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Oh dear. What is wrong with this imbcile!?
February 20, 2012 12:36 PM   Subscribe


 


By MeFi's own.

Also, satire-recognition-failure alert in the comments.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:39 PM on February 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, satire-recognition-failure alert in the comments.

Well, he only put 'A Modest Proposal' in the title and mentioned Swift at the end of the article. It's not like he made it obvious or anything.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:44 PM on February 20, 2012 [22 favorites]


Is there a nuanced difference between Eternal and Infinite?
posted by infini at 12:46 PM on February 20, 2012


Time vs. space, it seems to me.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:47 PM on February 20, 2012


No, Eternity is the embodiment of the universe, while Infinity is the embodiment of time, according to Mark Gruenwald in Quasar, at least in the Marvel Universe.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:48 PM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Eternity is the absence of time.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:50 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


He takes a strong interest in the controversies surrounding intellectual copyright.

Intellectual copyright?!?
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:50 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Copyright was a bargain. Piracy was rampant so the deal was we protect works for a limited term and then the public gets it later. Every time I hear complaints about piracy from large companies who bought the ridiculous extensions all I can think is, "You broke the deal first."

They broke public trust by buying laws and turned those laws into a joke. People don't respect that kind of law. The next time they want to try and pass something like SOPA, put reducing the copyright term on the table, we should bargain again.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:50 PM on February 20, 2012 [45 favorites]


Well, he only put 'A Modest Proposal' in the title

So, a guy I know wrote that TechCrunch thing a month or two back about selling citizenship, and I was sad in at least two ways to realize that while he called it "A Modest Proposal", he wasn't actually being satirical. He just thought it was a catchy phrase and thought I was weird for pointing out it basically implied he was joking about the entire thing.
posted by freebird at 12:51 PM on February 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


From the "serious" article that goethean links to:
It is, then, for the public good. But it might also be for the public good were Congress to allow the enslavement of foreign captives and their descendants (this was tried)...
Yup, that's right: Having copyrights expire and slavery are basically the same thing.
posted by jcreigh at 12:51 PM on February 20, 2012


This has already been seriously proposed.
posted by goethean at 12:39 PM on February 20 [2 favorites +] [!]


Mark Helprin: I operate under the assumption which I obtain from looking at the past and seeing how things have developed: that copyright actually strengthens [not only] the culture but the production of things that are copyrighted—what’s commonly called, and it’s a terrible word, content.

Before there was copyright, there was very little incentive for people to actually write things and assemble information. With the development of copyright, all that has increased. So we’re riding on a flood now of information such as the world has never seen in terms of print publications—newspapers, journals, magazines, et cetera.

The amount of information that has been generated and the amount of works that have been written—it’s phenomenal. The trend worldwide has been to extend the term of copyright, starting in England centuries ago and then on the continent and in the United States. Gradually over the centuries, the term has been extended. And as it has been extended, it’s been healthy for the culture. And also people, of course, live longer these days. And a personal motivation, not for me exactly, but for the people who actually produce these things, because I thought, well, if I die, when I die, rather, 70 years after my death everything that I have worked in my life to make will go into the public domain. And my children will probably be alive then, almost certainly be alive then.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:51 PM on February 20, 2012


Is there a nuanced difference between Eternal and Infinite?

Eternity is often theologically conceived of as being not simply infinitely extended in time but rather existing outside of time.
posted by howfar at 12:52 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


That Mark Helprin thing is cray-cray.

No good case exists for the inequality of real and intellectual property, because no good case can exist for treating with special disfavor the work of the spirit and the mind.

Here is a good case to treat those things with special disfavor: they are not physical objects and copying them is not equivalent to physically depriving an owner of a physical object, you ninny
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:53 PM on February 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Interesting, but this is just not ambitious enough. The problem is that tracking down all these long-lost descendants is just too much work, and infact most people all share all their ancestors if you go a long enough way back.

So clearly what we need to do is have the government auction off the public domain, just as we do with spectrum.

That way, Disney, WB, or any other large entertainment concern can profitably monetize the public domain for profit for all eternity, and the government can make a few bucks that they'll run through in maybe a couple weeks.

Now, you might say "Don't the entertainment companies already make money off the public domain"? Sure, stuff like the league of extraordinary gentlemen, or that new Disney Movie, or almost all of Disney major animated franchises, are examples of that.

But how is it fair that, even though Disney put all the work into promoting the Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast that other people can still make works using them?

I say: NOT FAIR AT ALL!!!! Disney should be able to buy the rights to those works in perpetuity!
posted by delmoi at 12:56 PM on February 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


put reducing the copyright term on the table, we should bargain again.

