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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 symbolset (646467) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:40AM (#31786146) Journal

    A return to the 28-year copyrights of the Statute of Anne would be in many ways arbitrary, but not unreasonable.

    It has been reported that 14 years is closer to optimal [arstechnica.com].

    Maybe reasonable would be 7 years, or two.

    And of course these speaches [baens-universe.com] on copyright make a good primer on what to expect when the copyright law is percieved to be unfair.

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt&lynx,bc,ca> on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:46AM (#31786184) Journal

    ... as long as the copyright holder is still actively publishing the work. Once they stop publishing the work/cease making it available to the general public, I think that the work should revert to public domain in 5 years.

    Of course, that leaves a hole for companies that may stop publication for a while and then want to start back up... I should think that they must maintain distribution for a certain minimum period before my above proposed 5-year clock would reset... perhaps at least six months or so.

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:50AM (#31786210)

    As always, the case against Intellectual Monopoly:
    http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/general/intellectual/againstfinal.htm [ucla.edu]

    (Not that I'm against it all, but sometimes you have hear from people on one extreme to balance out the extremist corps like Disney, etc.)

  • by sugarmotor (621907) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:58AM (#31786260) Homepage

    Well, then there would be the equivalent of Patent-Troll-Companies.

    They would just run websites to claim that their are still distributing the work (against a fee)

  • by Trahloc (842734) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:05AM (#31786298) Homepage
    The simple response to your argument is this. Make copyright limited to something like 7 years but give an option to extend it. Even if its infinite. But it has to be renewed every 7 years and has to be produced continually during that time. If Disney is still around in year 2500 and Mickey Mouse is still going strong and worth protecting then let them protect it. But your 2 year olds doodle with crayons and snot don't need automatic copyright protection that lasts until she dies of old age.
  • by PeterBrett (780946) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:06AM (#31786308) Homepage

    A return to the 28-year copyrights of the Statute of Anne would be in many ways arbitrary, but not unreasonable.

    It has been reported that 14 years is closer to optimal [arstechnica.com].

    Maybe reasonable would be 7 years, or two.

    And of course these speaches [baens-universe.com] on copyright make a good primer on what to expect when the copyright law is percieved to be unfair.

    Maybe you should support the Pirate Party [pirateparty.org.uk]? When (ha) we come to power we'll cut the duration of copyright to 10 years.

  • Re:Here's one (Score:3, Interesting)

    by epee1221 (873140) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:08AM (#31786320)
    For a while now, I've been hoping we'd eventually see a court rule that the possibility of retroactive copyright extension is incompatible with the Constitution's wording ("for limited times"), and that Congress therefore does not have the power to grant copyright extensions.
  • by TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:09AM (#31786322) Journal

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

    It's a little specious to imply that it was the lack of copyright and patent laws that caused this, no? I would contend that what really caused the greatest achievements in science and art is the ignorance/narrow culture preceding its creation.

  • by jasmusic (786052) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:13AM (#31786340)
    Copyright? No, Mickey Mouse is more like a trademark that ought to be maintained in perpetuity by the legal person who owns it. We don't need long copyrights for any reason. This way, people can't misuse Mickey for cartoon porn, but Walt Disney can't sit on their ass either.
  • by Sparx139 (1460489) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:39AM (#31786444)
    Agreed. I'm an amateur playwright, trying to write a musical at the moment. As I write, I hear how the songs sound in my head. Some time later, I'll be humming a tune from it to myself and then suddenly say "crap, that bit sounds one heck of a lot like this song that was sung in the 70's/80's. Damn. Now I have to go back and change it to avoid any crap I might get into on the off-chance this might get published and become successful in the future".
    Think I'm willing to risk it? There was recently an idiotic court ruling in my country [yahoo.com]. I'm not taking any chances.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:33AM (#31786672)

    I believe it is a massive fallacy that copyright promotes creativity and that we'd be far more creative without it. It's never been proven that a world without copyright will be less innovative.

    What copyright actually promotes is for-profit art (which isn't really art at all. read: pop music) and monopolies on innovation. If an innovation is required, someone will get to work and think it up and if it's not required then it's not required. We don't need a law to create artificial markets for the sake of promoting the arts and science. This distorts the market for innovation which can only hurt us in the end.

    How can one say that restricting the free flow of information will somehow inspire creativity? I think the problem is that most people just can't imagine a world without copyright; they are too attached to the way things are. Maybe some corporation will imagine a world for them and happily trade it for some paper.

