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"What books would be entering the public domain if we [the US] had the pre-1978 copyright laws?"
January 2, 2013 6:29 AM   Subscribe

What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2013?:'Under the law that existed until 1978 … Works from 1956.' Yesterday was Public Domain Day, with many works entering the public domain, depending on jurisdiction.

previously on metafilter:2011, 2010
posted by the man of twists and turns (54 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
This day should be a national day of mourning every year.
posted by absalom at 6:33 AM on January 2, 2013 [29 favorites]


Depressing. While there are doubtless more damaging instances of corruption by government, the clockwork-like extension of copyright laws to protect corporate interests, esp. Disney's, is one of the most baldfaced. How little it must have cost them to steal so much from the public's future.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:43 AM on January 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Well, honestly, the correct answer to "what could have entered the public domain?" is "everything", since the whole idea of copyright is imaginary to begin with.

I think we really should be re-examining copyright; when every person with a computer has a fully functional printing press, music studio, video production suite, and the ability to make literally millions of copies of anything, essentially for free, and deliver them almost anywhere in the world, instantly.... well, that's a very different world than the one where copyright was invented, when it required huge investments in machines to make books, and then later records, and CDs.

We're no longer just watching a few large plants that can produce these goods, we're trying to police everybody, and all communication. I believe this is doing far more economic and social harm than good, at least for non-commercial copying. Policing is a very real cost that accrues to nearly everyone, as interesting business models are shut down, and great hardware is forced off the market, while the benefits accrue to just a very few elites.
posted by Malor at 6:51 AM on January 2, 2013 [24 favorites]


And they have the gall to act like copyright infringement isn't entirely predictable in this situation. Copyright is a bargain to allow creators a limited period of exclusivity so that both the creator and the public can benefit mutually. They broke their side of the agreement first, it's not a shock the public has no objection to breaking theirs.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:51 AM on January 2, 2013 [16 favorites]


I kind of doubt that piracy of the 1956 release of Godzilla is much of a blip on the MPAA's radar screen. People have been denied the ability to make derivative works, which I think is the real issue here.
posted by indubitable at 6:57 AM on January 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


People have been denied the ability to make derivative works, which I think is the real issue here.

Whatever, they should come up with their own all unique characters and stories like Disney does.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:04 AM on January 2, 2013 [26 favorites]


The change was really when retrospective copyright extension happened; it makes the argument that copyright is about an incentive that ensures the benefit of the public domain impossible to sustain.

The goal now is very clearly to diminish the importance of the public domain and retain control over as much cultural expression as possible.
posted by jaduncan at 7:07 AM on January 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


Has there ever been a single artist who has damaged art more than Sonny Bono? Beyond the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, there was his singing voice, his acting ability, his TV show...
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:10 AM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


well, that's a very different world than the one where copyright was invented, when it required huge investments in machines to make books, and then later records, and CDs.

I assume writers and artists expected to get paid back then too. Not like now when they are expected to work for favorites.
posted by three blind mice at 7:14 AM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


What is the rationale for copyright beyond lifetime? That the dead authors might be demotivated?
posted by Segundus at 7:15 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Failing to extend it would be damaging to media companies' business models.

No, seriously, that's the rationale.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:19 AM on January 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


I assume writers and artists expected to get paid back then too.

Authors have always been terribly underpaid. The people with the printing presses and record plants got rich, but very rarely did the authors and musicians do all that well. There was a brief blip, from the 70s through the mid-90s, when a fair number of musicians got obscenely wealthy, but in the long history of music, that was a bizarre aberration.

And, given the overall quality of music in the 1970s, compared with the overall quality of music today, I'd argue that we were better off with artists doing it because they loved it, instead of for a Ferrari.
posted by Malor at 7:22 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Malor: "I'd argue that we were better off with artists doing it because they loved it, instead of for a Ferrari"

Young musicians might want to lower the bar on their financial expectations. Maybe go from shooting for a Ferrari to something more obtainable, like a Ferrari key chain.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:27 AM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Has there ever been a single artist who has damaged art more than Sonny Bono?

