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Public Domain Enhancement Act petition 669

EricEldred writes "Please sign the petition and support the proposed Public Domain Enhancement Act. See for details. 'This statute would require American copyright owners to pay a very low fee (for example, $1) fifty years after a copyrighted work was published. If the owner pays the fee, the copyright will continue for whatever duration Congress sets. But if the copyright is not worth even $1 to the owner, then we believe the work should pass into the public domain.'" See the brief description of the Act if you aren't familiar with what Eldred and Lessig are proposing.
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Public Domain Enhancement Act petition

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  • Hm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:17PM (#6108005)
    if the copyright is not worth even $1 to the owner, then we believe the work should pass into the public domain

    No wonder most open source apps are free.
  • automate it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bluelip ( 123578 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:17PM (#6108006) Homepage Journal
    Corporations will automate the process so they will never 'forget' to pay the buck.
    • Most copywritten material ISN'T worth $1. Corporations can't afford to pay $1 for everything.
      • by Carbonite ( 183181 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:28PM (#6108117)
        Corporations can't afford to pay $1 for everything.

        Sure they can.

        Any corporation that has 100 copyrights can certainly afford $100.

        Any corporation that has 1,000 copyrights can certainly afford $1,000.

        Any corporation that has 1,000,000 copyrights can certainly afford $1,000,000.

        I can't see any value at which a corporation couldn't afford $1 per copyright. Perhaps if it was $10,000/copyright or renewal was required every year (after the first 20 or so). In my opinion the only solution is to reduce the copyright length significantly.
        • by BrynM ( 217883 ) * on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:42PM (#6108283) Homepage Journal
          I think what will happen is similar to what you say, but we'll see the packages get bigger. What is the copywritten item here:
          • A single song
          • The original album the song was on
          • The compilation album with 20 such songs on it
          • The Boxed set containing all of the Artist's work in his/her lifetime
          I can see the record industry trying to argue that the $1 for the boxed set should cover everything above. Of course, this could spark a move for print publishers to return to offering compilation sets from authors.
        • If they no longer plan on making money from it, it would be a shrewd move to weed out those copyrights they no longer care to keep. A company with thousands or even millions of copyrights could save quite a bit per year if they dumped off that old dead weight, even at $1 each.

          Perhaps make it $1 for invidivuals and $1000 for corporations. I suppose a company could use the loophole of assigning all their copyrights to one person, but boy, they had better trust that individual!
      • by PetiePooo ( 606423 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:38PM (#6108240)
        Most copywritten material ISN'T worth $1. Corporations can't afford to pay $1 for everything.

        This is exactly the point. If a corporation can't make a single buck over the next five years on a copyrighted work, then they SHOULD let the copyright lapse and let the work pass into public domain. However, if the copyrighted work is still generating revenue, or they have plans to republish it, then they CAN afford the token fee of $1.

        • However, if the copyrighted work is still generating revenue, or they have plans to republish it, then they CAN afford the token fee of $1.

          The obvious stratagem of the bill is to keep increasing the renewal fee until some equilibrium is found between to value of a work to the publishers and the value to the public domain. With a fifty-year free term, I think that the right renewal amount would be around $300K, indexed to inflation. And, there should be no distinction between individuals and corporations
    • Re:automate it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by diablochicken ( 445931 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:22PM (#6108053) Homepage Journal
      And that's fine if they do -- if it's worth it to a company to automate the process, more power to them. That's not what this is for.

      This is to allow the works of artists and writers who have gone missing to become public domain, so that their books and such don't just sit around collecting dust (and potentially disappearing from the face of the earth). This would allow people to save obscure works by republishing them even if they can't contact the original author to get permission.

      This will become more and more important as the term for copyright gets extended indefinitely by congress, and we lose more and more works of brilliance to the dustbin of history.
    • Re:automate it (Score:2, Interesting)

      by frieked ( 187664 ) *
      ...and how about advanced payments?

      Will there be a part of this law that states the $1 can't be paid until the 50 years is up or almost up or can it be paid in advance... like $5 now for the next 250 years?
    • Corporations will automate the process of offering $100 for the rights to every item about to go off-copyright, then pay the buck, and then nothing will pass into the public domain.

      How about a law that limits copyrights to life of the author and leave it at that. Why should anyone inherit something they didn't create?
      • Re:automate it (Score:3, Informative)

        by Surak ( 18578 ) *
        Because a corporation can be an author and corporations can exist in perpetuity.
        In copyright law, the author and the copyright holder are essentially the same thing.

      • Re:automate it (Score:3, Insightful)

        Why should anyone inherit something they didn't create?

        Because they married the author, and aided in a significant way in its creation.

        Because they are children, and fundamentally supported by the author.

        Because the author wrote it on his or her deathbed, and as a moral nation we want to never make it profitable to "wait for the author to die."

        A better extreme law, IMO, would be to limit copyright to individuals, and not corporations.
    • Re:automate it (Score:4, Insightful)

      by shreak ( 248275 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:38PM (#6108237)
      But will it always be a $1? Think about where this money would go. Into the hands of the US government, which means into the budget.

      Hmmm... We get about $10000, a year for expireing copyright extension. And these corperations are only paying a 1$ fee to make additional millions? Let's bump it to $1000/renewal and POW an extra 10Mil/year!

      At $1000 companies will have to think about what they want to keep.

      Sure you'll never see Mickey Mouse go out this way, but that's not the point. The point is there are 1000s of copyrighted things that the owner maintains, "just because". After all, if there's no cost to maintain ownership, why not maintain it?

