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The Economist Weighs In For Shorter Copyright Terms 386

Posted by timothy
from the and-that-guy-ought-to-know dept.
lxmota writes "The Economist says that long copyright terms are hindering creativity, and that shortening them is the way to go: 'Largely thanks to the entertainment industry's lawyers and lobbyists, copyright's scope and duration have vastly increased. In America, copyright holders get 95 years' protection as a result of an extension granted in 1998, derided by critics as the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act." They are now calling for even greater protection, and there have been efforts to introduce similar terms in Europe. Such arguments should be resisted: it is time to tip the balance back.'"
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The Economist Weighs In For Shorter Copyright Terms

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  • by brit74 (831798) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:47AM (#31786480)
    As an independent software developer who lives off of my copyrighted work, I'm perfectly fine with shorter copyrights - even 14 years. I really don't think long copyrights (beyond, say, 40-50 years) help anyone other than corporations, who have an insatiable appetite to maximize profits, and grandkids who want a trust fund. A 50 year copyright is going to extend copyright beyond the life of the author in most cases, and even if the author is still alive, he should've saved some money for old age - that's what everyone else does.
  • Re:Here's one (Score:4, Informative)

    by PeterBrett (780946) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:24AM (#31786612) Homepage

    Your Supreme Court already ruled that any finite duration of copyright is, in fact, constitutional.

    Eldred v. Ashcroft [wikipedia.org]

  • by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:41AM (#31786710) Homepage Journal

    You keep insisting that the government is "thinking." If it is, it's not thinking about copyright as related to what is good for our society, it is thinking about it in the way that gets senators and representatives re-elected. It's lobbyists that get copyright extended.

  • by mpe (36238) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:50AM (#31786744)
    The biggest and most important achievements in science and art happened before the existence of copyright and patent laws.

    Even in modern times there are plenty of examples where copyright appears to have been more or less irrelevent. Typically obscurity is more of a risk that "piracy".

    To tell people that they cannot freely share the ideas of another person for one hundred years...it just seems to fly in the face of advancement.

    Ironically "advancement" is one of the justifications for such laws in the first place. Though this may be an example of "too much of a good things is bad for you".

    If 14 years was considered an adequate amount of time to capitalize on an idea back then, before the days of speedy digital distribution (and speedy analog distribution!), why is it so long now?

    There are also much more (literate) people around compared with the 18th century, thus many more potential customers.
    In many cases the majority of money is made in much less than 14 years. With movies and popular music this may be closer to 14 days...
  • by PontifexPrimus (576159) on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:36AM (#31787154)
    You mean like this? "I will only say this, that if the measure before us should pass, and should produce one-tenth part of the evil which it is calculated to produce, and which I fully expect it to produce, there will soon be a remedy, though of a very objectionable kind. Just as the absurd acts which prohibited the sale of game were virtually repealed by the poacher, just as many absurd revenue acts have been virtually repealed by the smuggler, so will this law be virtually repealed by piratical booksellers. At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot. On which side indeed should the public sympathy be when the question is whether some book as popular as Robinson Crusoe, or the Pilgrim's Progress, shall be in every cottage, or whether it shall be confined to the libraries of the rich for the advantage of the great-grandson of a bookseller who, a hundred years before, drove a hard bargain for the copyright with the author when in great distress? Remember too that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions. The wholesome copyright which now exists will share in the disgrace and danger of the new copyright which you are about to create. And you will find that, in attempting to impose unreasonable restraints on the reprinting of the works of the dead, you have, to a great extent, annulled those restraints which now prevent men from pillaging and defrauding the living." -- Thomas Macaulay, House of Commons 1841, debating whether copyright should be extended to 60 years after an author's death.
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:47AM (#31787222)

    The one thing that makes absolutely no sense in all this is that copyright gets extended when new laws come out.

    You are far too kind in your analysis. I say that copyright extensions are wholesale theft on such a massive scale that it dwarfs all the piracy that ever has, and ever will happen. When copyright is extended every single piece of work from the minute and arcane to the titans of their genres is stolen from every single member of the public. Compared to all of that, a few billion downloads on the internet is a drop in the ocean.

  • by metacell (523607) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:24AM (#31787386)
    I think you've found out their secret. The real purpose of the copyright extensions is not to promote the creation of the arts, but to ensure large corporations' profits from existing art.
  • by CarpetShark (865376) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:06AM (#31787558)

    If 14 years is optimal, than 7 years would be unreasonable.

    I don't think unreasonable means what you think it means. The concept you were looking for is "suboptimal". In many cases, a suboptimal solution is a very reasonable one. In fact, this is the case much more often than the most optimal solution is a reasonable one.