Yeah, not going to happen. Lessig screwed that up permanently by losing Eldred so badly. Lessig going down in flames set such a strong precedent for copyright extension, now SCOTUS is issuing even stronger restrictions like Golan v. Holder.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:59 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Helprin expanded that column into an entire book, called Digital Barbarism. It's a good read if you hate yourself or if you think your walls are insufficiently dented.
posted by theodolite at 1:00 PM on February 20, 2012 [18 favorites]


They might even quote George Bernard Shaw, who said, "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

Doesn't this assume that all apples and ideas are of exact worth? If they're not, then perhaps one person is benefiting from the trade and the other person is not benefiting.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:00 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I refuse to write the great American novel until eternal copyright is put in place.
posted by vorpal bunny at 1:02 PM on February 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm so gonna patent logic. All of you will be paying me for years.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:03 PM on February 20, 2012


I am going to start a "past lives certification", whereby I will do a series of woo-woo tests to prove you were someone with IP in a past life. Thereby granting said certified past-lifers full acres to their copyrighted works. All for a small low down payment and a share of all future royalties. Also, I'll include a lovely vellum-like certificate suitable for framing.

Who wants to be Walt Disney?
posted by dejah420 at 1:04 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sebmojo, the content that has been created has been rich and varied and wonderful, sure. But how can you positively attribute that to draconian copyright law extensions? And what percentage is attributable? 100%? Or 30%? And how much content is being squashed by copyright laws, or relegated to a content ghetto? Does fan fiction have worth? Do remixes? I think so, which makes me wonder why their authors can't easily be legally compensated for what they have created. Mightn't all "gains" be offset by "losses" of works—with worth—that are being stifled? And why aren't all works forced to have a compulsory license with reasonable terms? A compulsory license hasn't seemed to slow down composers much. Why not do the same to Batman, or Narnia, or whatever?

You can't demonstrate a counterfactual, and I think it's perfectly reasonable to assume that what has been lost is worth what has been gained. But it's also perfectly reasonable to feel otherwise. In particular, I think the largest flaw with your line of thinking (that copyright monopolies lasting longer than 20 or 30 years was a necessary condition for the great torrents of culture we've experienced) is that more and more draconian laws have followed better and more democratic means of production: printing presses, personal printers, the internet, and personal computers (and with them publishing software, film editing software, and music creation software) in particular. So which one is most directly responsible for the plenty we're reaping right now? I think the latter is more pertinent rather than the former.
posted by jsturgill at 1:08 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


we're all doomed.... 8(
posted by MikeWarot at 1:09 PM on February 20, 2012


My father builds cabinets and bookcases. and every time he's built one for a customer he was paid a single sum, and never again saw a single penny from the use of those bookcases. Is that right, I ask you? Of course not! As the bookcases continue to provide value, my father is obviously entitled to remuneration whenever they are used, and I will be equally entitled to profit from others' use of those bookcases after my father passes away.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:13 PM on February 20, 2012 [22 favorites]


There is an underlying problem here that lawyers are primary beneficiaries of intellectual property, essentially making it a tax on thought that we pay to the legal profession. Isn't it obvious they want that to cover as much of human thought as possible?
posted by jeffburdges at 1:14 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assumed the name S.O.C.A. (Serious Organised Crime Agency) was part of the satire.
posted by designbot at 1:17 PM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, this might get the libertarians and free-speech crazies out protesting, but a bit of fresh air wouldn't do them any harm.

I am not aware of a singular libertarian take on copyright, except a common, broad belief in property rights in general.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:19 PM on February 20, 2012


I assumed the name S.O.C.A. (Serious Organised Crime Agency) was part of the satire.

Me too. It sounds like something from a cartoon show.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:20 PM on February 20, 2012


My grandchildren can go get jobs.
posted by jscalzi at 1:21 PM on February 20, 2012 [21 favorites]


Sebmojo, the content that has been created has been rich and varied and wonderful, sure. But how can you positively attribute that to draconian copyright law extensions?
[...]
posted by jsturgill at 1:08 PM on February 20 [+] [!]


Sorry, I should have made it clearer - that quote is all Helprin. I think its absurdity speaks for itself.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:21 PM on February 20, 2012


Sebmojo's post is an excerpt from this interview with Mark Halprin, and it's followed by this gem:
That’s based on one of the many, many misconceptions that the people who are essentially against copyright share. That misconception is that art and also even certain types of writing are based upon piecing together previous things. They don’t understand how these things are made.
Sounds like somebody needs to watch Everything Is A Remix.
posted by designbot at 1:21 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


if you want to make stuff people can't steal, get on etsy
posted by mpylayev at 1:29 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Language is a human invention. I'm going to get a copyright/patent/trademark/IP protection on the English language. Good luck suing me in mime.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:33 PM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm so gonna patent logic. All of you will be paying me for years.

Dude, you'll starve. Especially during an election year.
posted by teleri025 at 1:37 PM on February 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Selling Your Vision With A Swarm
posted by jeffburdges at 1:41 PM on February 20, 2012


So, the way this article came about was from the whole SOCA takedown and their threat of 10 years in prison plus an unlimited fine. I was going to do a pretty straightforward piece about how this was ridiculous, with a review of copyright, the Statue of Anne, etc, and various reasons about why we need to reform copyright.