    • Re:automate it (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Ost99 ( 101831 ) * on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:58PM (#6108469)
      That is why the fee should start earlyer (14 years was the old magic number, why not use it again) and increase exponensially...

      If it starts at $100 for year 15, and doubles for every 5th every year after... the fee would be over $800 000 after 80 years.

      Automatic renew process for *all* published works should run any company out of bussiness whit that system.

      - Ost
    • Re:automate it (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geekee ( 591277 )
      "Corporations will automate the process so they will never 'forget' to pay the buck."

      The point isn't to trick people into losing their copyright, but instead to see if there's any interest at all in maintaining a particular copyright. The dolar is symbolic. The real issue is whether the copyright owner is interested in maintaining the copyright enough to fill out the paperwork.
  • Tacit approval (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:19PM (#6108022)
    Can't this be taken as a sign of tacit approval in the life-plus-fifty copyright that exists now? Is that what we want?
    • Re:Tacit approval (Score:5, Informative)

      by bmongar ( 230600 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:22PM (#6108055)
      I don't think it is supporting that per say, as much as agreeing that congress has the constitutional right to set the copyright duration, something that has already been upheld in court. This is just a way of saying if the copyright owners don't care about the work anymore why let it disappear.
      • by yintercept ( 517362 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:58PM (#6108473) Homepage Journal
        Variable copyright dates make it extremely difficult for people to know what is and what is not copyrighted. Since articles and storied might appear in multiple publications, there will probably be quite a few mistakes made where people think an item wasn't copyrighted because it appeared in volume XXX...while it was copyrighted as part of volume YYY.

        The fifty year limit sounds like an interesting start.
    • even worse... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by djtack ( 545324 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:33PM (#6108188)
      Can't this be taken as a sign of tacit approval in the life-plus-fifty copyright that exists now? Is that what we want?

      Even worse, it seems like it could open the door for endless copyright, as long as the owner continues to pay the fee. It seems to imply that only works with no commercial value are worthy of the public domain. This makes me a little uneasy...
      • Re:even worse... (Score:5, Informative)

        by luzrek ( 570886 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:26PM (#6108802) Journal
        There already is endless copyright. Remember that the Disney corporation got the copyrights extended so that Mickey Mouse wouldn't enter public domain. As a consequence, nothing published by anyone who died after Walt Disney is in public domain (unless put their by the copyright owner).
    • You're not going to change the laws that have already been passed -- there's too much money at stake and the lobbies are too powerful.

      At least this would mitigate some of the damage that's been done by allowing important, un-shepherded works to pass into public domain before the paper they're printed on crumbles into dust.

      Is it a perfect solution? No. But it does addres many of the major problems of Infinite Copyright.
    • Re:Tacit approval (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
      The point of copyright was to give the original author an exclusive right to distribute copys. I would like to see an enhancement to the law that requires copyright holders to prove that they are distributing their work in order to qualify for the extended duration, so a book that was out of print could not be copyrighted, for example.

      Copyright exists as an incentive for individuals to create. From the point of view of society, there is no difference between an individual or corportation creating someth

  • by Mysticalfruit ( 533341 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:19PM (#6108030) Homepage Journal
    Paying a very low fee would make it non trivial for a company to just perpetuate it's copyrights.

    As it stands a few companies have tens of thousands of copyrights that their just sitting on for the sake of others not having access to them.

    If you set some low fee, it would just legitimize their sqandering of literary material.

    • by unicorn ( 8060 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:27PM (#6108103)
      This isn't about legitimzing the length of the terms.

      It's about making it so that works that the copyright holder doesn't care about anymore, lapse into public domain after 50 years.

      As things stand now, the copyright is in force for the current excessively long term, even when the rights-holder is dead, buried, and forgotten. This is a minor tweak, to make it perfectly legitimate to re-publish "abandoned" works after 50 years, rather than the longer terms now in effect.
      • by Shalda ( 560388 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:25PM (#6108783) Homepage Journal
        Here's a better idea, make it more frequent, and logarithmic.

        After 10 years, pay $10
        After 20 years, pay $100
        After 30 years, pay $1,000
        After 40 years, pay $10,000
        After 50 years, pay $100,000
        After 60 years, pay $1,000,000

        Thus eventually, a work becomes no longer economically feasable to maintain, yet the artist still retins a fair amount of control. If Disney is willing to pay a billion dollar tax to maintain their Mickey Mouse monopoly after 70 years, power to them. I say billion, 'cuz there's a lot of derivative works they'd have to pay taxes on as well. :)
    • Companies are not the only entities that create copyrighted material -- individuals do, too. A small fee makes sure that you're not punishing people who can't afford to keep their works copyrighted. Making the fee large would actually work in favor of the large companies, since they would be the only ones with the money to pay hefty fees.
    • You miss the point (Score:3, Informative)

      by MarcQuadra ( 129430 ) *
      A lot of work out there is NOT owned by MegaCorps, but it can't be easily used unless you track down the artist's manager's wive's new husband who holds the current copyright as part of some stupid inheritance tree. This would put an end to that.
  • by AlabamaMike ( 657318 ) * on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:20PM (#6108034) Journal
    So what? $1 after 50 years?!?! The problem still exists. Congress will grant copyright extensions ad infinitum to these companies who ensure that the members get elected. The concept of "public domain" has been completely eroded the last 70 years, and during our lifetime it will continue to erode. The framers of the constituion had the right idea, but their successors have perverted the concept to where it's no longer of any value. Long live piracy! ;)
    • Agreed. An act like this would be somewhat helpful. At least some newer works would make it into the public domain in our lifetime. But the only practical way to fight this unreasonable extension of copyright act is civil disobedience. I propose that we all get together on one day and publish the lyrics to "Happy Birthday" or some other copyrighted work on our websites or on flyers and distribute them with an explanation of what it is we are fighting. Let the public really see how this affects them.
    • by AuraSeer ( 409950 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:43PM (#6108304)
      This has nothing to do with corporate copyrights or the Mickey Mouse problem. That's a completely separate issue.