That damn treehugger.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:31 AM on January 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


The most astonishing thing about the FPP is the SCOTUS decision that says public domain works can be clawed back. There's not even a patina of justification on the grounds of supporting innovation; that's just plain legalized robbery.

Segundus: I've come to think of copyright terms extended past the author's lifetime as being like hereditary titles, to be divvied up among heirs like estates in the days of landed aristocracies. It ought to disgust us, but it's of a piece with the rampant inequality and idolization of wealth in the last 30-40 years.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:32 AM on January 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


Think about how much easier it would be to produce a complete MST3K box set in a handful of years with the pre-1978 copyright laws.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:33 AM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I assume writers and artists expected to get paid back then too. Not like now when they are expected to work for favorites.
Over the holiday break, I watched an interview with Ben Folds Five and Nic Harcourt ("Guitar Center Sessions", though I can't find a transcript or video of the interview parts) where, in effect, Ben Folds said that in his opinion the idea that musicians will get rich off of sales of their music – the exact thing that copyright is designed to protect – are over.

In his words, these sales were a "blip on the radar" and since the band broke up over a decade ago, the major change they've had to adjust to as a band is that their new album isn't going to make them money. Instead, the band makes their money on concert performances and merchandise. His advice to bands starting out today is to adjust your expectations accordingly, and stop expecting to make it rich with the big record deal.

Is it possible that, in the not-too-distant future, copyright law becomes irrelevant, because the business models of artists have changed to not need copyright protections to begin with?
posted by braz at 7:35 AM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure how the business model would change to the point where you don't need copyright protection. I do graphic design, I need to know that someone can't just take one of my images and resell it. I don't see a business model that would change that.
posted by Hazelsmrf at 7:42 AM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is it possible that, in the not-too-distant future, copyright law becomes irrelevant, because the business models of artists have changed to not need copyright protections to begin with?

To a certain extent, yes. But then think of all the TV shows that have had to be re-edited to be available on DVD or streaming video, or just aren't available at all, because a copyrighted song or movie was playing in the background in a scene and the creators couldn't get the rights cleared. The existence of a strictly-enforced, near-perpetual copyright regime makes it harder to make culture today with the same sort of freedom creators in the past enjoyed.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:43 AM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I kind of doubt that piracy of the 1956 release of Godzilla is much of a blip on the MPAA's radar screen. People have been denied the ability to make derivative works, which I think is the real issue here.

It should be noted that, Matthew Broderick remake notwithstanding, Toho is quite protective over the fate of their giant rubber lizard.

But the whole point is that the MPAA, to protect the relatively few works they are interested in, has set back the entire cause of human expression across all axes, an incalculable loss. It's hard to describe how great the loss is becuase, like most of these kinds of injustices, the loss is largely invisible, we currently have no way of measuring it. We have no way of looking into the alternate universes in which copyright wasn't pushed forward to see how much richer our cultural mindspace would be without it. (Random speculation: maybe computer simulations of cultural trends could help in that regard.)

I don't think we should just stop pushing the copyright date forward. I think we should be actively agitating for pushing it back to 1976 levels. It shouldn't be enough to stop harm, let's try to undo some of the harm that's been done, or (gasp) actually try to do some good. At the very least we'd get the Overton window moved; why should we let the Right get sole use of that trick?
posted by JHarris at 7:43 AM on January 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


Ben Folds...His advice to bands starting out today is to adjust your expectations accordingly, and stop expecting to make it rich with the big record deal.

Says the guy who has already made his pile of money.

I don't think any musician today is thinking they'll get rich from a big record deal. On the other hand, it's pretty depressing that it seems it's it's only creatives like artists, musicians, and writers who are somehow magically expected to make their living off anything other than the one thing they do best. And, I think this has much to do with a culture that demands to be entertained when they want, where they want, any time of the day, and preferably for free.

Yes, eternal copyright is silly and should be curtailed. However, no copyright is just as ridiculous as eternal copyright. Creators should be allowed some period of exclusive rights in order to make some sort of income of their labors. Not all musicians are in the position to tour. Not all writers are public speakers or able to travel.

