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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.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Cryacin (657549)
      Finally some semblance of sanity is returning to the Copyright argument.

      The whole trouble with this is that it provides a completely unfair playing field for inventors, which are the people that the concept of copyright was meant to protect in the first place. Unfortuantely, being right by law is only ever as good as the lawyer that can argue that you are right. Big companies mean more money, which provides better lawyers.
    • 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.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PeterBrett (780946)

      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.

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:34AM (#31786424) Journal
      I'm going to tell you why that argument alone will not sway the general public (although it is part of a good argument).

      Most people agree that the original author should have control of his creation. 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 (it was written after her death). That could have been prevented with modern copyright law. A lot of people view the descendants of Tolkien as the official guardians of the lore, and would be annoyed if someone else tried to hijack that (although the result couldn't possibly be worse than the cartoons). People like the feeling of officialness. They want the original author to be able to own the work. I think this is related to the fact that in our culture we really don't like plagiarism.

      In other words, if you want to get political motion behind copyright reform, you are not only going to find the ideal economic balance, you're also going to have to find a way to convince people that giving control to the original author isn't all that important. Otherwise you can forget reforming copyright law. I am not sure of the best argument for this, maybe someone else can think of a convincing one.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Stolovaya (1019922)
        The thing is that there wouldn't be anything preventing Tolkien's kin from keeping things "official". Anyone could write and add on to the story, but you can't falsely advertise that you're Tolkien himself when writing those stories. It would be pretty much commercialized fanfiction.
      • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:15AM (#31786580)

        So who is the guardian of snow white?
        Jack Horner?
        The 9 tailed demon fox?
        The skin walkers of indian lore?
        Pride and Prejudice?

        "Fables" comic book (which is excellent) wouldn't even exist if all the characters in it were locked up. and it's an excellent *new* creation.

        When did our culture become the exclusive property of "royal" families?

        • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:30AM (#31786640) Journal
          You seem to be pretty upset about this idea, but I'm not trying to convince you that it's the way it's supposed to be, I'm just reporting on my attempts to educate people about copyright reform. If you want to make any meaningful progress in changing things, you are going to need a lot of people agreeing with you (if you can't get that, having a lot of money works almost as well). Right now this is a serious obstacle to copyright reform. A lot of people are going to need to understand that having a short copyright isn't the end of the world. Otherwise you can kiss copyright reform goodbye.
          • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Friday April 09, 2010 @09:09AM (#31788336) Journal

            What I find illuminating is drawing a sharp distinction between copying and plagiarism. Show those people that they've confused and conflated these two concepts, and they often come around.

            No one sharing a few Beatles songs is seriously trying to claim they wrote those songs, they're only making copies. A lot of people object to removing copyright because they're convinced it protects against plagiarism. Copyright can be used toward that end, yes. But we can protect against plagiarism just fine without copyright and all the other bad, monopolistic things copyright does. I think plagiarism is already covered under statutes against fraud and misrepresentation. But if it makes everyone more comfortable, we can have a law specifically against plagiarism.

            Then, what really is wrong with "fanfic"? Nothing. Unless someone is trying to misrepresent their own work as official, and why should anyone do that? Only to cash in in some way on the name recognition and the copyright monopoly that grants far too much control to the author anyway. If there isn't copyright, that incentive is much reduced.

            Some examples. One is this Harry Potter Lexicon that J.K. Rowling squashed. The people who worked on the lexicon put a lot of time into it, and they got screwed thanks to copyright and this idea that somehow they weren't the victims, that instead they were victimizing poor little J.K. Rowling and making it impossible for her to profit from doing her own lexicon her way, when she saw they were right about it being profitable and changed her mind on letting them do it. Obviously, she's no dummy, and so I guess she was pushed and manipulated into this stance by publishers whose opinions she perhaps trusts overmuch. It goes against her own philosophy as revealed in her works, so far as I can tell. That is, what would Harry Potter do in a similar situation?