When I'd just about finished writing it, I wrote something at the end like, "Either we take this to the inevitable conclusion - infinite copyright, retroactively applied..." and then I thought, huh, that's probably the most interesting and fun thing about the whole article, I wonder what would happen if you did that. And then, like any good writer, I googled 'infinite copyright' and found the Helprin thing and also the Lessig wiki rebuttal (which I linked in the piece).

On the whole I think it makes more of an impact this way, particularly to The Telegraph's audience. I'm left wing, so everyone I know finds it weird that I write for The Telegraph instead of the Guardian, but the way I see it is that the Guardian has plenty of good writers who know their tech, whereas I view it as more of an interesting challenge to write (slightly) enlightened articles for Telegraph readers that push a more progressive viewpoint without making them through down their paper in disgust at this socialist commie eurotrash nonsense.

As it happens, I've noticed a real shift in opinion among the commenters, who are now much more receptive to arguments about excessive copyright and suchlike. I certainly don't think this is a result of my writing, but rather the dual realisation that big business doesn't have our interests in heart, and that it's a bit ridiculous to hobble the amazing technology that's around us.

FWIW I didn't write the title of the article - that's the editor's job. Personally I wouldn't have included 'a modest proposal' in it, but:

a) It's not as if made the satirical intent any more obvious to people who weren't going to get it anyway
b) It make people feel a bit smarter when they spot it

Also, the original version called it 'infinite copyright', which perhaps says something about my sci-fi/science views versus the more conservative views of The Telegraph. But I'm not particularly bothered either way.
posted by adrianhon at 1:50 PM on February 20, 2012 [33 favorites]


Ugh, lots of typos in that comment. Maybe I should be writing for the Guardian after all.
posted by adrianhon at 1:53 PM on February 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


My father builds cabinets and bookcases. and every time he's built one for a customer he was paid a single sum, and never again saw a single penny from the use of those bookcases.

Yeah! No more resales on Craigslist or at Yard Sales without compensating the original manufacturer! Genius!

Also, I'm gonna patent hypocrisy. THAT is the goldmine.
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 1:54 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a creative professional who abhors the current state of US copyright law, this particular morsel of satire was delicious to me.

Thank you for sharing it!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:58 PM on February 20, 2012


And also people, of course, live longer these days.

This seems to be a common misconception. It isn't like 200 years ago everyone died at 34. Decline in infant mortality rate has raised average life expectancy. When copyright law was first codified in America in 1787, it wasn't with the understanding that 14 years was long enough to last beyond the scope of any creator's lifetime.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:01 PM on February 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


There was a science fiction short-short about a guy who does some research and finds that no one has patented the wheel or its derivatives, and he quietly files the patent, it's approved, and somehow (hey, this is a story) holds up. Richest man in the world, at that point.

Me, I hold the copyright on the 27th letter of the alphabet. I'd rather starve than see it used without compensation, so here we are.
posted by maxwelton at 2:02 PM on February 20, 2012


I certainly only write, draw, and compose in hopes of monstrous recompense. I thank the US Copyright Office for ensuring my eternal good fortune.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:09 PM on February 20, 2012


i wonder how well novels and films will sell once their prices actually capture the value of their use 100 years in the future? harry potter and the perpetual copyright: $1,500/copy. hm...i wonder if something other than promoting "the Progress of Science and useful Arts" is going on...
posted by facetious at 2:10 PM on February 20, 2012


If they're not, then perhaps one person is benefiting from the trade and the other person is not benefiting.

Heaven forfend!
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:11 PM on February 20, 2012


Is there a nuanced difference between Eternal and Infinite?

Always use the most precise word you can, but no more precise than that. Eternal means infinite in time. Infinite can apply to any dimension. Eternal is the right word. Infinite copyright could refer to time or quantity of things copyrighted, for (a lame) example. Not a terrible chance of misinterpretation in this context, but still, a good principle to follow.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:16 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


jscalzi: My grandchildren can go get jobs.

The equation of copyrights and farms pissed me off. Yes, someone promoting the extension of copyrights compared the farmer's children being able to use their parents fields and tools to the heir of a creator of a copyrighted work getting an inheritance. Farmers work for a living, the fields don't produce crops without effort. But it would be less appealing than equating a copyright holder's heirs to the children of a giant corporation, because everyone knows how those Hilton girls turned out.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:17 PM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Somehow related: part of the French literary world is currently up in arms after the venerable and prestigious publisher Gallimard shot down an unauthorised translation of Hemingway's The old man and the sea made by a professional translator, François Bon. Bon was fed up with the crappiness of the only officially available French translation, written more than half a century ago (and already criticized at the time by Bataille). Gallimard's move against him may or may not be legal (it's complicated), but what makes people furious is that Gallimard has been milking old but profitable cows like Hemingway for decades (its backlist includes 38 Nobel prizes), selling outdated and subpar translations to the public and refusing to make new ones.
It may be a tempest in a teapot, but it's interesting that people from this particularly complacent and cozy teapot - the self-centered French literary world - are also starting to notice how copyright is now being used against creation by the content industry (in 2010 Gallimard tried unsuccessfully to have French books written before 1923 removed from Wikisource). Some are even calling for a boycott of Gallimard, just like your anonymous Anonymous.
posted by elgilito at 2:28 PM on February 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


My grandchildren can go get jobs.

