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Biff! Pow! Copyrights Aren't Just For Conglomerates Anymore!
March 28, 2008 11:48 PM   Subscribe

"In a possibly historic ruling, a federal judge Wednesday determined that the heirs of Superman co-creator, Jerry Siegel, are now the rightful owners of one-half of the copyright of Superman, and have been since 1999."
posted by Alvy Ampersand (50 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obviously DC is going to appeal, but wow nonetheless.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:50 PM on March 28, 2008


More power to 'em!
posted by amyms at 11:54 PM on March 28, 2008


you're missing the obligatory nikki finke link.
posted by krautland at 12:12 AM on March 29, 2008


Hells yeah!
posted by ignignokt at 12:51 AM on March 29, 2008


Somewhere, Batman's heirs are snickering.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:52 AM on March 29, 2008


It'll be interesting to see what happens when Superman comes up for Public-Domain status in 2033 (95 years after original publication).

I have a feeling that, given the enormous amounts of money involved, a law extending copyrights by another 95 years will be passed long before that.
posted by Avenger at 12:53 AM on March 29, 2008


Avenger writes "I have a feeling that, given the enormous amounts of money involved, a law extending copyrights by another 95 years will be passed long before that."

Whenever the first Mickey Mouse cartoon is about to enter the public domain (Steamboat Willie I believe is now scheduled for November 18, 2023) the copyrights, guaranteed by the Constitution "for a limited time," get extended. It's Disney Magic™!
posted by mullingitover at 1:24 AM on March 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


If I read it right, it's just Action Comics #1 that's at issue here, the first issue that the character appeared in.
posted by Class Goat at 2:05 AM on March 29, 2008


Somewhere, Batman's heirs are snickering.

Somewhere, A.A. Milne's heirs are weeping.
posted by DreamerFi at 2:42 AM on March 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Actually, I doubt copyrights will be extended again. There is a far greater public awareness and passion now.

The other issue is that that a lot of these characters are also trademarked. Mickey Mouse, in particular is also a trademark. Just like fonts (which are not copyrightable) the characters might have to be called something else. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out, if it ever does.
posted by delmoi at 3:17 AM on March 29, 2008


I doubt copyrights will be extended again. There is a far greater public awareness and passion now.

I disagree. First, you seriously underestimate the Disney Magic™. And even if there is more public awareness of issues with the current copyright regime, I think that is targeted mainly at the shenanigans of the RIAA, rather than the concept of extending copyright forever bit by bit. Unfortunately, the idea of "intellectual property" as something the creator owns, rather than a grant from the people to secure the progress of the arts, has taken root pretty firmly.

If Congress were asked to extend copyright terms again today, I have no doubt that they would do it. We have a few years to change this environment.
posted by grouse at 3:36 AM on March 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


a lot of these characters are also trademarked.

And trademark is forever (as long as it is in use.)
posted by three blind mice at 3:45 AM on March 29, 2008


Actually, I doubt copyrights will be extended again. There is a far greater public awareness and passion now.

The problem is that the desires of the populace are somewhat irrelevant to what happens in the legislature; as Dana Perino has pointed out we only get input every 2-6 years.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:59 AM on March 29, 2008


I love that the horrid Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 may actually be the thing that loses Superman for Warner Bros. in 2013. That's just too good. Nikki Finke links to an interesting Portfolio article about the suit from last October. The Siegel's lawyer, Marc Toberoff, is quite the semi-sleazy hero in this thing. He digs up folks who might have interesting clauses in their old contracts when the properties they created look like candidates for a new movie:

“I’m like a pit bull with a towel in his mouth,” he says. “Movie studios take legal action against 12-year-olds for downloading content off the Web. But when it comes to creators, studios fuck ’em on an everyday basis. I like to level the playing field.”

[...] Buck Henry, the 76-year-old screenwriter who penned The Graduate, heard from Toberoff last year regarding Get Smart, the TV series about a bumbling secret agent that Henry and Mel Brooks wrote in 1965. Warner Bros. was working on a feature film (due out next year), and though Henry and Brooks had never previously asserted their rights as creators, Toberoff’s success with Fantasy Island made him suspect there was money to be made.