      The reform is aimed at non-corporate copyrights, the stuff that no one will bother to renew. Say some author wrote a scholarly book in 1924, which is now considered to be important. Because it's still under copyright, people like Project Gutenberg [] cannot use, reprint, or archive it without the author's permission.

      After 80 years it'd be very difficult to legally acquire permission, even from the author's estate. He may have multiple generations of descendants, or no descendants at all, so it's nontrivial to figure out which party has legal authority over the work. For most purposes, getting permission to use the work is simply not feasible.

      This change to the law would fix that problem. After 50 years, if the author's heirs have stopped caring (or have just died out), the $1 will go unpaid and the book will become public domain. Scholars and archivers can do with it as they will. On the other hand, if the work is important enough that someone does bother to pay the $1, we'll know that the payor is the person with legal authority. Scholars and archivers will know exactly whom to ask for permission. Either way, we no longer have the problem of unused works gathering dust under unnecessary copyright.
    • by Zathrus ( 232140 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:50PM (#6108385) Homepage
      The framers of the constituion had the right idea, but their successors have perverted the concept to where it's no longer of any value. Long live piracy! ;)

      Ok, so you're only pirating works that are more than 14 years old, or 28 years old with extention, right?

      Yeah, I didn't think so. Don't try to talk about being all high and mighty when you're just a cheapskate.

      The copyright laws have gone into the land of the absurd, but that doesn't mean to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:20PM (#6108035)
    I believe I am going to patent the idea of automated fund submission for copyright extension.
  • A novel approach (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:20PM (#6108040) Homepage Journal
    This could the small end of the wedge that actually has a chance of sneaking in. By initially focusing on material that isn't comercially valued, this aims to get the maximum material entered into the public domain with the minimum resistance from the copyright holders. I, for one, am signing right up.
  • Infeasible (Score:5, Insightful)

    by howardjp ( 5458 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:20PM (#6108041) Homepage
    This is completely at odds with current copyright law. Copyright law, under the Berne Convention, grants copyright immedietly upon creation of the work. There is no regisration requirement. Requiring registration on the backend is nonsensical and the Copyright Office will be unable to validate existence of a valid copyright when granting the extension.

    For instance, what prevents me from paying the dollar and renewing the copyright on "The Wizard of Oz" (movie, not the book, the book is public domain)?
    • Re:Infeasible (Score:5, Informative)

      by Washizu ( 220337 ) <[bengarvey] [at] []> on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:40PM (#6108265) Homepage
      "This is completely at odds with current copyright law."

      That's why you need a new law to change it.

      "Copyright law, under the Berne Convention, grants copyright immedietly upon creation of the work. There is no regisration requirement. Requiring registration on the backend is nonsensical and the Copyright Office will be unable to validate existence of a valid copyright when granting the extension."

      Right now you don't have to register a copyrighted work so how does the Copyright Office settle disputes? Like everyone else - evidence.

      Copyright would still be granted immediately and last for 50 years. After that, you must pay $1 a year to keep that copyrighted work out of the public domain. I would suggest they not care about who pays the $1 to uphold the copyright. Any author who wants to release his work in the the public domain can, whether someone pays the $1 or not. A third party interested in purchasing the rights to something may want to keep it out of the public domain, but I think this would be a rare exception considering they'd still have to buy it from the author if the work is copyrighted.

      • by tbase ( 666607 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:52PM (#6108401)
        The problem with that is that it totally negates the (IMHO) most important part - making sure that the copyright owner's contact information is available to anyone who wants to try and licence it. As I see it, this isn't about making sure things eventually become free, but more about making sure things aren't lost because the copyright owner drops off the face of the Earth and the work is lost forever because no one can get permission to keep it alive.

        Suppose an author wrote a book 50 years ago, and he dies, leaving no heirs. Now suppose I don't like the ideas in that book, and I don't think it should be available. For $1, I can see that it doesn't become available for another 50 years.
    • Re:Infeasible (Score:4, Informative)

      by WPIDalamar ( 122110 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:46PM (#6108335) Homepage

      It would be enforceable where it was needed to be enforced.

      The only time this law would matter is when a copyright holder is suing someone for using their copyrighted material. If the work was older than 50 years, and the author didn't pay the $1 in the 50th year, then they have no case because of this law. Right now the courts determine who has the copyright on works in these cases, so it can be done, and that wouldn't change.
    • Quite Feasable (Score:5, Informative)

      by Royster ( 16042 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:13PM (#6108604) Homepage
      The Berne Convention requires a minimum 50 year term of copyright and no formalities. That's what you get here.

      If you're willing to pay the fee, you can get more time, but the minimum term offered is not a violation of Berne.
  • Too Long (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Davak ( 526912 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:22PM (#6108058) Homepage
    To allow unused copyrighted works to enter the public domain after 50 years, while allowing copyright owners the full protection of the established copyright term.