    But personally, I think (and have said before) that copyright in the internet age should be no more than about 3 years, and probably even less. Back when the it took 20 years for society to distribute, appreciate, and adopt a new composition into the collective pysche, it made a lot of sense for the copyright term to be 20 years. Now that we can distribute a new song around the world in a day, comment on it, assess it, collaboratively remix it, and distribute the improved version, it makes much less sense to hold creativity back for so long.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:52AM (#31787806) Journal

    Sorry, but 7 years is too short. I have nothing against copyright for as long as the artists lives. He has to eat, pay rent and should have every right to earn the fruits of his labor

    Speaking as someone who makes most of his income as a writer, I think you need to look a bit more closely at the economics involved. Publishers generally only look at the first three years of sales when deciding whether it's worth publishing something. This is when most of the profit is made. It's very rare for things more than seven years old to be making a significant income, and these things are generally works that made a massive profit during that time.

    Take something like Harry Potter. The first book in the series is now more than 7 years old and is still in Amazon's top 500, which means that it's selling very well (the best I've managed in that list is around 7,000). However, J K Rowling made more from that book alone than most people make in a lifetime. At this point, there is no real incentive for her to finish the series - she could have lived quite happily on the earnings from just that book - but she did anyway. Each of the subsequent books made a similar amount. If copyright had been only 7 years, the start of the series would just be coming out of copyright now. I don't see J K being unable to eat or pay rent as a result of this.

    At the other end of the scale is someone like me. Writing a book takes somewhere from a few weeks to six months. I expect to earn enough from the sales to cover my modest cost of living from that period. Like the publisher, I don't expect much income from a new book after about three years. My first book is just getting to that age, and has just hit the publisher's sales target. It's still selling in a trickle (and the Chinese translation is selling quite well too), but I probably wouldn't notice a reduction in income if the copyright expired now.

    After four more years, quite frankly, if I'm still relying on income from something that I did seven years in the past, then I'd deserve to be unable to eat or pay rent. By then I expect to have written a lot more and to be being paid for my new work.

    Sure, it would be great to be able to write one book and then milk it forever and never have to work again. I expect most people would like to be able to work for a few months and then get income from that work for the rest of their life too. That doesn't mean that it's fair, sensible, or rational that they should be allowed to.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday April 09, 2010 @08:10AM (#31787900) Journal

    The biggest and most important achievements in science and art happened before the existence of copyright and patent laws.

    Absolutely! Well, unless you count antibiotics, electricity, computers, quantum mechanics, special and general relativity, the works of Oscar Wilde, H.G. Wells, George Orwell, Johan Strauss, The Beatles, bob Dylan, the steam engine, the aeroplane, the hot air balloon, nuclear fission, recorded and broadcast sound and video, electromagnetism...

  • by brianerst (549609) on Friday April 09, 2010 @10:32AM (#31789188) Homepage

    There's an interesting case of an authorized sequel that was only temporarily accepted as canon.

    H. Beam Piper wrote a pair of novels ("Little Fuzzy" and "Fuzzy Sapiens", the first a Huge Award nominee in 1963) before he committed suicide. There were rumors of a third "final" Fuzzy novel (the second novel had a sort-of cliffhanger), but his effects after his death were so scattered no one could ever find it.

    Eventually, his estate authorized William Tuning to write the final Fuzzy novel in the trilogy ("Fuzzy Bones") in the 1980s. It was very well received by Piper's fans. Unfortunately for Tuning, three years later, someone found the unedited manuscript for Piper's final novel ("Fuzzies and Other People"). It was quickly edited and polished (maybe by Jerry Pournelle - he was a friend/acquaintance of Piper) and released. This novel resolved the issues of the first two quite differently than "Fuzzy Bones" and very quickly became the "canonical" work.

    These days, you can fairly easily purchase the Piper trilogy, but good luck finding anything other than a used paperback copy of "Fuzzy Bones". Some people describe the Tuning book as an "alternate history" of the Fuzzies, which would probably tickle Piper's fancy, as his other major work (Paratime) was about alternate universes and histories.

    There is yet another "third" book in the Fuzzy sequence, called "Golden Dream, A Fuzzy Odyssey" by Ardath Mayhar, which was written from the Fuzzy perspective. That one is even more obscure - I don't think the Piper fans liked that one very much (I thought it was only OK, based on 20+ year old memories). John Scalzi just announced plans for yet another sequel - presumably it will try to fit into the "accepted" canon (ignoring the Tuning and Mayhar works) so it doesn't end up on the remaindered shelf with the others.

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?

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