  • by billsayswow (1681722) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:49AM (#31786738)
    Just proves why I enjoy The Economist as much as I do. Remind me to renew my subscription...
  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:05AM (#31786778) Homepage Journal

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

    Looking at how things have worked out in practice, it seems the terms have been chosen in such a way as to make copyright simply not expire. Perhaps the reason for that is that those pushing for the extensions are afraid of what will happen if works do go into the public domain. For example, it might then be found out that this actually _promotes_ the arts and sciences. Obviously, they can't have that, because it would wash away all their argumentation for extending the term.

    Perhaps, however, the explanation is much simpler: the difference between a work that you hold the copyright for and a work that is in the public domain is that, in the former case, you are in control, and thus in the best position to profit from the work. In fact, you have a monopoly - nobody else is allowed to do certain potentially profitable things without your permission. Given the choice, who wouldn't prefer to keep control over losing it? If someone has an idea that you approve of, you can always grant them the necessary permissions.

  • by 91degrees (207121) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:12AM (#31786816) Journal
    I have a lot more sympathy for the rights of someone to control the original version of their work than for absolute control over derived works. I'm sure Psycho is still making money, and even though it's made several dozen times its initial cost, I can live with that. However, if I wanted to write a story from the point of view of Norman Bates' split personality, why should Paramount have a right to stop me? It's not going to displace sales of the DVD. It's become as much a part of our culture as King Arthur or greek legends, but we're not allowed to do anything with it.
  • by un_om_de_cal (1387133) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:38AM (#31786902)

    The pirate party i s abit more extreme than that : * Authorization of non-commercial sharing * 5 years of commercial exclusivity * +5 years if derivative non-commercial work is authorized * +10 years if derivative commercial work is authorized (but you still want to get credit) I am fine with this position.

    What about works where almost all use is non-commercial?

    For example, what should professional musicians do, only record advertisements?

    Or computer games - I can't imagine a business model that would work for them if non-commercial sharing was allowed.

  • by Bert64 (520050) <bert@@@slashdot...firenzee...com> on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:27AM (#31787110) Homepage

    The length of copyright terms should be variable depending on the type of work...
    A piece of music written today may still have relevance 14 years from now, but a piece of software probably won't.

  • by putaro (235078) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:06AM (#31787320) Journal

    One of the major problems with the current state of copyright is that everything is copyrighted for these ridiculous long terms. I'd like to see something like a basic 15-20 year copyright, after which you would have to re-register and maybe even pay a property tax to continue your monopoly.

    My argument for regular people, then, would be "If you want to keep control, you have to show that you want control and you have to pay for it, just like real property where you can't abandon it and you have to pay property tax."

  • by delinear (991444) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:25AM (#31787394)

    That is one of the best arguments on the subject I've ever seen, and surprisingly relevant considering it was made over 170 years ago.

    A lot of what he has predicted has come to pass. The relentless extension of copyright has certainly diluted it in the eyes of many, even with the threat of legal action it's clear that copyright is increasingly seen as outdated and people are happy to infringe it on a daily basis, whereas if it was for a short term and could be demonstrated of proven benefit to artists rather than greedy middle men who "drove a hard bargain for the copyright with the author when in great distress", people would be more likely to respect it.

  • by delinear (991444) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:32AM (#31787422)
    Not only that, it would discourage authors who find themselves in the position of having a long-running series suddenly becoming lazy and churning out filler volumes to squeeze money from their fans if, at some reasonable time after the first edition, another author could add to the series. Authors would have to produce consistently good works to retain those fans, and if a better writer picks up the mantle and does a better job then that is a win for the public. Sure it sucks a little for the original author, but he's made his money on the initial idea, if he doesn't have the skill to continue that then he doesn't have the god-given right to be paid no matter what - if anything his series will continue to be relevant despite his lack of skill and people may end up buying his original books on the basis of the subsequent author's work.
  • by delinear (991444) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:40AM (#31787444)
    That would be almost impossible to adjudicate. Music, for instance, might be a throwaway pop tune, or it might be a cultural classic that becomes deeply ingrained in the minds of a whole generation, so a flexible copyright system would have to allow for both possibilities regardless of the format, music, video, the written word, etc. It wouldn't be enough to say "All music copyright lasts 14 years, software 7, written word 21" or similar, that would create incredible injustice and would fail at the first technical hurdle (if I sell a digital copy of a book, is it written word or software, if I have an audio book, is it music, etc). Once you have a situation like that, someone has to be in charge of determining which end of the scale every single piece of created material sits (remember, even your holiday photos on flickr or the movie you filmed on your phone are subject to copyright). Not only would that be a endless task in itself, but whoever was in charge of determining those things would be the weak point in the link, he'd have every lobbyist trying to persuade him their works needed the maximum protection. No, one arbitrary figure to cover all media is the only workable approach.
  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:09AM (#31787572) Journal

    The solution to that is to extend something like trademark law (which is perpetual) to cover characters and settings. If you create a sequel to something in the public domain then you'd have to clearly market it as unauthorised, unless you received permission from the creator to use their trademark. You could still write the sequel to Gone With The Wind, but it would have to be marketed as an unofficial sequel and there could be no (even implicit) indication that it was canonical.