    Why wait 50 years? Heck if I have to pay to renew my domain name every few years... why not a copyright, too? Also, there's no reason why it should have to cost any money at all. Just fill out the paper work every 5-10 years.

    Likewise, if somebody in your behalf (children, their children, etc.) continues this tradition... I see no reason why the copyright should not legally be able to be maintained forever.

    • one reason (Score:3, Insightful)

      progress...If you allow copyright to avoid the public domain you end up with a nation of lazy idiots living off the endeavors of their ancestors.
      The society can't progress if the sons and daughters of our most brilliant citizens don't need to contribute.
  • What's the point? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Carbonite ( 183181 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:22PM (#6108061)
    Companies will automate the process so their copyrights will last as long as possible. It will only be the occasional person who forgets to renew. There's a six month grace period and the fee is one dollar so there's no reason why anyone wishing to renew can't.

    I fail to see the point of this legislation. Is it currently impossible to voluntarily move a copyrighted work into the public domain?
  • by DarkSkiesAhead ( 562955 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:22PM (#6108062)

    I doubt this would be effective because corporate copyright holders have already shown that they will fight to keep control of material which is no longer directly profitable. The issue is that if more material went into the public domain then the public would have free material to watch/listen instead of paying for something newer. It would be worth it for the MPAA/RIAA to renew for $1 or even $100 just to prevent this. What we need is a law setting a hard cap on the length of a copyright, and for a much more reasonable period of time.
    • by vudujava ( 614609 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:42PM (#6108291) Homepage
      Speaking as one who has literally put thousands of hours into writing a book, I have to ask where you get off telling me that there should be a hard cap on the limit of my copyright. Don't I have the right to profit for the rest of my life from my work? What about my children? What about my grandchildren?

      I don't care how long Disney holds on to the mouse. Just because you place no value on your work doesn't mean that the rest of us don't place value on ours.

      • by NortWind ( 575520 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:55PM (#6108439)
        where you get off telling me that there should be a hard cap on the limit of my copyright?

        The fact that you can enjoy any copyright privileges at all is a gift from the nation to you. This is exclusive right is given to you in consideration for your agreement to place that work into the public domain at a later date.

        If you wish to truly protect your work, the answer is easy: never show it to anyone.

      • Can you tell me WHY you feel your children and grandchildren deserve to profit from your work? When you try and reconcile that with the purpose of copyright in the US ("promot[ing] the progress of science and useful arts"), it doesn't make any sense.

        The purpose of copyright is to allow an author/creator the fair chance to make a profit for a while after he creates something. It's not to ensure that he/she makes a profit, or that his/her grandchildren have a chance to make a profit.

        Just because you con
      • by Turing Machine ( 144300 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:02PM (#6108510)
        I have to ask where you get off telling me that there should be a hard cap on the limit of my copyright

        Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 8:

        The Congress shall have power to... 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;

        That's who gets off telling you.
      • duh, no! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Xtifr ( 1323 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:13PM (#6108606) Homepage
        Speaking as one who has literally put thousands of hours into writing a book...

        Speaking as one who has literally put thousands of hours into automobile maintenance, don't I have the right to profit from those automobiles for the rest of my life? No? Then what makes you so special?

        Just because you place no value on your work...

        I place a value on my work. And I get paid for it too. I just don't see any reason that my work should be a gravy-train I can ride in perpetuity. And I don't see any damn reason why yours should be either.
      • You've missed the point of copyrights. Copyright law was originally written to provide an incentive to create by allowing a temporary monopoly on the created work. It should be quite obvious why this is a good idea, it allows people who aren't doing something that can make a profit directly to increase the base of human knowledge and beauty. The fact that artists can make a nice profit on the side is secondary to the true purpose of copyright.

        Now, if you extend copyright to cover your grandchildren,
      • Don't I have the right to profit for the rest of my life from my work?
        >>>>>>>>>>>>&g t;
        No. A man can work in the fields for thousands of hours, or work on a sculpture for thousands of hours, and profit from it only as much as he can do so directly. And after he sells his creation to someone else, he has no right to control what that person does with it. I don't see why a book should be any different.

        Now, our system of government is based on certain British, French, a
  • Let's make it simple, you get it for 50 years to horde and license and then WHAMMO, it's societies to be bettered and shared. You had your time to profit and since we allotted you the time to profit from it we now as society are going to keep it as our own. If in 50 years you haven't profitted from it, then we aren't going to see a use for it either, so it's not our concern and it's dead.

    This whole forever copyright thing is a pain in the ass and quite frankly a load of crap. If you want the legal protection of a copyright then you need to follow the rules, not keep profiting and profiting on it, while society is at your whim. Wuit convoluting an already convoluted system. There are other options, don't bother copyrighting something and then you don't have to worry about it being public domain in 50 years, you can keep it a secret forever.

    Online petitions also don't work, they're too easy to fradulate, if you're really concerned call your representative and talk to them about it, don't put your email address on a weblog and think you've done your civic duty.

    • by sulli ( 195030 ) * on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:30PM (#6108136) Journal
      Think of this as the copyright equivalent to the partial-birth abortion ban, or medical marijuana. (I'm talking political strategy only - please don't flame me on those particular subjects, thanks.) Start with something simple and relatively inoffensive, and then expand it from there.