What also needs to die is this foolish notion that creators should do their thing simply for the love of it. Unless doctors, lawyers, accountants, DB admins, policemen, etc. are also willing to do their thing simply for the love, and make their living giving talks or selling tshirts, of course.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:51 AM on January 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


What if after a period of x years, you still own exclusive rights to selling your original work, but people are allowed to use the characters/settings/etc. however they see fit?
posted by drezdn at 8:00 AM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


RE: Ben Folds

Lady Gaga said something similar.
"She explains she doesn’t mind about people downloading her music for free, “because you know how much you can earn off touring, right? Big artists can make anywhere from $40 million [£28 million] for one cycle of two years’ touring. Giant artists make upwards of $100 million. Make music – then tour. It’s just the way it is today.”
I think she sort of implies that she doesn't really see much of the money from her albums.
posted by VTX at 8:05 AM on January 2, 2013


What also needs to die is this foolish notion that creators should do their thing simply for the love of it. Unless doctors, lawyers, accountants, DB admins, policemen, etc. are also willing to do their thing simply for the love, and make their living giving talks or selling tshirts, of course.

When doctoring and police work can be replicated for free on devices that everyone owns, maybe.
posted by Jpfed at 8:15 AM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


What also needs to die is this foolish notion that creators should do their thing simply for the love of it. Unless doctors, lawyers, accountants, DB admins, policemen, etc. are also willing to do their thing simply for the love, and make their living giving talks or selling tshirts, of course.

The problem is that while few doctors or lawyers will work for drinks, a small split of the cover and t-shirt sales (and thus we'd have none) it seems to me that plenty of musicians are willing to work for that. All? No, but a hell of a lot. The best? Maybe not, but the best aren't exactly dominating the scene anyway. So, no, not all, and not the best, but enough so that there would be a crowded music scene even if we lost a few. So "which way are we better off?" is a very open question.

I think a much stronger argument can be made about movies though: You really can't make even a crappy movie for expected t-shirt sales. And the movies that will sell so much merch that the ticket sales aren't vital are only a few blockbusters.

But those questions only really start to matter if you're a copyright abolitionist. If you simply want to scale copyright back -- even to a an extreme, say, 14 years -- there's still quite a window for making money off of straight sales.
posted by tyllwin at 8:17 AM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Thorzdad: On the other hand, it's pretty depressing that it seems it's it's only creatives like artists, musicians, and writers who are somehow magically expected to make their living off anything other than the one thing they do best

Hey, the thing I do best is sleep. I'm a champion sleeper. But I've never once been able to get paid for it.

It doesn't matter what your talents are, what matters is what you can offer the world that the world actually wants. Offering someone a copy of your music, when almost everyone can make copies themselves for free, is nearly worthless. It is, literally, selling ice to Eskimos. Making copies has very close to zero actual value. Creating the music had value, but trying to extract that value through selling copies is something that comes out of the era of plastic disks. It is fundamentally stupid. It is wrong. It is broken. It needs to go away.

If you want to actually sell a thing, as a musician, then you need charge for something other than making copies, ie, something with actual value. A physical CD has some value, as do shirts, as do live performances. These are all things that can be successfully charged for.

And, as Louis CK and Humble Bundle have demonstrated, you can certainly run a copying service, and even make a fair bit of money from it, because when people like your stuff, they want to give you something in exchange. But you can't charge super-premium prices for something that doesn't have any real value. If Louis C.K. were charging $25 for his copying service, instead of $5, he wouldn't get many takers. And Humble Bundle doesn't even HAVE a price -- YOU name the price, and they still rake in millions of dollars. Many millions.

Creators should be allowed some period of exclusive rights in order to make some sort of income of their labors.

But if enforcing those rights means spying on the entire world, putting the police into everyone's computers, into everyone's homes, monitoring all communication, there is no possible way that the benefit is worth the cost. No possible way.

If copyright died tomorrow, permanently, from a global social perspective, things would end up much better than they are right now. Much, much better. Artists could focus on doing things that people would voluntarily give them money for, instead of trying to use the guns of the government to force people to pay. And the rest of us could just use the things we own without the fear of surveillance and jail time for making copies of bits with our highly specialized bit copiers, certainly one of the stupidest ideas in history.
posted by Malor at 8:23 AM on January 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Says the guy who has already made his pile of money.