“I call him Mad Dog Toberoff,” says Henry, explaining how Toberoff dug through the University of Wisconsin–Madison archives (to which David Susskind, one of Get Smart ’s producers, had donated his papers) to find support for the claim. Henry says Warner Bros. settled with him and Brooks, though neither he nor Toberoff would say for how much, citing a confidentiality clause.


Toberoff represents the Shuster estate, too.
posted by mediareport at 4:23 AM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


As grouse says, most people are unaware that copyright even expires. The constant reference to it as 'property', 'intellectual property', 'copyright owner' etc. is designed to fuel this. The idea goes like this - "it's my hard work in creating it, it's my property. The government doesn't take away your house after 95 years, why should it take away my property?"

Copyright will continue to be extended simply because big copyright holders like disney really want it to be a permanent ownership right, pay off politicians to support them, and constantly poison the language of debate so the majority think that copyright is already a permanent ownership right, rather than a limited short-term monopoly in order to get more works into the public domain for new works to be based on in the future.

Copyright is supposed to be about sharing and creating from a great body of public domain material, instead it has become a giant industry based on charging for the same thing a thousand times over because it's cheaper to push out a greatest hits album or old films on shiny new discs than it is to create something new.

Stallman's "right to read" future gets closer ever day, especially given the Democrats are coming back into power, and are alas even more in the pocket of hollywood than Republicans. France is strongly advocating anti-piracy measures domestically, such as making all ISPs monitor and log all user traffic, and is about to take the EU rotating presidency.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:30 AM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


So cool.

So when does Jack Kirby get 1/2 the rights to The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, X-Men, Captain America, The Inhumans, The Black Panther, Thor, etc?
posted by jpburns at 4:38 AM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Somewhere, Batman's heirs are snickering."

Batman doesn't have any heirs. Were you thinking of Bob Kane?
posted by Eideteker at 4:43 AM on March 29, 2008


Copyrights will be extended again unless the Supreme Court changes its mind on the issue. It's a no- brainer that the political process will never let that amount of wealth be destroyed. What might be different the next time around is that Congress may decide to share the wealth -- imposing some pretty hefty taxes on royalties and revenue streams relating to the extended copyright period to compensate the public for their inchoate loss related to depriving the public domain.

By the way, I think a considerable patent extension is also coming -- quite possibly as soon as the next few years. It may start as a "give" to the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries to compensate for the "take" of the hefty price and consumption regulation that might accompany a move to universal health care -- but I expect by the end technology of all sorts might get on for 30 or even 40 year terms.
posted by MattD at 5:16 AM on March 29, 2008


A big step in the right direction. I hope this ruling sticks.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:29 AM on March 29, 2008


The constant reference to it as 'property', 'intellectual property', 'copyright owner' etc. is designed to fuel this. The idea goes like this - "it's my hard work in creating it, it's my property. The government doesn't take away your house after 95 years, why should it take away my property?"

And why not? I'm a photographer, why shouldn't I own my work? And why shouldn't I be able to pass on my assets to my family when I'm gone? Copyright doesn't just benefit large, evil, grandma-suing corporations contrary to popular belief. Who seriously gives a shit if Disney continues to own Mickey Mouse? What about the thousands of artists who toil away their whole lives creating value out of thin air?

Strengthening copyright laws just empowers artists. And by artists I mean real artists who need to make a living, not teenagers and Boing Boing writers creating mash-ups of pop culture garbage on Youtube.
posted by bradbane at 6:59 AM on March 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


And why not? I'm a photographer, why shouldn't I own my work?

Because in a world where that had always been true, you would be practically unable to take a photograph that did not infringe on some previous artist's copyright, and you would be unable to work. Creative work depends on being able to mine the background noise of culture without fear that someone is going to claim that their ancestor did it first in 1782 or 1642 or 1908.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:16 AM on March 29, 2008 [15 favorites]


The trouble, bradbane, is that said copyrights (as they currently stand) have a tendency to leave less than 1% doing very well, with the 99% of work that goes "out of print" forever unavailable (should the just-in-time extensions keep up) to us. It introduces artificial scarcity. Copyright was intended, by the founders, for a short-term benefit to the artists, in trade for allowing the work to pass into the public domain and keep our cultural heritage intact.