      Either it passes, in which case the law is at least improved from the status quo, or it fails due to strong opposition, in which case the opponents are smoked out and shown to be fools in the public eye.

  • by cleveland61 ( 321761 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:24PM (#6108079)
    Think about how many works are *lost* to the public because it is no longer profitable for the owner to keep them published. Out of print books, movies and recordings should be in the public domian if the copyright owner isn't willing to keep them available for whatever reason. For those owners that wish to maintain thier copyrights, they can. But for others who don't care, why shouldn't the public get a crack at these?
  • Limited usefulness (Score:3, Insightful)

    by oiuyt ( 128308 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:25PM (#6108082)
    This does nothing for the abusive cases where the corporations are getting ad infinitum extensions.

    It is useful for removing restrictions where the restrictions are merely there by default and not intent. A book that was written in the 40's where the author (and/or his/her heirs) doesn't care about the copywrite. Under the proposed system this would drop into PD even without the CW holder explicitly putting it there.

    That's a fairly minimal benefit, but at least it IS a benefit and by not destroying the money-maker (extending the rights period) perhaps this could get passed? No, why bother, it's still an added hassle for the corporations that are controlling the law changes.

  • by tuffy ( 10202 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:27PM (#6108104) Homepage Journal
    If the fee started at $1 after fifty years and doubled every 2-3 years after, eventually it would be highly unprofitable for the work to remain copyrighted. Which would encourage artists/companies/whoever to create new works. Which was the whole point of copyright to begin with.
  • by eldurbarn ( 111734 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:28PM (#6108120)
    I'd rather see "use it or lose it". If something that is copyright is not available from the copyright holder, it should (sooner, rather than later) be legal for it to be made available by someone else.

    While I'm at it: I think that the creator of a work should get the copyright to their creation back if the folks who bought the copyright are not distributing it.

    • That's not a good solution.

      It's possible now for companies to keep their content (books and CDs) available for purchase either online, or in small production run printings. "Use it or lose it" would mean that the copyright on those works would never expire (much like the current system).

      Don't limit "distribution" to dead-tree or plastic disk versions collecting dust on store shelves.
  • by Aging_Newbie ( 16932 ) * on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:29PM (#6108130)
    Mineral rights expire if not renewed regularly. If the rights are not worth renewing they don't persist forever. Systems that automatically clean themselves up are a Good Thing (TM)

    IANAL but I bought some land and found out that nugget along the way
  • 50 years ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by p0rnking ( 255997 )
    If I design/create something, why should there be a time limit on it? It's 100% mine, and no one should be lining up at the door 50 years from now, waiting for my ownership to expire.

    It's not like I'm renting something for 50 years. It's mine, I should be able to whatever I want with it, for as long as I want with it. And If I so happen to croak, then it should be passed on.
  • by AnriL ( 657435 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:31PM (#6108157)
    I see a number of potential issues with the idea. First of all is the obvious automation of the renewal process which will make it easy to automatically extend the copyright. However, the $1 (or whatever) fee is per work, that is, a fee to keep a single artwork copyrighted. This is all fine and dandy for bookwriters and moviemakers with an expected total of works in the count of 10 to 20 in a lifetime. But consider photographers, who shoot thousands of photos a year, or quite likely much more. Do they have to pay for each of their photos?

    Stock photography might radically change in view of this idea ...

    Of course, you say, but the photographer will then have to choose among his best work and pick the ones for which he wants to keep the copyright! Blah. You can't resolve it like this. Suddenly you'll have poor artists who will be exploited because they didn't pay their copyright fee, and you'll have rich art whores who'll pay to have every single piece of their crap copyrighted.

    It won't work. You might as well decide to have the copyright last ten times as long as it took to create the particular artwork. So if it's a photo, say ten days at most. If it's a book, 10 years or thereabouts.
    • by Dominic_Mazzoni ( 125164 ) * on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:54PM (#6108425) Homepage
      I see a number of potential issues with the idea. First of all is the obvious automation of the renewal process which will make it easy to automatically extend the copyright. However, the $1 (or whatever) fee is per work, that is, a fee to keep a single artwork copyrighted. This is all fine and dandy for bookwriters and moviemakers with an expected total of works in the count of 10 to 20 in a lifetime. But consider photographers, who shoot thousands of photos a year, or quite likely much more. Do they have to pay for each of their photos?

      Yes, if they still want to claim copyright after 50 years!

      If someone is still making a profit off of a photo after 50 years, more power to them. I think it's highly unlikely that they'd feel the need to keep their copyright on the hundreds of thousands of photos they've taken.
  • by raehl ( 609729 ) * <raehl311@yah o o .com> on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:32PM (#6108169) Homepage
    Online petitions are worth the paper they are printed on. They're for idiots who want to feel like they're contributing to some cause, but are too lazy to actually do anything to contribute.

    If you want something, quit copping out and write or call your representative. Or better yet, pay them a visit when they're at their home office.
  • I imagine it happens quite often that a copyright holder dies before 50 years elapse after he files for the original copyright. What then? Can his relatives make the payment, or is the copyright doomed?

    And what's the point of the measly $1.00 fine? Basically everyone would pay that fee, unless the aforementioned case is true - they are dead.
  • Make it $1 for the 51st year, and double every year thereafter. Some posters have already mentioned the "automated copyright for perpetuity" problem. If the copyright is still worth $1M after 71 years, fine, let them keep it. If it's still worth $1G after 81 years, fine, let them keep it. But copyright in perpetuity? C'mon...