I don't think Ben Folds and you necessarily disagree. You're arguing an ethical position, and I'd be surprised if he wouldn't agree with that. Yes, ethically artists should get paid for the work they do.

He's arguing a practical argument. Artists should get paid, but if an artist like Ben Folds cannot make money off album sales, it is unlikely that most bands starting out are going to be able to either. He's not saying they shouldn't, just that that market is undependable. And of course it is. It was based in a scarcity model. The record companies or the artists had the albums, and could charge whatever the market would bear. That model is broken, as we are in a post scarcity world, musically speaking. And so artists must adjust their expectations and business model accordingly.

The fact is, for most artists, this doesn't mean much has changed. I have a few albums out there, and make maybe a couple hundred dollars off them. I am a published author of fantastic fiction, anthologized with Michael Chabon and Neil Gaiman, and I get paid less now -- without even adjusting for inflation -- that I would have had I been published in the 1960s. I am a pretty successful playwright, and make less on my plays per year than I make on a regular job per week. I'm what they euphemistically call a mid-level artists in my various creative endeavors, and I devote a lot of time to it; it's no hobby for me. But this is how the market has spread for artists for a long time, long before the Internet broke the scarcity model. Most artists get paid next to nothing. Midlevel artists get a little bit of recompense, but there's quite a few fewer of them. And a factional percentage -- so small as to be a blip that should not be factored into the discussion, statistically speaking, make a healthy living.

Artists have spent decades wrestling with this, and have typically come to three conclusions -- I'm not going to do this work anymore; I'm okay with not getting paid; I am going to revisit the business model. I actually sometimes make a pretty good living in the arts, but rarely for the stuff I make. No, I use my position as a mid-level playwright as a sort of creditability machine, and I get work doing related jobs that actually pay, such as administrative work, or script reading, or teaching. The American model of theater is broken right now in such a way that administrators make the money (and landlords), and it has been broken like this for at least 40 years, and so I have started my own theater company, and tried to structure it so that donations money doesn't get bled out of the system to support buildings and administrative staff, but goes back to the artists.

But were I simply a playwright, and simply making an ethical argument that I should get paid, and my actors should get paid, and that it is unethical to spend money that could be going to artists on buildings and endowments and artistic directors that make $100k per year while refusing to produce new work and proudly proclaiming that they will not work with Equity -- well, I could argue forever, and be right, and still not get paid.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:27 AM on January 2, 2013 [19 favorites]


If only their dream could come true and government could extend their business models too!
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:37 AM on January 2, 2013


I think she sort of implies that she doesn't really see much of the money from her albums.

It is good to remember that Lady Gaga also sold her album Born This Way for $0.99 on Amazon for a limited period. Sure, it was a stunt, but it charted at #1 around the world. She can afford to pull crazy stunts and still make out like a bandit.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:38 AM on January 2, 2013


What is the rationale for copyright beyond lifetime? That the dead authors might be demotivated?

To provide for their family after their deaths. Not that it should go on in perpetuity, but it would certainly be unreasonable if an author's works would go immediately in the public domain the moment they die.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:47 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


it would certainly be unreasonable if an author's works would go immediately in the public domain the moment they die

Would it though? I kinda think a rational system of copyright would be a) non-transferable - no-one can own copyright on someone else's work - and b) would expire at death. You make what you can from what you've done while you're alive. That's certainly the rule for other kinds of work.

Not that the powers that be (corporate interests) are likely to go for either of those ideas.
posted by iotic at 8:58 AM on January 2, 2013


it would certainly be unreasonable if an author's works would go immediately in the public domain the moment they die

I'm imagining an alternate universe in which when death triggers copyright expiration that there are trained hitmen whose careers are based on bumping off artists and writers simply to free up their works for the public domain.
posted by pointystick at 9:04 AM on January 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


Simpsons did it (Homer was the hitman).
posted by 445supermag at 11:10 AM on January 2, 2013


Has there ever been a single artist who has damaged art more than Sonny Bono? Beyond the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, there was his singing voice, his acting ability, his TV show...

I'm not saying it makes up for his corporate whoring to the media industry, but he did write this song and this song.
posted by jonp72 at 11:34 AM on January 2, 2013


"To provide for their family after their deaths. Not that it should go on in perpetuity, but it would certainly be unreasonable if an author's works would go immediately in the public domain the moment they die."

If I worked for GM all my life and then died does that mean my family can walk up to the factory and claim my paycheck for 70 years after I die?
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 11:35 AM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, typically, most retirement packages will include a death benefit that's payable to children until 18 or 21. I know someone who got a bunch of money that way.

So I can see why copyright, if we're going to have it, shouldn't end at death, but it shouldn't be death plus something, it should be a fixed term from the time it was created.
posted by Malor at 11:54 AM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


What if after a period of x years, you still own exclusive rights to selling your original work, but people are allowed to use the characters/settings/etc. however they see fit?

I don't know the exact law or such behind it, but i wish it was more like in Japan with the doujinshi and garage kits. it basically seems to allow amateurs to write comics with the characters (even pornographic at times) and make models of them too, then when they get better they tend to go work on more original work. I know some companies stop them, but most look past it because they are so short run and usually fan events and conventions. It's almost always pretty clear it's not official merch, but fans like having more things to enjoy, and it keeps interest in the property. The nice thing is there also isn't a lag in how soon they make stuff, pretty much as soon as someone finds it fun enough.

I'd like to see something that would make it so that if the companies want to extend, each extend becomes less beneficial to them, and more to the population. Say, you want to extend it past x years, each library in each area gets a copy or two for free.
posted by usagizero at 2:10 PM on January 2, 2013


as interesting business models are shut down, and great hardware is forced off the market, while the benefits accrue to just a very few elites.

Except that venture capitalists and their portfolio companies aren't even remotely a populist movement being oppressed by "the elites."
posted by AlsoMike at 3:21 PM on January 2, 2013


What also needs to die is this foolish notion that creators should do their thing simply for the love of it.

Agreed. This is something people say to make themselves feel better about not paying for something / paying someone appropriately. I see it all the time with teachers, with people saying they should do it because they love teaching and not for the money. But really its just a way to push aside any guilt over not wanting to pay reasonable taxes to support them.

After all, its very rare that the people saying this are doing their own job for free.

And it ignores that we LOSE good artists to jobs they hate and aren't even any good at because they can't support themselves otherwise. Sure, some will do it just for the love of it and be awesome, but others who are just as talented will either choose to not be super poor, or have obligations that just don't let them ignore money. Not the end of the world, but it's a real cost to destroying any sort of business model for art.

Not that copyright is necessarily the right model, but there does not appear to be any good way to replace it for some art forms (bands can do concerts, sure. But what about video -- shows and movies? Authors? People are far more willing to go see a band in concert and pay for it then... what? Pay for a book signing?).
posted by wildcrdj at 4:00 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Question for one of the law-talkin' guys or gals out there in MeFi-land: If Disney were to lose copyright on, say, the character of Mickey Mouse, could they use trademark law to prevent others from using him?

I'm not really sure how those two things (copyrights and trademarks) differ, and how they overlap, but it seems like big companies use both to protect their intellectual property, yes?
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 5:36 PM on January 2, 2013


Yes, they could.

Copyright is the right to be the exclusive producer of copies of a given piece of media. Nobody but Disney can legally release a DVD of Steamboat Willie because it's under copyright.

Trademark is the right to be the exclusive user of some logo, word or other element as your brand because it's so closely identified with you that if someone else used it, they would practically be claiming to be you. You don't need to have a copyright on the thing in question for this. Best Buy, for instance, doesn't own the idea of yellow price tags, and if I were to use one on the cover of a book, or in the design of some furniture, that would be okay. But if you open a big-box store with one in the logo you'll be hearing from their lawyers.