Were I given a free hand with copyright law, the second something went out of print (as defined by the inavailability for purchase of the work at the market average under a certain number of copies per year), the current owner of the publishing rights would lose those rights (as they weren't being a good steward of the work), and those would be reassigned to the Library of Congress, which would then offer the item on a print-on-demand basis, using that money to recoup their expenses for preservation and passing some of that money back to the artist for a limited time.

Right now, we have unrestored films sitting in studio vaults, films suffering from vinegar rot, simply because the studios are waiting for the last actors to bite it. I'm quite sure The Little Mermaid will be available on holographic cubes the size of my pinky nail fifty years from now, but there's a good chance that more modest films, the kind we get questions about on the Green, will simply vanish. Not even all of the Disney properties get love. I'm pretty sure Child of Glass is just going to disappear until I personally break the law and preserve it on a DVD transfer I make myself.

The free market is not solving this problem because there's nothing free about this situation.
posted by adipocere at 7:21 AM on March 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


And why not? I'm a photographer, why shouldn't I own my work? And why shouldn't I be able to pass on my assets to my family when I'm gone?

Well, the question isn't "why shouldn't you" but "why should you"? In particular, one important question is why if you took a picture in 1920, expecting to only own it for a few decades should that ownership be extended into the future? After all, you were willing to take it in the past regime.

Anyway, A simple answer to "why shouldn't you" is that by owning Intellectual Property you restrict other people's actions. Other artists wouldn't be able to use your work in their own art, and even if you were willing to let them, for most things it is simply far too much work to find out who the original artist even was especially now that copyright notices are no longer required.

Strengthening copyright laws just empowers artists. And by artists I mean real artists who need to make a living, not teenagers and Boing Boing writers creating mash-ups of pop culture garbage on Youtube.

Sure but so what? Bing boing youtube mashup pop garbage creators are members of society too. Just because you would prefer the law to tilt the balance of power to you and away from other people doesn't mean it's actually a good idea.
posted by delmoi at 7:28 AM on March 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


It'll be interesting to see what happens when Superman comes up for Public-Domain status in 2033 (95 years after original publication).

It means people will be able to reproduce copies of the original Superman comics, but they'll likely never be of highest quality since DC will still own the originals and won't lend them out. (Think all those $1.99 DVDs of old Fleischer cartoons you see on sale at Target, etc.) It also won't affect the trademark, which means no one can make new Superman comics or anything like that. It'll be a great benefit for history buffs though, and that will help inspire and educate the next generation of artists, and honestly, that's what copyright's all about, so yay.

I said this on another site: Honestly, I’m really mixed on this whole issue. For one thing, the actual creators of Superman are dead, and while they should have received a lot more money for their product in their lifetimes I don’t exactly feel warm and squishy that their kids are suddenly making millions for what their dads did. For another, I can’t imagine this suit is going to hold. DC will probably spend millions to appeal this and then settle out.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:34 AM on March 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


And why not? I'm a photographer, why shouldn't I own my work?

I think the question here is what constitutes your own work. No one's suggesting you should lose posession of the physical photographs you produce. You obviously made those. But ownership of the concepts depicted within those photographs isn't so clear. It's hard to overestimate how much the public put into those ideas. For starters, the public provided you with the language you use to think. So maybe we can think of copyrights moving into public domain as the public collecting royalties on the thoughts you created with the language it licensed to you.
posted by scottreynen at 7:52 AM on March 29, 2008


For starters, the public provided you with the language you use to think.

Heh. A more concrete example would be the buildings and architecture featured in his photos. Unless all his photos are taken out in the woods, the work of architects (or contractors doing architecture) is going to be in all of his photos. Is he paying them royalties? I'm doubting it. Strict enforcement of IP would basically make all non-studio photography illegal.
posted by delmoi at 8:19 AM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just wait until Osama asserts his 9/11 copyright.
posted by srboisvert at 8:52 AM on March 29, 2008


by owning Intellectual Property you restrict other people's actions.

This is true of all property, I think.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:09 AM on March 29, 2008


If I read it right, it's just Action Comics #1 that's at issue here, the first issue that the character appeared in.
Not quite correct. It isn't just the comic that's at stake, it's all the characters that first appeared in that comic -- in other words, Superman himself, Ma and Pa Kent, and Lois Lane. Every appearance of those characters is a derivative work of something the Siegal estate now (theoretically) co-owns. DC (in theory) owes the estate half the money it made using those characters since 1999.