There is the imagination of a science fiction writer!
posted by srboisvert at 2:30 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Me, I hold the copyright on the 27th letter of the alphabet.

I suggest you have your lawyer draft a letter to the Geisel estate.
posted by stebulus at 2:34 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


yeah why don't we start auctioning off the public domain though

that ought to fetch some cash
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:46 PM on February 20, 2012


"My father builds cabinets and bookcases. and every time he's built one for a customer he was paid a single sum, and never again saw a single penny from the use of those bookcases."

Whereas of course, if your father DESIGNED cabinets and bookcases, it would have been perfectly fair for others to take his life's work and never compensate him a single penny even in the first place for his years of labor.

Look, I agree that copyright laws are getting out of control, but the basic principle is a sound one, and the words in a book are not the same thing as the physical object that is the book and it makes perfect sense to treat them in somewhat different ways.
posted by kyrademon at 2:46 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is kind of a side issue, since most of what gets pirated is well within the original 14-28 years. People largely consume content that gets marketed to them, and the content industries don't market public domain work - for obvious reasons. Shortening the copyright window wouldn't open up grand vistas of creative works making it accessible to all, it would just shorten the shelf life of content. Arguably reality TV shows are an example of piracy-proof content - just barely good enough to watch once.

Lots of people are making the argument that content is non-rivalrous and (with the internet) non-excludable, which means it is a public good to be supported by the government. But there's little hope that the Republican Party would be open to increasing the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts by any amount, much less enough to replace the wages of today's creative workers.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:52 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whereas of course, if your father DESIGNED cabinets and bookcases, it would have been perfectly fair for others to take his life's work and never compensate him a single penny even in the first place for his years of labor.

Except in practice, what happens is that Herman Miller is still the only company that can manufacture and sell the Authentic Eames Lounge Chair and the One True Noguchi Table, despite the fact that all of the relevant designers have been dead for decades and their kids aren't getting a cent of it anyway.
posted by theodolite at 2:52 PM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Whereas of course, if your father DESIGNED cabinets and bookcases, it would have been perfectly fair for others to take his life's work and never compensate him a single penny even in the first place for his years of labor.

That, or he could have held on to the design, and only published it once he received a worthy offer. Or he could have kept coming up with new designs and profited in a market for unique bookcases. I don't know if either is a better business model than the one enabled by copyright, but it's facile to say one can't find compensation for design work without copyright.
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:57 PM on February 20, 2012


Another modern option for the hypothetical bookshelf maker: He could start a kickstarter project, and not proceed with the detail design work until he has a sufficient number of contributors. The government-enforced copyright model is looking more and more like an anachronism these days.
posted by Popular Ethics at 3:02 PM on February 20, 2012


For those interested in a deeper dive, here's a 2006 UPenn Law Review article called "Limited Times: Rethinking the Bounds of Copyright Protection" by Kevin Goldman. (PDF)

The author explores the merits of instituting indefinite copyright by re-instituting copyright renewals after a period of years (say, the original 28 years). This actually has some positive benefits: (1) It makes it easier to track down actual copyright owners, (2) it would have the effect of having more works enter the public domain early, since many authors would not bother to renew non-remunerative works. Essentially, only still-lucrative or potentially lucrative works would have their copyrights extended beyond the initial term.
posted by beagle at 3:07 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a wild-assed guess that when the old media giants die off, the new ones will simply adopt the Disney model of making eleventy billion tie-ins to every franchise--the only difference being that there are no royalties. Every content creator gets a salary, and if their particular licensed products attract buyers, the parent company sells them. If not, nobody cares.

Disney is very nearly doing this already. They apparently perceive some benefit in continuing to withold the copyable products... or that could just be an excuse to sue derivative artists, I dunno.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:26 PM on February 20, 2012


Essentially, only still-lucrative or potentially lucrative works would have their copyrights extended beyond the initial term.
It would just create a new job opportunity: people specialised in helping forgetful authors to renew their copyrights (Copyright 4Ever, Inc.). They'd find authors whose copyrights would be about to end, scare them a little bit (THE FRUITS OF YOUR LABOR ARE GOING TO ROT!!!!), and renew the copyright for a modest fee (or a share of potential gains). Using modern tools, this could even be automated.
posted by elgilito at 3:31 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of course there are alternative models to copyright. But as I have said before, to make a convincing case that one of these alternative models worked BETTER than copyright, you'd need to demonstrate that it would:

1) As well or better, allow creative artists to make a living off of their works (or, alternatively, come with a plausible reason that creative artists should not make a living off of their works, a much harder argument.)

2) As well or better, discourage imitations, alterations, knock-offs, or substitutes from being marketed as the original (or, alternatively, come with a reason there is no problem with imitations, alterations, knock-offs, or substitutes, from being marketed as the original.)

3) As well or better, ensure that profits, marketing, sale, licensing, and distribution remained under the the control of the creative artists (or, alternatively, come with a reason that it is better for such to stay out of their control.)