Mickey Mouse is Disney's trademark, and even if they were to lose the copyright on the original character, he's so tightly tied to their brand that it would be almost impossible for anyone else to do anything but publish whatever cartoons and comics had slipped into the public domain.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:41 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Current copyright law is killing culture. Check out this chart from The Atlantic from a few months ago. Something like 90% of books from the post-1923 era through the 80s are gone - just gone - out of print, unavailable, unless you track down a used copy - which in many cases can be prohibitively expensive. Copyright law is designed to help the 1% that sell big and make tons of money.
posted by waitingtoderail at 5:45 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


People are far more willing to go see a band in concert and pay for it then... what? Pay for a book signing?

Kickstarter. If you want the book, you have to pay to get it released.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:47 PM on January 2, 2013


Thanks, Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish. That clears things up quite a bit. It also makes it sound as if shorter copyright terms might not be as harmful to big companies like Disney as they're trying to lead people to believe...
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 8:25 PM on January 2, 2013


Are there really so many folks out there whose brilliant, socially valuable plans are being thwarted by an inability to legally sample Steamboat Willie? I don't follow the argument that reasonable copyright protection hurts anyone but the noncreative who wants to reuse instead of create.

If you really must grab a copy of La Luna off the internet and keep it on your hard drive for personal, noncommercial use, guess what: the odds are, Disney/Pixar is not going to knock down your door. But if you want to grab it off the internet and sell it, or remix it and then sell it, there's a much better chance they will come after you, and they SHOULD. It's their work product, and you've stolen it to make money from it. If you build a mill that earns money, or a hotel that earns money, or a car repair service that earns money, you get to keep it as long as you live, give it to your kids if you wish, etc. I know a guy who's in the process of passing his 40-year-old Bavarian restaurant to his kids, with the hopes that it will go to his grandkids after that. What's wrong with that? If I'm not a restauranteur, but a writer instead, and I craft sentences instead of sausages, why should I not be able to do the same with the fruits of my labors? Is a work of literature that people find good enough to buy less worthy than a Bavarian sausage house people find pleasant enough to visit? (And ultimately who's to say, of course, but the market?) Or should the guy's restaurant also be put into the public domain after a certain number of years (by, say, letting it be run by the government)? What would be the logic behind such a result?

Who gets hurt by letting a creative do what he wants with his work, as long as possible? Whence the perverse sense of entitlement, that someone's life work should simply revert to common ownership when we're damn good and ready for it? So much of the anti-copright position comes across as mere sour grapes. "Someone earlier than me had a great idea! Damn them and their money!" If you don't want to buy a DVD 101 Dalmatians because you resent Disney, well, then don't buy one. Make something new.

Someone way up top in this thread said it best, but got the conclusion 180 degrees wrong:

I think we really should be re-examining copyright; when every person with a computer has a fully functional printing press, music studio, video production suite, and the ability to make literally millions of copies of anything, essentially for free, and deliver them almost anywhere in the world, instantly.... well, that's a very different world than the one where copyright was invented, when it required huge investments in machines to make books, and then later records, and CDs.

This exactly why we should protect reasonable copyright, not thumb our noses at it. Otherwise, we doom the erstwhile Charles Schulzes and Vince Guaraldis among us, and promote instead the mediocre, remixed, recycled, and auto-tuned crap we're already currently drowning in.
posted by azaner at 12:21 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sure, reasonable copyright would be fine. Decades past the human lifespan is not reasonable copyright. The reason the public domain deserves the work is because culture builds on top of culture, the author is taking from it just as much as they give back.

In an era where culture and technology have the capability to move faster and faster thanks to the Internet it's absurd to think of copyright that lasts past a century.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:29 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I'm not a restauranteur, but a writer instead, and I craft sentences instead of sausages, why should I not be able to do the same with the fruits of my labors?

If I have a sausage, and I give that sausage to you, now you have that sausage and I do not. If I have an idea, and I give that idea to you, now we both have that idea.