            Another example is the huge library of CD track information built up by thousands of fans and utilized by ripping software. Thousands of people each contributed a tiny little bit, but the music industry keeps trying to assert control over such efforts out of a misplaced sense that they really do have some right to every possible potential profit such a collection of info might be able to generate, or might hypothetically prevent them from being able to make somehow. That last is one of the most anti-competitive, bad results possible. The controllers deny a good tool to the public so that their much inferior, cruddy workarounds, if any, can maybe generate a profit that is, frankly, not deserved. It's as if they were granted a monopoly on the horse and buggy, then were allowed to interpret that as a monopoly on all forms of transport, and then opted to shut down the airline, auto, railroad, and river shipping industry so that everyone has to buy more buggies, or walk. And if some enterprising person tries to finesse the restrictions by, say, using cows to pull a buggy, they're vilified as cheaters. There are many people who would seriously argue that Wikipedia should be shut down because it harms the print encyclopedia business.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by eth1 (94901)

            Just point out that with a 20 year copyright term, they'd be able to *legally* download a library of any/every song & movie created before 1990. People older than 30 would be signing up in droves. Might as well make greed work *for* us, for once.

      • by Bemopolis (698691) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:26AM (#31786624)

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

        You say this, and then you follow it up with an example of two authors who died, and are thus bereft of all control over their works. Why should people who did NOT write the works (okay, Christopher Tolkien might be given latitude here) ever be given control over the copyrights, especially in an age where that copyright is becoming ever more perpetual?

        Mitchell didn't want a sequel written. Tough. Given her feelings, we can consider her lucky that she didn't live to see it. The Tolkien estate is protecting the legacy of the literature. Good on them. But like the works of literature before them — some of which were the basis of other, later, better works — these works will eventually fall into the public domain, and anyone can do anything with them. I, for one, am not willing to extend copyright until the heat death of the Universe (plus 70 years) to prevent it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by phantomfive (622387)

          Given her feelings, we can consider her lucky that she didn't live to see it.

          I find your sympathy and compassion admirable, good sir. Basically your argument amounts to, "I don't like it, so she can suck it." Even if you are right, which often isn't the case in political situations, you still aren't going to convince anyone with that argument. You look like a self-centered fool. So the question remains, what argument can we use to help people see that short copyright is good, even though it removes control from the original authors?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            A technical answer to that might manifest shortly in the musical scene.

            "Music" follows set mathematical grammars, and as such, has only a finite number of "Pleasant" sounding progressions. It is entirely possible for all possible "Pleasant" musical scores to become copyrighted, and thus, essentially destroy the process of creating "new" musical scores. (Since the only way to make such new scores would be to either radically redefine musical structure (would require rewiring human brains)-- or to utilize th

          • 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."

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by cpt kangarooski (3773)

            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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Xtifr (1323)

          Why should people who did NOT write the works [...] ever be given control over the copyrights [...]?

          (Referring to heirs.)

          Well, for one thing, it greatly reduces the chances that creators will be murdered so that publishers can get access to their works. For another, it increases the motivation for the elderly and the terminally ill to create new works. I'm all for reducing copyright length, but I tend to think a fixed period is best/safest.

      • by Jurily (900488) <jurily@noSpAM.gmail.com> on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:38AM (#31786694)

        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 (it was written after her death).

        That's not a sequel and shouldn't be treated as such. It's fan fiction, and I don't see anything wrong with it as long as it's not marketed as canon. From an "official" point of view, it doesn't exist.

        I think this is related to the fact that in our culture we really don't like plagiarism.

        Plagiarism would be if she wrote a different ending to the story, and published the whole as her own. Meanwhile, did you stop to consider the artistic qualities of the sequel?

        See, that's exactly the problem with copyright debates: you're treating the right to use ideas, the right to modify existing works and the right to distribute existing works as one inseparable topic.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by brianerst (549609)

          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

      • by paeanblack (191171) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:40AM (#31786700)

        I think this is related to the fact that in our culture we really don't like plagiarism.

        The continued economic success of Disney makes me inclined to believe otherwise. The vast majority of their content is ripped directly from Aesop, Hans Christian Andersen, Brothers Grimm, and others. Occasionally, they even plagiarize more modern content, like Kimba, the White Lion.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimba_the_White_Lion

        Otherwise you can forget reforming copyright law. I am not sure of the best argument for this, maybe someone else can think of a convincing one.

        "The Congress shall have 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"

        Why didn't the drafters add in:
        "The Congress shall have Power ... To promote Warmth and Welfare of the Populace, by securing for limited Times to Citizens and Free Peoples the exclusive Right to the Shirts on their Backs"

        The second version sounds absolutely ridiculous, because, unlike ideas, we actually own our clothing. The founding fathers understood that publishing an idea is like pissing in the ocean. Once you decide to do that, you can't get it back...it's not your piss anymore; you don't own it.

        TJ's thoughts on the matter:
        http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a1_8_8s12.html

      • by timmarhy (659436) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:48AM (#31786732)
        I suggest we drop by the house of everyone that doesn't understand IF YOU DONT LIKE IT DON'T WATCH/READ/LISTEN TO IT, and slap them in the side of the head.

        I don't believe retarded notions such as "offical" keepers of fictional characters eg. tolkien, should be pandered to or encourged.

        this idea that the author some how controls the works from beyond the grave is equally stupid, and deserves a bigger slap in the head.

        20 year copyright terms were more then generous, if you haven't milked every drop of profit from a work in 20 years, your an incompetent fool who deserves to be driven out of business.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by phantomfive (622387)

          I suggest we drop by the house of everyone that doesn't understand IF YOU DONT LIKE IT DON'T WATCH/READ/LISTEN TO IT, and slap them in the side of the head.

          This is the best presentation of an argument I've heard in weeks. I can't imagine why you've never run for public office.

          • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:10AM (#31786798) Journal

            I suggest we drop by the house of everyone that doesn't understand IF YOU DONT LIKE IT DON'T WATCH/READ/LISTEN TO IT, and slap them in the side of the head.

            This is the best presentation of an argument I've heard in weeks.

            True enough when it comes to copyright and patent debates on slashdot...

            I can't imagine why you've never run for public office.

            It would be far too exhausting. Can you imagine how many voters would need their heads slapped during the campaign?

            • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday April 09, 2010 @11:01AM (#31789616) Journal

              It would be far too exhausting. Can you imagine how many voters would need their heads slapped during the campaign?

              Wanted: Campaign volunteers
              Requirements: At least one hand and a desire to change the country

              Campaign slogans:
              "Hit the IP industry where it hurts: Upside their heads."
              "How can she slap? She slaps for copyright reform."
              "Communicate with today's voters the way their parents once did: with a slap."
              "Would you rather have 14 slaps or 95 slaps? We feel the same way about the length of copyright."
              "How many slaps does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?"

              -This message sponsored by Students Litigating Against Pratty Publishers

      • 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 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 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 ultranova (717540) on Friday April 09, 2010 @08:09AM (#31787892)

        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 (it was written after her death). That could have been prevented with modern copyright law.

        Your sister didn't have to read it, now did she? She loses absolutely nothing for said sequel existing. On the other hand, the people who did read and enjoy it would lose something had it been prevented from existing.

        You have made an argument against, not for, copyright law.

        A lot of people view the descendants of Tolkien as the official guardians of the lore, and would be annoyed if someone else tried to hijack that (although the result couldn't possibly be worse than the cartoons).

        And a lot of people say screnw that [fanfiction.net] and hijack it anyway. Which is okay, because Tolkien also used elements from common cultural heritage - the works of people who became him - to create his works, so why should it be held more sacred than them?

        People like the feeling of officialness. They want the original author to be able to own the work. I think this is related to the fact that in our culture we really don't like plagiarism.

        I notice a lot of people haven't objected to Disney ripping off everything from Tarzan to Jungle Book to Snow-White and the Seven Dwarves.

        In other words, if you want to get political motion behind copyright reform, you are not only going to find the ideal economic balance, you're also going to have to find a way to convince people that giving control to the original author isn't all that important. Otherwise you can forget reforming copyright law. I am not sure of the best argument for this, maybe someone else can think of a convincing one.

        People are already just fine with this, as proven by the fact that Tolkien-inspired art doesn't seem to draw a negative response, nor do the orcs and elves in pretty much every fantasy work. In fact, they are constantly creating derivative works from everything imaginable. That's not a new phenomenom either, but has been with us ever since stone-age hunter-gatherers told stories around a campfire.

        No, what you have to do is convince politicians that not criminalizing normal human behaviour is more important than bribes from Disney. That's never going to happen, so let's concentrate our efforts on improving various anonymizing networks like Freenet or Tor that make it easier to ignore such laws. That also has the added social benefit of countering censorship in general.

      • by Hatta (162192) on Friday April 09, 2010 @10:17AM (#31789032) Journal

        For example, my sister was very upset that someone wrote a sequel to Gone With the Wind

        So what, we should all suffer because your sister is a bitch?

      • 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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mwvdlee (775178)

      If 14 years is optimal, than 7 years would be unreasonable. Not quite as unreasonable as 95 years, but unreasonable nonetheless.

      The basic idea behind copyright (providing security to invest in creating new products) is one I can support, the current implementation of that idea significantly less so. It has come to a point where the copyright itself has become the business model instead of the product.

      • 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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by demonlapin (527802)

          A piece of music written today may still have relevance 14 years from now, but a piece of software probably won't.

          They're still selling classic video games on the Wii, most of which are older than 1996. I think you'd have to provide a method for extension of copyright by payment of a tax for certain properties (which do remain commercially viable).

        • 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.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Why should relevance have any bearing on the length of copyright. The most important works in human history have near infinite relevance, should they have infinite copyright terms? Come to think of it, you can make a good case that relevance should be inversely proportional to length of copyright.

          Remember, copyright is not there to make profit, it is there to encourage progress.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by CarpetShark (865376)

        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 societ

    • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:11AM (#31786568) Journal
      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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jonadab (583620)
      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
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cpt kangarooski (3773)

      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 cou

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@nOSPam.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 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 Wildclaw (15718) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:09AM (#31786324)

      I have a problem with long copyright terms as long as the definition of derivative work is as large as it is. I also have a problem with the preventative scope of copyright in general. Exclusive rights to profit from a specific production used to be the basis of copyright. But nowadays, that is just a minor aspect of copyright.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Sparx139 (1460489)
        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 [yahoo.com]
        • by TheLink (130905) on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:45AM (#31787212) Journal
          When I first heard "Down Under", that bit reminded me of the kookaburra song. The song's called "Down Under" after all, so I thought the person who came up with the flute part intentionally wanted it to resemble the "kookaburra" song.

          To me copyright and patent terms should be getting shorter and shorter instead of longer and longer since:
          1) We're supposed to be encouraging progress and innovation right?
          2) Marketing, distribution, manufacturing and outsourcing is supposedly easier nowadays right? ( http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/01/ff_newrevolution/ )
          3) So if you create something that people want, getting them to pay for it ASAP shouldn't be so hard.

          Example: the recent Avatar movie did very well - it made 1 billion within one month.

          If you need a 95 or 120 year monopoly to make enough money, IMO you should earn a living some other way. It's just bad economics - you are either not good at what you are doing and should do something else, or you are too greedy.
  • by mykos (1627575) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:54AM (#31786238)
    The biggest and most important achievements in science and art happened before the existence of copyright and patent laws.

    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. People act as if not paying money to someone for a hundred years will make art and music disappear.

    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?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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 Wildclaw (15718) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:28AM (#31786404)

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

      I disagree. The biggest achievements has happened in the last couple of hundred years. However, I also think that there is a huge difference between correlation and causation.

      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

      Agreed.

      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?

      Because neo-mercantilist companies and individuals have lobbied to extend it so that they can profit more. And don't expect it to change. With an expected resource crisis due to massive consumption and popultion growth on earth, the mercantalist ideas will just grow strong among those in power.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bemopolis (698691)

      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?

      Because corporations never die and they have a lot of money to spend indirectly on political campaigns. Oh, and now they can spend it *directly* on political campaigns. Let the kleptocracy be complete!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mpe (36238)
      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
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)

      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...