4) As well or better, ensure that and further use of distinct ideas such as characters, settings, lyrics, music, design, etc., whether through adaptation to other media, sequels, imitations, or otherwise remained under the control of the creative artists (or, alternatively, come with a reason why this should not be the case.)

5) As well or better, foster an environment in which encourages artistic creativity (or explain why such should not be fostered.)

6) As well or better, ensures that art is, insofar as possible, distributed to the widest possible audience in the most convenient form the medium allows at the lowest reasonable price.

Most arguments I have seen for alternative models ignore at least four or five of those.
posted by kyrademon at 3:37 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or the bookcase maker could have his works classified as "Art", and then lobby the government to enact a Droit de suite law.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 3:37 PM on February 20, 2012


It would just create a new job opportunity: people specialised in helping forgetful authors to renew their copyrights (Copyright 4Ever, Inc.). They'd find authors whose copyrights would be about to end, scare them a little bit (THE FRUITS OF YOUR LABOR ARE GOING TO ROT!!!!), and renew the copyright for a modest fee (or a share of potential gains). Using modern tools, this could even be automated.
posted by elgilito at 3:31 PM on February 20 [+] [!]


And how would that be bad?
posted by Sebmojo at 3:43 PM on February 20, 2012


That, or he could have held on to the design, and only published it once he received a worthy offer. Or he could have kept coming up with new designs and profited in a market for unique bookcases.

Why would anyone make an offer? A furniture company would just have to look at his design, copy it, and profit. Copyright forces companies to play ball - it protects individual creators. Perhaps the real problem is when "individual creator" status is granted to a monolithic corporation.
posted by gonna get a dog at 3:44 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also for example: literally hundreds of the 18th century composer Vivaldi's works were lost until the early 20th century because he didn't publish them. Why not? Because he couldn't make money from them. There was no copyright law or music royalty payments at the time, obviously, and Vivaldi's view was that the more pieces he published the less demand there was for handwritten commissions, which earned him more. He still wrote stacks of compositions, but they were unknown to anyone outside of a private collection for many years and could easily have been lost to the world.
posted by gonna get a dog at 4:01 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the first 28 years should be free, and then 10-year extensions would become exponentially more costly: 1000 bucks for the first one, 10,000 for the second, 100,000 for the third and so on.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:13 PM on February 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Lifesaving drug that halts progress of HIV: 20 years monopoly
The music of Tiny Tim: Life + 70 years monopoly
posted by benzenedream at 4:19 PM on February 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Always use the most precise word you can, but no more precise than that. Eternal means infinite in time. Infinite can apply to any dimension. Eternal is the right word.

Actually the right word is "perpetual".
posted by howfar at 4:35 PM on February 20, 2012


Of course there are alternative models to copyright. But as I have said before, to make a convincing case that one of these alternative models worked BETTER than copyright, you'd need to demonstrate that it would:

All of these criteria would still be met if copyright expired at the death of the creator. I am not saying that it is the morally correct solution, but I feel that the +70 years part of the copyright term is poorly justified. It is fair to say that a creator should be able to provide for their children through their work, but it would still be possible for them to do so by using the income received during their lifetime.
posted by Jehan at 4:46 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Copyright was a bargain. Piracy was rampant so the deal was we protect works for a limited term and then the public gets it later. Every time I hear complaints about piracy from large companies who bought the ridiculous extensions all I can think is, "You broke the deal first."

Huh? If piracy was rampant, then clearly the pirates, not the creators, "broke the deal first". You make it sound like pirates would generously hold off for a limited term.

My father builds cabinets and bookcases.


And sells them piecemeal based on material and labor, I'm guessing in the three to four figure range, or even a lot higher. Not a lot of authors can sell one offs for that kind of price. (Well, maybe scriptwriters can.)

Farmers work for a living, the fields don't produce crops without effort.


Landowners who rent farmland to farmers (I've known a few), maybe not so much.

If you consider copyright as a store of value, like, say, a stock or bond or rentable farmland, then the argument for forcing its expiration date becomes harder to sustain. Though I'm willing to be persuaded.

literally hundreds of the 18th century composer Vivaldi's works were lost until the early 20th century because he didn't publish them.


Lot of Mozart wound up wrapping fish as well.

This is kind of a side issue, since most of what gets pirated is well within the original 14-28 years.


Which is pretty much bottom line here. Still, life plus plenty seems generous to me.

Generous on the part of the author, I mean.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:48 PM on February 20, 2012


the words in a book are not the same thing as the physical object that is the book and it makes perfect sense to treat them in somewhat different ways.

It is interesting that you and Helprin start from opposite premises and yet still manage to reach the same conclusion (that established interests should control as much as possible at the expense of everyone else).
posted by hattifattener at 4:50 PM on February 20, 2012


Landowners who rent farmland to farmers (I've known a few), maybe not so much

Yes. Copyright is a rent. That's kinda the point of the original article. It is satirising the rent-seeking behaviour of current holders of copyright.
posted by howfar at 4:51 PM on February 20, 2012


Are we to believe that people have motivations other than the purely financial and quantifiable?