Thoughts, ideas, information - these are not sausages. The model that we have for regulating copyright is adapted for pieces of paper, wax cylinders, or daugerrotypes. Not information, but physical things. Using this model to regulate information is fundamentally unsound.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:44 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wax cylinders? Many of those are still protected by copyright in the USA. The products of Edison Records are considered to have entered the public domain by having been donated to the government, but no sound recordings will enter the US federal public domain because of their age until 2067. (And no, most recordings that are available from Internet Archives are not in the public domain.)
posted by in278s at 9:44 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


To provide for their family after their deaths.

I've heard a pretty good argument that the term of copyright should be the life of the author plus either 18 or 21 years. I think that it might have actually been this way in the UK at some point. Life plus 70 seems to imply that a single person's efforts ought to be able to theoretically both sustain them throughout their lifetime and afford a life of leisure to their offspring through to their own retirement, which I find pretty questionable as a basis for law.

Of course, the problem isn't really about copyrighted works that still produce income. They're a small fraction of total works under copyright, but are the subject of most of the debate. I think it would be fine, from a practical if not ideal perspective, if we kept the term on actively-exploited works at Life+70, if there was some active step that had to be taken every so often in order to keep it from reverting into the public domain irrevocably. This would solve the Orphan Works problem and restore into the public domain the great volume of works that have zero commercial value, but are still "protected" (in many cases, doomed to obscurity) by copyright. Disney and the other corporate-media leeches would still get their pound of flesh by flogging those old cartoons, but at least we wouldn't have stuff falling to dust in libraries without being able to legally copy or translate it.

The single worst thing that has happened to copyright law in recent history isn't, in my opinion, the Sonny Bono Act, but actually the 1978 act that eliminated the need to ever renew copyrights.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:25 PM on January 3, 2013


Yeah, nothing creative ever happened when copyright was 28 years.
posted by waitingtoderail at 2:26 PM on January 3, 2013


Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner writes "Thanks, Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish. That clears things up quite a bit. It also makes it sound as if shorter copyright terms might not be as harmful to big companies like Disney as they're trying to lead people to believe..."

Disney could probably give a shit about steamboat willie. But they are interested in protecting stuff like that is still churing out revenue like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) which has been re-released seven times and thanks to that remains one of the top ten highest grossing films (when adjusted for inflation) of all time.

azaner writes "Are there really so many folks out there whose brilliant, socially valuable plans are being thwarted by an inability to legally sample Steamboat Willie? I don't follow the argument that reasonable copyright protection hurts anyone but the noncreative who wants to reuse instead of create. "

The public domain is obviously valuable. As proof I offer the Disney movie back catalogue of which the overwhelming majority is adaptions of public domain works.

And as far as sane reform goes; that Republic paper previously featured here would be an excellent starting point. That current copyright terms are too long is, IMO, self evident. A serious roll back should be the goal going forward.
posted by Mitheral at 2:42 AM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


David Brin: Considering Copyright
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:49 PM on January 10, 2013


The Economist:Access Denied
America chose a different path. In 1978 and 1998 Congress extended, reshaped and expanded copyright durations and the scope of copyright for existing and future works (see Peter Hirtle's authoritative website for the gory details). For new works produced after January 1st 1978, the period of protection is the same as in the EU. But for works published from 1923 to 1977 for which copyright was properly registered and renewed (as applicable in the period when originally registered or created), copyright was prolonged to a full 75 years from publication regardless of the author's presence among the living. (Work by employees for a company or for which copyright has been entirely assigned to a firm, so-called "work for hire", has a different set of rules.)

In 1998 this was extended to 95 years, partly thanks to lobbying efforts by Disney. It wanted to prevent the first Mickey Mouse film, "Steamboat Willie", from entering the public domain. According to the old rules, the animation, released in 1928, would have been free to reproduce, modify and sell on January 1st 2004. Disney is a conspicuous and prolific user of the public domain, Mr Boyle notes, while remaining one of the most ardent defenders of keeping its own material out of it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:32 AM on January 11, 2013


Contested copyright - The battle over intellectual property
Underlying the debate on intellectual property is an ideological faultline between capitalist models and alternatives, writes Sabine Nuss. Although a property approach to intellectual goods has major disadvantages it remains the lesser of many evils.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:54 AM on January 11, 2013


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