortunate and proud to be a citizen of this country. Rather, the clarity of thought and purpose this document embodies is so wholly impressive that I cannot suppress my amazement.
I like to read it from time to time, both to brush up on my country’s foundation as well as to restore my faith in solid writing.
Then, there is that one clause that makes me smile more than most: Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, wherein the founding fathers explicitly protect my profession. It empowers Congress:
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
Known as the intellectual property clause, it provides the basis for copyright and patent law. The Constitutional Convention viewed artistic work as so essential to the progress of society that they enshrined its protection in our “supreme Law of the Land.”
The founders knew ideas were worth exploring and guarding. After all, the Constitution itself was an written idea to be preserved. They also knew an author’s livelihood relied on the value of their writing. Without copyright protection, authors could not hope to profit from their work, which would stifle the creation of literature.
As authors, it is important to remember that our craft has been deemed necessary. In a world where content is in high demand, be delighted that we are the content creators. This, also, means we have obligations.
Know your rights. Protect your rights. Do not be quick to sign them away. The allure of publication is strong, but if the contract terms are not in your long-term favor, you are not protecting your livelihood as well as intellectual progress on the whole.
If it has been a while since you have read this document, give it a whirl.