    Thoughts and ideas are not born in a vacuum. The public domain contributed something to those thoughts and ideas, it's only fair to give back eventually. That's the whole idea

  • I propose that copyright works enter the public domain after ten years. That's more than enough time to make a living from an artistic work. If you can't make money from a song, movie, book, etc. in ten years, you probably aren't going to make much at all.

    How many blockbuster movies break even the first weekend? Not many, I know, but it's something to consider. Why do we need such long copyright terms when artists are paid so much so soon after a work is released.

    When this plan is shot down, as a compro

  • So if a copyright holder is so un-enthusiastic about his property that he can't be bothered to pay $1 to maintain it, what are the odds he'll want to pay a lawyer to go after you, if you just ignore the copyright on it completely?
  • Copyright shouldn't last even 5 years, let alone 50. This proposal treats a heart-attack with a band-aid.
  • Hmmmm.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jhines0042 ( 184217 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:45PM (#6108324) Journal
    The Big Record Companies have how many different recordings under their control? By how many artists?

    $1 per recording every 5 years. I think that that would stack up to a large amount of money.

    Lets look at some numbers: This page [] has a list of the number of copyright registrations for every year from 1790 to 2002. It lists the total number of copyrights out there as being 30,253,812.

    In 2002 there were 521,041 new registered copyrights. That means that in 50 years, $521,041 would have to be paid to the copyright office to maintain those copyrights for another 5 years. Another look at the data shows that right now there are 9,213,707 registered works that are 50 years old or older. That means that $9,213,707 would have to be paid to the copyright office to maintain those works.

    Now, realizing that not every work is owned by a BIG CORPORATION(tm) that is still not a small chunk of change and will ultimately result in more and more items entering public domain, or more money going to the government...(or more money being charged for copyrighted works simply to maintain this cost, copyright tax).

    I don't know that this solves anything, but I like the attempt.

  • by JWhitlock ( 201845 ) <> on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @03:49PM (#6108372)
    I imagine a minority of copyright holders will utilize the service if the law goes into effect. This brings up a problem - most government agencies that charge fees do so to save the taxpayers the cost of government services, or only charge those who use the service. One dollar is not going to cover many of the costs of processing forms, maintaining a database, and paying someone to answer the phone.

    I have no problem with taxpayer money going to support something like this, but the industry lobbyists will mention it to lawmakers as a reason to not pass the bill, and it may be hard to argue why it's so important for works from 50 years ago to pass into the public domain. It can be argued, but I doubt I'll see Lessig on CSPAN any time soon.

    While this is a reasonable solution to the problems of creeping copyrights, maybe the fee should be something more substantial ($100? $1000?), so that there is a chance that fees will pay for the service.

  • by travail_jgd ( 80602 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:01PM (#6108499)
    The duration of copyrights isn't going to be easily changed due to the influence of Big Media. Forcing people to pay a dollar or be lose copyright after 50 years is more trouble than it's worth.

    My solution: a progressive tax on copyrighted works. Give the content producers a year grace period to recoup their investment. In the second year after a work is released, the government would impose a 1% tax on the gross revenues generated by the work. Each year thereafter, the tax would increase by an additional 1%. Items in the public domain would be exempt from this tax.

    Copyright holders would still be able to maintain exclusive control of their work, but would have an incentive to release it to the public domain. (Or bury it forever, but that's not different from what happens now.)

    Also, if a work remains under copyright for over 100 years (due to author's longevity or further copyright extension), companies would have to pay the government more money than they receive from sales and licensing.

    The downsides? This requires a lot more bookkeeping and enforcement. Some companies (coughDisneycough) would rather bury their IP than release it to the public domain. And companies may make minor revisions and declare the "new edition" to have a new copyright.
  • by coldmist ( 154493 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:05PM (#6108536) Homepage
    Here are some other problems that this doesn't even begin to address:

    o Lack of having to register the work in the first place
    o Lack of hard limits on the final length of time it's valid
    o Removal of having to declare that a work is copyrighted (like in the front of a book or movie)
    o Extremely long duration, preventing the Public Domain from having access to the work in a timely manner

    These are just a few.

    I propose that we repeal all copyright changes since the first 1790 act that provided 14 years, renewable once for a total of 28 years. I think that it is a fair duration for the author to profit from the work.

    I also propose that any electronic work (either program code, etext of a book, etc) needs to be archived with the copyright office so that when the copyright expires, a copy of the source/text can be acquired for the duplication/shipping fee.

  • $1 is far too low. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by esnible ( 36716 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:07PM (#6108548)
    I own a piece of Arizona desert worth $500. I must pay $13 in property taxes every year. The land is completely unimproved so what I'm paying for, in a sense, is police enforcement -- to kick squatters off.

    "Steamboat Willie" is a valuable copyright. Disney gets free enforcement of copyright laws on this valuable piece of copyright property. "Steamboat Willie" is more valuable and needs a lot more copyright enforcement than most titles. Disney should pay more for that protection.

    The purpose of property taxes are to offset the costs of providing services, like law enforcement, for the property. If Copyrights are to be considered Intellectual "Property", they must pay property taxes at their appraised value or forfeit that property.