    This would also help protect big content franchises. Star Trek would now be out of copyright, but if you wanted to create an official novel, TV show, or film set in the universe then you'd need a license to the trademark. This would cleanly separate things into official material and fan fiction. Of course, given some of the recent output from Paramount, the fan fiction might be better, but that's the trademark owner's problem.

  • by jonadab (583620) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:52AM (#31787804) Homepage Journal
    Two years would definitely be too short. It's not unusual for it to take longer than, after first publication, that for a writer to really get noticed. The term should be long enough that the writer is still getting royalties from the first book while he's finishing up the second book. That way society can support professional writers, who get paid for the books they write and that's their job.

    We can't support that career for everyone who thinks they want to be a writer, obviously. Nobody would ever do anything else, and that would be bad, and most of the books that would be written wouldn't be worth printing. But the people who write books that people actually want to read should be able to spend their time doing so, and not have to work a day job to support themselves. For this to work, the royalties coming in from the previous book need to keep flowing at least until the next book is ready to hit the market, and that's a bare minimum.

    And yeah, I know two years would be overkill for someone like Nora Roberts, who can write an entire series of four books in a quarter of a year, and within six months everyone who's going to buy them has already done so, but most writers aren't like that. Even five years would be shaving it pretty thin, by the time you take into account several rounds of editing and so on. There are some authors who write very good books, but take several years to write each one. Their books tend to be of higher quality, and I think this should be encouraged.

    Seven years *might* be long enough. Might not. I'm not certain. But I *am* sure it would be much too radical a reversal to actually get through Congress, starting from where we are today.

    Thus, I favor a reduction to somewhere in the neighborhood of "fifty years from first publication", with a grandfather clause covering things that have already been published before the bill is passed. Not because I don't think that's really still too long, but because I think it's what we might potentially have a prayer of a chance of actually convincing Congress to consider doing, given enough lobbying and pressure. Call it "living in the real world" if you will.

    Of course, we could start by lobbying for a restoration of the original 28-year term, and reserve backing down to 50 years as a negotiation tactic...
  • by davidwr (791652) on Friday April 09, 2010 @09:08AM (#31788318) Homepage Journal

    At the very maximum, "a limited time" should be the average lifespan of a child born at the time the work was created. Today that's 70-odd years.

    What's the logic in this you ask?

    If I create something you can argue that I and any heirs that are already alive should benefit from it for life, and you could make a weaker argument that direct heirs not yet born have a claim. By heirs I mean people, not organizations. By limiting it to the "average" rather than "actual" lifetime it provides greater certainty as to when copyrights expire.

    Personally, I think 70-odd years is too long for complete control, it should be about half of this for complete control for most works, with mandatory licensing at some reasonable scheduled rate after that point for most works, and mandatory licensing at a likely higher rate when new works are used as a minor part of a greater work, such as a song used in a movie, technical documentation or journal publication is copied into a larger work, etc. The devil would be in the details of course.

    This is separate from the problem of orphaned works, which is a whole 'nuther ball of wax.

  • by melikamp (631205) on Friday April 09, 2010 @10:17AM (#31789034) Homepage Journal

    Most people agree that the original author should have control of his creation.

    Some, you are thinking about some people. Most people do not care. Millions of downloaders disagree to the point of non-violent resistance to the law. They are breaking the law and risking million+ fines for downloading a few $10 movies, so they obviously either don't care or disagree with you strongly.

    For example, my sister was very upset that someone wrote a sequel to Gone With the Wind, because the original author didn't want a sequel to be written

    She'll get over it. She basically would like to dictate what other people will do with their culture, the one she barely contributed to. Oookay.

    A lot of people view the descendants of Tolkien as the official guardians of the lore

    A lot of people did not read the books, they cannot care all that much. Those who are informed, know that Christofer Tolkien is the only guy with the guns, having edited The Silmarillion and other great works. Everyone else in that team is more of leech, and their efforts to defend the copyright did nothing but set back the influence of Tolkien's work. There are no hobbits in our games or comics, and that is not because of lack of interest or desire to introduce them.

    People like the feeling of officialness. They want the original author to be able to own the work.

    Pointless, meaningless generalizations.

    In other words, if you want to get political motion behind copyright reform, you are not only going to find the ideal economic balance

    We are already finding the economic balance, by the way of making cheap digital copies of the monuments of our culture. The copyright, being a monopoly, can only destroy the balance. If you believed that free markets work better than planned markets, you would agree immediately, but you seem to be all mixed up. If we wanted to ruin the economic balance, we would tighten up the copyright noose and started (over)charging for every freaking word you read and every moving picture you see. Yeah, let's make everyone pay for access to culture, even though there is no sound economic reason for doing so, unless we specifically want to segregate the society and create a caste of content producers, the mighty Brahmins, who own all the rights to creation and modification of content. Of course, this won't work while licenses like GPL and CC-SA provide a hedge around the public domain. Who needs expensive pop-culture, when people voluntarily create a double-free alternative? Look at Linux and BSD: they've dwarfed proprietary OSes in terms of how good they are, and now they are poised to crush them in the marketplace. So if you are that commited to proprietary culture, you better make copyleft explicitly illegal, or it will swallow the marketplace, because it will be cheaper and of superior quality.

  • by Gorath99 (746654) on Friday April 09, 2010 @10:21AM (#31789080)

    I'm not an accountant, so I may well be way off here, but maybe it also has to do with not upsetting shareholders with losses on ip.

    As long as you have intellectual property, that's an asset on your balance. If you've arbitrarily valued your Steamboat Willy copyright at, say, $50,000,000 USD, that's a sizable loss when the copyright on it expires. A loss that you can avoid by having the copyright term extended. Easy way to keep the shareholders happy, even with property that doesn't actually generate any real money anymore.

  • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Friday April 09, 2010 @11:04AM (#31789648) Homepage

    Well, if you use very short terms of, say 1-2 years, but more of them (perhaps a maximum length of 20 years), you increase the number of opportunities for an author who has sought copyright (indicating that they want it) to fail to renew the copyright (indicating that they no longer care), thus getting the work into the public domain that much sooner. Since the cost and effort to renew is minimal (a couple of blanks, a couple of checkboxes, send it in over the net if possible, by mail otherwise; the fee could be as low as $1 for all I care, so long as it isn't free) it's no hassle for the author.

  • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Friday April 09, 2010 @11:21AM (#31789890) Homepage

    Oh, I don't know. In the world of real property, there used to be something called a fee tail. Basically, this was a form of ownership in which land was owned by A, and all of A's heirs. It could not be sold or otherwise gotten rid of, unless the family line died out (although this could cause massive lawsuits if one branch of the family tree died, and others vied to take over). In practice, it could not be rented or mortgaged, since the tenant would be kicked out as soon as the person they dealt with died. This tended to make the family that owned it impoverished, if they could not directly use it themselves, and tended to cause the land to go to waste, since it could not be moved around in the market so as to be put to the best use.

    It was a huge pain in the ass. When the US broke away from England, we more or less abolished it. Thomas Jefferson regarded getting rid of it as one of his main accomplishments in life. Most other places have abolished it since.

    Long copyright terms have a similar effect. After all, when copyright terms are short, and expire, no one is removing the fact of authorship from the authors. No one is prohibiting the authors from continuing to create works that follow up on their previous works. All that is happening is that the field is being opened up for competition on their back catalog. More people get to enjoy the work, as it becomes available at a lower price (or free). Translations become available, if they were not before (or more, at least), further expanding the reach of the work. Some authors may make derivative works based on the work; these works do not diminish the original in any way (Do the ruby slippers in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz make it impossible to enjoy the book, which has silver slippers, instead? Of course not!) and are not required reading. If they're good, then good. If they're bad, then ignore them. In some instances, they may turn out to be better than the originals on which they are based. (Wouldn't be hard in the case of Star Wars prequels)

  • by tool462 (677306) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:41PM (#31792006)

    Yes, they do have an economic/business bias, as would be expected by the title. But even then it tends to avoid a dogmatic approach to most issues (all regulation is 100% bad, etc), and they'll have a reasonable argument when discussing issues of regulation, taxation, monetary policy, etc that doesn't always fall along, say, libertarian policy lines. Yes, they are blatantly pro-capitalism and anti-communism, but balanced to me does not mean equal time for all sides, but rather a rational discussion of the issues they do examine. To put it another way, I've never come away from an Economist article angry about blatant misrepresentation of the facts or feeling that I'm being manhandled into a certain viewpoint, whether or not I agree with it. I also don't get the impression that the Economist has a monolithic viewpoint. I've read articles covering similar topics that reach different conclusions within the same issue.

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