Certainly not, I say!

But, then, even if you do quantify in terms of utility, it probably doesn't mean the end of creative activity. You know, people actually enjoy being creative. I think that is the point in this article by Andrew Gelman.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 5:07 PM on February 20, 2012


With eternal copyright, the knowledge that our great-great-great-grandchildren and beyond will benefit financially from our efforts will no doubt spur us on to achieve greater creative heights than ever seen before.

Me => 3 kids => 9 Grandkids => 27 Great Grandkids => 81 Great Great Grandkids => 249 Great Great Great grandkids. I know I am being generous with the 3 kids per kid but hey!

I seriously doubt how spurred on we would be to achieve greater creative heights by the thought of some kid that shares about 3% of our dna getting less than a half of one percent of my dwindling royalties... I fear for the writers descendents.
posted by therubettes at 5:12 PM on February 20, 2012


This has already been seriously proposed.

I'll see your 2010 NYT op-ed and raise you two eighteenth-century House of Lords cases. There was actually a third, which came first, but the court figured out it was actually collusive, i.e. the parties had conspired to present a case to get a result they both wanted, so it got thrown out. All three had to do with the expiration of copyright terms and renewals created by the Statute of Anne in 1710, the first time a copyright term had ever expired. The House of Lords, after ruling for perpetual copyright in Millar v. Taylor, reversed themselves in Donaldson v. Beckett, finding that the Statute had extinguished any claim to perpetual, common law copyright, if it had even existed in the first place.

The U.S. Supreme Court basically followed the Donaldson ruling with Wheaton v. Peters in 1834.

The term of art is not "eternal copyright," but "perpetual copyright," and it's been part of the copyright debate as long as there's been a copyright debate.
posted by valkyryn at 5:22 PM on February 20, 2012


If retroactive copyright were enacted, Disney would simply buy up all the fairy tales and you'd never see the originals again.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:36 PM on February 20, 2012


"It is interesting that you and Helprin start from opposite premises and yet still manage to reach the same conclusion (that established interests should control as much as possible at the expense of everyone else)."

It is fascinating that whenever I propose even the mildest defense of copyright as a concept on this site, even if I start off by outright saying that I think copyright laws in their current state have gotten out of control, it is somehow interpreted as meaning that I wish established interests to control as much as possible at the expense of everyone else.

If you can point at where I said that, I will freely admit I am in the wrong here. Probably I will start comparing myself to Hitler.
posted by kyrademon at 6:08 PM on February 20, 2012


Disney would simply buy up all the fairy tales and you'd never see the originals again.

Hey, some people were a little miffed that Disney's Hunchback of Notre-Dame basically ignored Victor Hugo's name (it shows up in the end credits provided one doesn't blink). Speaking of Hugo, he was a strong proponent of author's rights and copyright extension, but here's what he told to his fellow writers in his keynote speech at the International Literary Congress of 1878 (sorry for the quick and dirty translation).

The book, as a book, belongs to its author, but, as a thought, it belongs to mankind. All minds have a right to it. If one of those two rights, the right of the author and the right of the human spirit, should be sacrificed, it would be, indeed, the right of the writer, because our unique concern is the public interest. [source]
posted by elgilito at 6:22 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes. Copyright is a rent. That's kinda the point of the original article. It is satirising the rent-seeking behaviour of current holders of copyright.

No. Copyright is a de jure monopoly just like a patent or trademark. The government grants the owner exclusive rights to market his work and control it. This allows the owner exclusively to profit from his work rather than letting everyone profit from it, thus giving the author a financial incentive to promote the progress of science and useful arts.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:29 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


No. Copyright is a de jure monopoly just like a patent or trademark. The government grants the owner exclusive rights to market his work and control it. This allows the owner exclusively to profit from his work rather than letting everyone profit from it, thus giving the author a financial incentive to promote the progress of science and useful arts.

for limited Times, right?
posted by Talez at 7:33 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


No. Copyright is a de jure monopoly just like a patent or trademark.

I should have been clearer, of course. I apologise. I shouldn't have been playing with the two meanings of rent in such a sloppy manner, either.

To clarify. The proceeds of the legal monopoly granted by copyright are a rent to the extent that they are unearned income, that is, to the extent that they are unnecessary to have made the writer write the book, rather than sell his labour in some other manner.

Seeking to extend copyright, on the argument that it is necessary to increase compensation to writers in order to make them write more and better, is rent-seeking to the extent that it is actually motivated by the desire of current copyright holders to increase the value of their existing assets without producing any extra value themselves. That is to say, a whole bunch.
posted by howfar at 2:54 AM on February 21, 2012


Of course there are alternative models to copyright. But as I have said before, to make a convincing case that one of these alternative models worked BETTER than copyright, you'd need to demonstrate that it would:

Right off the bat you beg the question of what "better" means in this case. I will assume for the purposes of this argument that you're referring to the stated purpose of copyright in the Constitution, which is the Progress of Science and useful Arts; that being the case, the first four points you list aren't relevant, but I'll address them anyway.

1) As well or better, allow creative artists to make a living off of their works (or, alternatively, come with a plausible reason that creative artists should not make a living off of their works, a much harder argument.)

All things being equal, I do want artists to be able to make a living making art, but the fact that it's very hard to do this has little to do with copyright.

2) As well or better, discourage imitations, alterations, knock-offs, or substitutes from being marketed as the original (or, alternatively, come with a reason there is no problem with imitations, alterations, knock-offs, or substitutes, from being marketed as the original.)

I don't advocate fraud, but if there is no attempt to deceive, why are imitations, alterations, knock-offs, or substitutes bad?

3) As well or better, ensure that profits, marketing, sale, licensing, and distribution remained under the the control of the creative artists (or, alternatively, come with a reason that it is better for such to stay out of their control.)

Again, this doesn't really have anything to do with the promotion of science or art. In many cases, rights holders are poor caretakers of culture when it comes to distribution.

4) As well or better, ensure that and further use of distinct ideas such as characters, settings, lyrics, music, design, etc., whether through adaptation to other media, sequels, imitations, or otherwise remained under the control of the creative artists (or, alternatively, come with a reason why this should not be the case.)

This makes the least sense of all. Why shouldn't other artists use existing characters, settings, lyrics, music, design, etc. to make new art? How does that compromise the existing art, or prevent the original artist from making their own derivative works?

5) As well or better, foster an environment in which encourages artistic creativity (or explain why such should not be fostered.)

Copyright as such has only been around since the 18th century. There was a lot of art before that. Today, artists who disregard copyright continue to make a lot of great art that infringes.

6) As well or better, ensures that art is, insofar as possible, distributed to the widest possible audience in the most convenient form the medium allows at the lowest reasonable price.

Wait, have I been trolled?
posted by Trace McJoy at 5:47 AM on February 21, 2012


Right off the bat you beg the question of what "better" means in this case.

Didn't beg it; ignored it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:08 AM on February 21, 2012


The government grants the owner exclusive rights to market his work and control it.

For a limited time. The argument is over how long.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:10 AM on February 21, 2012


Disney is very nearly doing this already. They apparently perceive some benefit in continuing to withold the copyable products...

They don't want anyone else to have Mickey. Full stop.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:15 AM on February 21, 2012


Actually the right word is "perpetual".

Well, yes, and if you want to make it all nice and legal-like, "in perpetuity."
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:16 AM on February 21, 2012


furiousxgeorge: put reducing the copyright term on the table, we should bargain again.

charlie don't surf: Yeah, not going to happen. Lessig screwed that up permanently by losing Eldred so badly. Lessig going down in flames set such a strong precedent for copyright extension, now SCOTUS is issuing even stronger restrictions like Golan v. Holder.

After reading the summaries of the discussions around the cases that charlie don't surf referenced, it seems the US is trying to get in step with the extended European Union copyrights, to present a united front on copyrights. This makes sense, from the view of everyone playing nice together, and of course favors major international copyright holders. There are still some "loophole countries," so you can get Laura Ingalls Wilder's books online if you're in Canada, or read the Charlie Chan mysteries online if you're in Australia (scroll down to Earl Derr BIGGERS).

In short, if you expect the US to buck the EU's copyright timelines, you're being more than hopeful. Copyright could happen in a country-by-country fashion, but in some regions it needs to be all-or-nothing.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:17 AM on February 21, 2012


... OK, I'm a little baffled by the responses here.

How am I begging or ignoring the question of what "better" means when I immediately listed six specific points precisely explaining what I meant?

Why would you assume I meant something else by "better" other than those six specific points?

How can you possibly read the statement "marketing an imitation as if it were the original" and then immediately say "there's no problem if there's no intent to deceive"? How is the intent to deceive not implied there?

Why would you respond to a request to explain how something other than copyright does these things well without once referring to ANYTHING other than copyright? Saying "copyright doesn't do this very well" is not even remotely an argument that anything else would do it better.

On the points where you didn't say that, why would you simply hand-wave away centuries of hard work establishing the rights of creative artists with statements like "rights holders are poor caretakers of culture when it comes to distribution" (without bothering to discuss the balance between the rights of creators and the rights of audience), or "Why shouldn't other artists use existing characters, settings, lyrics, music, design, etc. to make new art?" (without bothering to distinguish the differences between collage, homage, imitation, and pure copying?)

Why would my including one point where I would freely admit alternative methods probably work better than copyright be an attempt to troll you? I never said copyright does everything better, I said most arguments in favor of other methods tend to ignore four or five key points.

... Am *I* being trolled here? What the heck?

I don't know what you think I'm doing, but I'm actually trying to make an argument in good faith here that reasonable copyright laws have their uses and it'd be a bad idea to toss them away entirely in favor of other methods which are either poorly thought out, or have arguably been historically demonstrated to fail to foster the creation or distribution of art and fail to protect the rights of creators to benefit from their creations even more so than the Demon Copyright.

I'm not saying COPYRIGHT ABOVE ALL!!!!!, I'm saying, if you want to get rid of it, then present an alternate framework that will be better at the points of concern, or a convincing argument that they shouldn't be points of concern.

So far ... not so much.
posted by kyrademon at 9:44 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


(And to forestall further weird misinterpretation that has already happened in other comments - when I say "I'm not sure we should get rid of copyright entirely" I actually mean "I'm not sure we should get rid of copyright entirely", not "copyrights should last a million years" or "all copyright should be in the hands of corporations" or even "I disagree with the idea that copyright should expire upon the artist's death or after some other reasonable term.")

(I don't *think* I'm babbling incomprehensibly - although, I don't know, maybe I am - so some of you *may* be reading into my arguments what you expect to see rather than what I am actually saying.)
posted by kyrademon at 9:55 AM on February 21, 2012


How am I begging or ignoring the question of what "better" means when I immediately listed six specific points precisely explaining what I meant?

You are conflating the interests of artists with the interest of Art. Beyond that, you're making a lot of assumptions about what is in the best interest of artists. Artists are consumers of culture as well, and all art is derivative; currently those artists whose best work is more explicitly derivative find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Copyright exists to promote art and science, not to ensure sources of revenue for creators, and it needs to be evaluated on how well it succeeds in aiding the production and dissemination of culture. You beg the question because you assume that the six points you list are the correct ones.
posted by Trace McJoy at 10:29 AM on February 21, 2012


I'm not saying COPYRIGHT ABOVE ALL!!!!!, I'm saying, if you want to get rid of it, then present an alternate framework that will be better at the points of concern, or a convincing argument that they shouldn't be points of concern.

You are setting up a false dichotomy. Either people are proposing a completely alternate framework, or they are only making minor changes to copyright. There is plenty of middle ground which would preserve the concept of copyright but change its practice completely.

I think the first 28 years should be free, and then 10-year extensions would become exponentially more costly: 1000 bucks for the first one, 10,000 for the second, 100,000 for the third and so on.

This is an interesting proposal. Why not debate its merits rather than tilting at windmills?
posted by benzenedream at 10:58 PM on February 21, 2012


What do directors think when people make a torrent for their movie? (via)

It's interesting that the only "indie" movie that really attacked the pirates was Hurt Locker, which was basically guaranteed a major U.S. release by virtue of being what some described as "neoconservative war porn".

There are otoh many indie movies that aren't ensured any serious American release, who thank the pirates for helping to publicize their movie, well such films make vastly more money if they gain access to a larger market.

I'm vaguely curious what directors who's films are naturally confined to more narrow markets think, like say directors of Hindi language musicals.

posted by jeffburdges at 6:32 AM on February 24, 2012


I missed a response to my remark about de jure monopolies, it's a little late but I will respond.

To clarify. The proceeds of the legal monopoly granted by copyright are a rent to the extent that they are unearned income, that is, to the extent that they are unnecessary to have made the writer write the book, rather than sell his labour in some other manner.

Seeking to extend copyright, on the argument that it is necessary to increase compensation to writers in order to make them write more and better, is rent-seeking to the extent that it is actually motivated by the desire of current copyright holders to increase the value of their existing assets without producing any extra value themselves. That is to say, a whole bunch.


That's not true at all. It's not rent or unearned income. Money earned during the legal monopoly is the ONLY fruit of the author's labor. You assume that authors and creators will create just for the sheer love of creation, without any thought of compensation, and any money earned is just a bonus.

You further assume that the de jure monopoly creates unearned income that would otherwise be diverted by people pirating his work. That's the whole point of copyright, to reserve to the creator profits that would otherwise be lost.

I once read an essay by Joe Haldeman about how back catalogs used to be an author's retirement income, but now they don't exist at all. An author would write a series of books through his career, after the initial release and big profits of new books, sales of books from his back catalog would give only modest income over the years, but if you write enough books, the tiny sales of your back catalog would be multiplied times enough books, that you'd be able to retire, or at least, no longer rely on cranking out new books to survive. But due to recent tax law changes, publishers no longer keep warehouses full of back catalog books, they pulp them. So people who want to buy books from a back catalog have to go on the secondary market, buying used books at Amazon etc. This has become a serious disincentive for authors, nobody wants to be a professional author if it is an unsustainable career.

It could be argued that the author deserves a cut of profits from sales of books on the secondary market. This would be a typical droit de suite arrangement. I personally have produced artworks that are eligible for droit de suite royalties under the California Resale Royalty Act. I am thinking of moving back to California just so I am back under the CRRA jurisdiction.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:39 AM on February 26, 2012


ESR's open letter to Chris Dodd
posted by jeffburdges at 12:38 PM on February 27, 2012


That's the whole point of copyright, to reserve to the creator profits that would otherwise be lost.

Again, temporarily.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:48 AM on February 28, 2012


or at least, no longer rely on cranking out new books to survive.

Yes, poor artists, but the rest of us have to keep on cranking out our "books" to survive.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:49 AM on February 28, 2012






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