    For a copyright that could be sold on the market for $500, a fair value for copyright should be about $13/year, after the initial grace period of 14 years (perhaps with optional free renewal for another 14).
  • by SnakeStu ( 60546 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:20PM (#6108702) Homepage
    As I wrote when Lessig discussed this weeks (months?) ago, I disagree with this on a fundamental level. Yes, I've read the many comments that say this "isn't about legitimizing" grossly-long copyright durations, DRM, and other evidence of the imbalanced nature of copyright law today. But, the PATRIOT Act wasn't "about" violating the liberty that US citizens should, by design of those who brought the country into being, enjoy still today -- yet that is the end result. Should we compare what the DMCA was "about" versus the end result? I think you get the point.

    This will help solidify the imbalance already in effect, and it will not address any real problems. For the majority of the general public -- the supposed beneficiary of this proposal -- this will be meaningless. How many people will actually notice that some obscure work has slipped into the public domain? If a tree falls in the forest and there's nobody there to hear it...

    If the copyright owner really believes they deserve an extension, perhaps the burden should be on them to prove, in court, that their retention of their copyright is more important to the public than the release of their work into the public domain. That would be ultimately more meaningful than some silly administrative fee that wouldn't have any impact on copyright-protected works that the majority of the public would be interested in. It would also restore the balance (because at the expiration of the time limit, the benefit to the public becomes the primary interest), and presumably result in very few works actually staying out of the public domain.

    The key problem is imbalance, and this trivial fee notion does nothing to restore it.

  • So disney has won... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phoroszowski ( 678613 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:35PM (#6108924)
    I guess they've managed to convince everybody that a copyright owner has the right to his copyright indefinetly. Tack one more attempt onto the "Mickey Mouse for Disney" preservation act. It's this sort of fundamental shift in perception that is the hardest to fight. Just reading the main post gives people that idea.
  • Here's my beef: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PhxBlue ( 562201 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:41PM (#6109003) Homepage Journal

    Why should I, as an owner of a copyrighted work, have to pay the government anything for the ownership of my property? This is an intellectual property tax--which sounds nice when the fee is only $1 every 50 years. But what happens when it becomes $2, then $10, etc.? And why does the government need this money?

    Sorry, but I prefer chopping copyright length back down to a reasonable 20- or 30-year period. There's no good reason to give the government yet another means to wrest money out of my wallet.

  • by Steven Blanchley ( 655585 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:53PM (#6109136)
    Does something need to be published in a physical form, like a book or CD? Or does putting it on a web site count?

    What if I put a copyrighted work (say a written work, in an HTML file) on a password-protected web server using HTTPS, and the password is known only to me? Then I certainly haven't published it. Now suppose there's no password, but only I know the URL and I haven't linked to it. Is it published yet? What if someone goes to, which is on search engines and linked from other sites, truncates it to, and gets a directory listing including my copyrighted work? What if there's no directory listing, but I tell the URL of the web site to one of my friends? What if the friend tells a bunch of other people and links to it; has he caused it to be "published"? What if I'm the only one who knows the URL and then I graffiti it on the wall of a public restroom (say a unisex one)? The general public can now access it if they want to, right? Suppose someone cracks my web server, finds the secret URL of my copyrighted work, and posts it on Slashdot where it can be seen by all; is it published yet?

    Similar dilemmas occur with physical media, as well. What if I make a backup copy of my unreleased copyrighted work on CD, and then the CD is stolen? What if I leave a few such CD's in a public park where anyone could get them? What if I try to sell people my CD's but no one buys any?

    And what if I make a great movie, but the only way anyone can see it is by coming to my house and paying admission. (Assume for the sake of simplicity that this doesn't violate zoning ordinances.) Is that publishing? What if I only let friends see it for free, but they decide to donate money?

    Not everything is "published" by a huge company that issues a press release and starts advertising it everywhere. As someone who's been in a few of the above situations (let's not get into which ones), I think they need to be considered.

    I intend to sign the petition anyway, because no copyrights will be lost before 50 years are up, which is too long anyway. (I believe an ideal copyright term would be somewhere from 15 to 20 years.) Still, I can see some ugly legal fights going on in the future if cases like the above aren't considered.
  • Fifty years (Score:4, Interesting)

    by poptones ( 653660 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:54PM (#6109147) Journal
    In 50 years the present notion of copyright will be completely antiquated. There is nothing at all to prevent someone RIGHT NOW from making a "project gutenberg" type online publication. The only barrier is to PROFITING from such a project; if I were of the mind I could transcribe my favorite novels, technical works and poetry collections into PDF files, zip them up with an electronic "signature" just so others who found them could be sure of their completeness (at least according to me), and make them available to the entire world. I, you, or anyone can do this right fucking now - copyright laws cannot stop it, governments cannot prevent it. If we actually care about this we should be practicing what we preach and doing exactly this - right now.

    Moreover, commercial entities in other countries (where saner - or even insanely limited - copyright laws exist) could then take those documents and make them available 24/7 in a convenient, indexed format that others could then use for research, teaching, or even pleasure. Anyone would be free to open up their own librarius to the world via p2p communities, usenet groups, and even low cost webhosting services in countries like Russia, Taiwan and Poland. This would force other nations (like ours) to compete by either changing their stupid laws (and thereby allowing US based businesses to compete with these foreign entities) or by shifting the mindshare away from intellectually oppressive regimes and toward nations that better support a creative and free exchange of information.

    • Re:Fifty years (Score:5, Informative)

      by Misch ( 158807 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @06:06PM (#6109852) Homepage
      The barrier to "project gutenburg" right now is that with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (SBCTEA), NOTHING NEW is passing into the public domain for 20 YEARS.

