I like stuff.

Monday, April 06, 2009


I know, copyright might not be a big deal to you, but it's kind of a big deal to me. Not because I stay up late at night worrying about the poor artists and authors that aren't getting paid for their efforts in this new file-sharing world (The way I see it, many forms of publisher already figured that out on their own.)

I worry about the advancements of the arts and sciences. You know, the thing that copyright was supposed to do.

Here was the idea: You get a government-granted monopoly for your work for a limited period of time. This means you get your shot at making money off your work (which nobody else can profit from unless you give them explicit permission), but after the time is up, it's part of the public domain. You had your time, we appreciate your efforts, in fact, we rewarded you by protecting your work for a while, now it's fair game for anyone to use them, advance them, etc. Society as a whole benefits from your work, and you had your chance to profit from it exclusively.

But that wasn't good enough, that limited time just wasn't enough at 14 years, or 28 years with an extension....it stands now at 70 years past your death. 120 years total if it was done as a "work for hire." (Which means that the email I sent a cow-orker last week complaining about another cow-orker complaining about the coffee pot being left on is protected from publication for 120 years (maybe 95), no matter how prolific I was.)

It got especially gross in that the extensions were applied retroactively, so there were things that could be freely used (because that "limited" time had expired) that suddenly were protected again.

You may have heard this was all to protect Mickey Mouse as the original Disney work featuring the character, "Steamboat Willie" was potentially going to enter the public domain. I have no evidence to contradict such an accusation.

So, considering how things have been going in terms of protecting copyright holders lately, I write this to alert you of this....this may be huge

1 comment:

Jsarbino said...

Finally...my response...?

Well, it's been an age and a half since a) you posted this, and b) I read the article, but I think this IS a huge step.

It's the first step, and the first is always the hardest/biggest. 0 --> 1

I would like to see a constitutional objection to the extension of copyright.

The Constitution gives the Congress the power
"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;"

I want to focus on the "Limited times to authors and inventors" language. They could have said "by securing for limited times the exclusive right to writings and discoveries to their respective authors and inventors", but they didn't.

The difference is perspective. Should the term be limited in the eyes of the immortal US Congress, or limited in the eyes of the author?

I would argue that any term of copyright that extends to or beyond the death of the author is in effect UNlimited to the author.

I'm making this point because I think that our Supreme Court is rather conservative, and that they value our Framer's intents quite highly. To me, the Constitutional language stands AGAINST Congressional efforts to extend copyright.

However, interpretation is not the only issue here. I don't think we will ever see real change in copyright legislation unless it comes from an international agreement.

Disney might be one reason for our long copyright terms, but another is international pressure. The US has an incentive to extend copyright when other nations choose to extend copyright because if authors and inventors get more time in another country, they will choose to publish their works there instead of here.

I also think that right now is the best time for countries to start talking about an international copyright agreement or treaty. Developed countries have authors and inventors who are unhappy about the distribution of their works in countries that have poor or non-existent copyright protection. Digital media allows easy sharing across borders and copyright restrictions. Further, no measure of digital rights management has overcome the incentive for the consumer to infringe on the rights of the author.

Making a more reasonable copyright term will lower the value of those assets currently under copyright protection. The price will go down. Content holders might gnash their teeth to give up that value, but works that are worth less are less attractive to steal. In a world wide market, overall revenue might be greater with more customers, and/or more people willing to pay the price for that content.