  • Interesting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@@@justconnected...net> on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:56AM (#31786248)

    Here's hoping it's indicative - or will lead to - a groundswell of public opinion.

    What us nerds need to do is remind people that copyright is a trade. I've explained to people that Disney nor your favorite band 'deserve' any protection, which they find crazy. But when I explain the idea of copyright is to promote new works by allowing the creative types to make a living - with the understanding that we'll all get it in the end - they start to look at copyright how it was originally intended.

    We would still have books and music and art without copyright - people do those for free all the time - but big movies, etc legitimately take a lot of money to make. So I think copyrights are necessary, but drastically limited in length. It's a travesty that the Beatles' work doesn't belong to the world yet, and it's obscene that Mickey Mouse doesn't.

    Copyrights were much shorter at the founding of our nation - and that was when a significant portion of the time allotted was used in physically moving stuff around. Now that that's almost instantaneous - or perhaps a few days - it should be shorter than that.

  • Here's one (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:57AM (#31786252) Homepage

    It's time for the "Everyone who had anything to do with creating the mouse is dead now act". It will revert the term on all existing works to the length it was when the work was created. Last I checked, no amount of retroactive incentive can further encourage the dead.

  • 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 Solarhands (1279802) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:31AM (#31786412)

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

    Suppose that copyright is now 50 years. Now supposing that the government thinks that say 100 years is a more optimal time period for copyright. They write a law which changes the time period for copyright law.

    Why do the copyright end dates for those works already under copyright change? There is no reason for them to. There is no way that the new law is going to affect whether or not people 50 years ago write more books and music. But clearly the government seems to think that if they keep pushing the date back on existing copyright that they will reach some point where the financial incentive of the new law will convince the Beatles to write another album back in the 1960s. Perhaps they believe that we will soon have time traveling agents, who can inform the artists of the past of their rights.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      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 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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Gorath99 (746654)

        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 re

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

      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.

  • Easy Solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dghcasp (459766) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:40AM (#31786450)

    Simple Solution:

    1. Copyright lasts for some period of time (say 20 years)
    2. An single individual copyright can be extended perpetually by paying an annual fee (say $10,000)

    That way, Disney can keep Mickey Mouse copyrighted forever, but anything that isn't generating more than 10k of revenue a year is cheaper to let lapse. Plus, it's another source of revenue for the government.

    Of course, simple solutions never survive politics.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by yotto (590067)

      Of course, simple solutions never survive politics.

      It won't even survive Slashdot.

      Is that $10,000 per idea? Per character? Per story? Per song? Album? Lyric?

      Does Disney have to pay $10,000 to copyright Mickey, and another $10,000 to copyright Steamboat Willie? What about that song he sang during the short?

      Not that I'd mind making Disney pay for an infinite amount of $10,000 copyright units... But I'm also curious what I personally can expect to have to pay.

  • 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.
  • by divisionbyzero (300681) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:56AM (#31787836)

    Traditionally supporters of long copyrights have claimed that unless the copyrights were for substantial amounts of time there would be no incentive to create (a similar arguments is made for patents, etc). Well, the other side of it is that if a company is continually reaping revenue from a copyright what's the motivation to create again? Giving people an opportunity to reap a just reward is one thing but ensuring them an entitlement is quite another. Reward is a great motivator but ruin is as well. Innovate or die.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Friday April 09, 2010 @08:19AM (#31787946) Journal
    And for the EXACT SAME REASON. That is also why ppl like Ben Franklin invented his stove and then left it in public domain. So that an industry could be started from it. In addition, Walt Disney himself made heavy use of works that had gone into public domain. He likely would not have gotten off the ground except for that.
  • 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.

  • OpenMouse (Score:3, Funny)

    by IGnatius T Foobar (4328) on Friday April 09, 2010 @12:31PM (#31790884) Homepage Journal
    I've already registered the domain "openmouse.org" and am just waiting for copyright reform to happen so I can release my Creative Commons version of Mickey!

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