      If the SBCTEA weren't retroactive, Eldred, Lessig, et. al. wouldn't have had any grounds to bring Eldred v. Ashcroft to the Supreme Court.

      Copyright is a social contract. When you publish something, you know how long the copyright term is going to be when you publish it (granted, this law changes it a bit.) You know when it's going to expire. That's the bargain you make.
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @04:54PM (#6109149) Homepage
    Online petitions have one value only: they are a form of advertisement to tell people about the problem.

    Signing one of these things is WORSE than doing nothing.

    It gives you the feeling that you have accomplished something, making it less likely that you will do anythign about the problem. If you REALLY think this is a good idea, write a letter to your congressman, it will do a HUNDRED times more than signing this kind of online petition crap.

    But the idea itself is a bad idea. We need congress to put Reasonable limits on the greedy sscumbags that keep raising the copyright limit, not to simply try to pick off the cheap idiots.

  • by dwheeler ( 321049 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @05:04PM (#6109260) Homepage Journal
    If you REALLY care about this, and you're a U.S. citizen, don't just sign an online petition - write (or at least call) your Congresscritters. The websites for the House of Representatives [] and Senate [] will both help you immediately find who your representatives are and how to contact them.
  • It just struck me... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Misch ( 158807 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @05:07PM (#6109282) Homepage
    It just struck me, I've seen something like this before. It was turned into an HBO "Real Stories" documentary.

    A drunk driver killed a girl. In addition to all his other punishments, he was to hand write and mail/deliver check for $1 each week to the parents of the girl he killed.

    This was to continue for a set amount of years.

    The amount of money was inconsiquential, but it did force the drunk driver to think each week about the life he had taken and the consequences of his actions. Even for just the time that it took to write and mail a check.
  • Self-Assessed fee (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DanielRavenNest ( 107550 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @05:37PM (#6109582)
    My suggestion is to have a self-assessed
    fee to keep the work in copyright, but
    make the work 'public-domainable' at the
    self-assessed value.

    For example, after an initial copyright
    period, say the 50 years required by the
    Berne convention, the copyright holder
    has to pay a fee of 1% of the value of the
    work for each 10 year extension. The
    copyright holder gets to determine the
    value of the work themselves. But anyone
    can come along and pay the determined
    value to make the work public domain.

    In the case of works with no residual
    value to the holder, or the holder is
    dead & lost, etc. the copyright will
    expire in 50 years, since no one will
    do the paperwork for the assessment.

    In the case of low to moderate value
    works, a copyright holder can keep
    it in force for a nominal fee, or get
    bought out at full value which he
    himself determined.

    In the case of high value works, like
    major motion pictures, the holders will
    get to pay a significant fee to keep it
    in force - i.e. $500k per renewal for
    a $50M movie.

  • It seems to me, this 'copyright tax'would destroy public domain.
    I sent them an email regrding my concerns, it follows:

    To whom it may concern,
    I have some question about your proposed 'Copyright tax'

    "So why wait 50 years? Why not impose the requirement after 7 years? Or 10 years?

    Obviously, we believe that would be better. But let's start with something that seems reasonable to all. It will make shorter terms seem more reasonable later on."

    If this should happen, I find it doubtful that it would be able to be changed. It would seem to me it is better to start off asking for 7 years, then settle for a lengthier time frame.

    Don't corporations own copyrights as well? It would become part of the 'day to day' activities of running a corporations to automatically see if any copyrights need updating, then update them, regardless if they are making money or not. this would effectively keep works out of the public domain forever. even if the corporation should fail, another one will buy it's assets.

    I think it is a noble attempt, but counter productive. Perhaps 7 years, with a renewal fee every 7 years by the originator of the copyright, not the owner or licensor. Also make it so corporation can not be a copyright originator.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @05:47PM (#6109677) Journal
    GPL is based on copyright. This law would mean that GPL code would begin to go into public domain in 50 years, unless somebody like FSF ponies up the bux. And given the plethora of incremental deltas (which, taken alone, will probably be considered "fair use" to apply), renewing copyrights separately on all the versions could get very expen$ive.

    (You'll recall that the reason GPL code is not just PD is to keep people from locking up the fixes and improvements.)

    Now it could be argued that in something as fast moving as software, something 50 years old is dead. But how old is Unix already, eh? (Not to mention "Hello, world!".) This industry is maturing. Like classical music, things written already, or being written now, are likely to have lasting value and be around a long time.
  • by LeBain ( 524613 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @06:12PM (#6109903)
    The Economist had a good editorial [] earlier this year recommending we go back to the original 14-year copyright, renewable once (for 28 years total maximum.)

    From the editorial:

    Copyright was originally the grant of a temporary government-supported monopoly on copying a work, not a property right. Its sole purpose was to encourage the circulation of ideas by giving creators and publishers a short-term incentive to disseminate their work.
  • by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Tuesday June 03, 2003 @06:46PM (#6110227) Homepage
    The purpose of this act seems to be to put anything not currently used for financial gain to be placed into the public domain. So why not extend this to actually say that?
    How about a law that says, in order to have trademark, patent, or copyright, the item [or a derivitive of that item] in question must be offered for sale, or in the case of trademark, used as a mark of trade. [obvious exceptions for non-profit orgs]
    The law says that you have copyright on your history paper, but if you're not going to gain money from it, why should you? Certainly you would have written it anyway in that case.

    Discuss below, I'll admit my ignorance if you'll admit that you're a queer.

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker