Time Essay: What Hath XEROX Wrought?

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The Xerox machine has eased its way into the fabric of workaday America so subtly that only on occasion do people realize how important it has become. The U.S. Postal Service got away with raising postal rates at the end of the year after only a moderate amount of protest; but when the agency simultaneously shut down 2,400 coin-operated copiers in post offices (after complaints from private copy-service interests), public outrage was strong enough to have most of the machines restored. Much of the evidence that toppled Richard Nixon and his Watergate conspirators came from photocopied documents leaked to the press or uncovered by Government investigators. Many recent disclosures about CIA and FBI abuses have been based on Xeroxed leaks and, though he will not say, CBS Correspondent Daniel Schorr probably received his leaked copy of the House Intelligence Committee report last month hot off some Washington copying machine (see THE PRESS).

Right now the machine is at the center of a furious battle over copyright laws. Librarians and educators insist that they should be allowed to photocopy just about anything; authors and publishers are upset that their works are being pirated. The problem is particularly acute for publishers of easily cribbed material such as sheet music, journal-article reprints that are required reading in college lecture courses, and expensive economic newsletters. Plan's Oilgram

News Service for instance, a petroleum industry newsletter that costs $435 a year, is available for pennies a copy to anyone with a Xerox machine and a borrowed original. After years of controversy, the Senate last week passed a revision of the copyright law that would prohibit photocopying of more than a small excerpt from copyrighted material. The bill is now bogged down in the House. Says Marshall McLuhan: "Whereas Caxton and Gutenberg enabled all men to become readers, Xerox has enabled all men to become publishers."

McLuhan notwithstanding, mankind has recognized the value of making copies at least since the day that Moses had to go back up the mountain for a second set of tablets to replace the ones he had broken. Medieval monks gladly spent lifetimes copying manuscripts by hand. Photography, that most exact of reproductive processes, has since its invention in the last century been elevated to a high art. But unlike most illuminated manuscripts and some photographs, Xerox copies are seldom more interesting than their originals. The Xerox machine has taken the art out of copying, made it too easy. As a result, people are copying more now and enjoying it less. Nothing nowadays seems too trivial to be immortalized by that moving light-bar, memos of momentary importance, yesterday's newspaper clippings, smutty jokes for the office bulletin board, chain letters, recipes, offspring's homework. Some employers have even begun to allow their workers access to company copiers for personal use, a cheap, morale-building perquisite.

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