As a point of reference, the Siegel estate won a similar suit about Superboy in 2006. The DC killed Superboy. A lot of people see a conspiracy there.

(Worth noting for those wondering about the whole "work for hire" argument: Siegel & Shuster created Superman in 1933 for a comic strip that was never published, then sold the mostly-finished strip to DC comics five years later. So it's pretty clear that they weren't working as agents of DC when they created the character -- The first two issues of Action Comics are basically printing stuff that Siegel & Shuster wrote and drew before they ever approached DC. Characters they created after signing the DC contract are will more difficult for the estates to claim, but not impossible, judging by the Superboy lawsuit.)
It means people will be able to reproduce copies of the original Superman comics, but they'll likely never be of highest quality since DC will still own the originals and won't lend them out.
Actually, DC doesn't have the original art for those issues, either. Their reprints are based on scans of old comics, touched-up and recolored by hand. Otherwise, you're right, DC probably is better at that then Mom-and-Pop reprinters.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 9:13 AM on March 29, 2008


Just wait until Osama asserts his 9/11 copyright.

Good luck wresting THAT away from the GOP.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:35 AM on March 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


Heh. A more concrete example would be the buildings and architecture featured in his photos. Unless all his photos are taken out in the woods, the work of architects (or contractors doing architecture) is going to be in all of his photos. Is he paying them royalties? I'm doubting it.

Yeah, and this is just it -- there's an enormous amount of arrogance to the idea that "I created this, hence I should own it until the end of time, or at least for several thousand years," because it presumes that what you've created came out of a vacuum somehow. It didn't. Let Get Over Thyself be the first commandment. The creator's lifetime plus a reasonable amount of time following should be more enough. You should be able to provide for your kids, maybe even your grandkids, but I think the culture as a whole is much healthier if after that your work returns to the compost heap from whence it sprang and your great-grandchildren get, I dunno, fucking jobs.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:45 AM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


A more concrete example would be the buildings and architecture featured in his photos.

An even more concrete example is the first photo on his webpage. In the world he wants, he would have had to find the heirs to whoever first copyrighted the William Tell story and negotiate some payment for the photographic rights to that story, assuming someone else hadn't acquired them sometime between Daguerre and now. And assuming that the copyright to that story was still held in some relatively coherent way and wasn't spread as undivided interests over a few hundred or thousand squabbling descendents, some of who think that his photographic idea is just dandy, some of who think it's a horrid perversion of their noble ancestor's ideas, and some of who just want to fuck over the rest of their relatives because of a perceived slight at a wedding in 1953.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:52 AM on March 29, 2008 [8 favorites]


Batman doesn't have any heirs. Were you thinking of Bob Kane?

O RLY?

posted by Rangeboy at 9:58 AM on March 29, 2008


Everyone, listen to ROU_Xenophobe, they are wise.
posted by gerryblog at 10:03 AM on March 29, 2008


Disney has made a fortune from the public domain and is determined not to give anything back to it. The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stephenson, where would Disney have been without them? But they're a black hole of culture -- stuff falls in and nothing gets out.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:07 AM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good read, but copyright law isn't date of creation + 75 years, it's life of the author/creator + 75 years.
posted by Inversehelix at 10:21 AM on March 29, 2008


I'm a real writer making a living off my work (which is a ridiculous way to distinguish between "real" and "fake" artists, by the way) and I don't think copyright law in the US needs to be strengthened. I think there are deep and systematic problems with the current copyright schema, and it needs to be rolled back to one extent or another.

If I was a real lawyer instead of a real writer, I'd have more concrete ideas about what changes need to be made. As it is, I'm not against copyright by any means. I just think it needs to get back to its original Constitutional purpose of encouraging creators, rather than trying to fudge intellectual property into being traditional, physical property.
posted by lore at 10:38 AM on March 29, 2008


"'The idea goes like this - "it's my hard work in creating it, it's my property. The government doesn't take away your house after 95 years, why should it take away my property?'

And why not? I'm a photographer, why shouldn't I own my work? And why shouldn't I be able to pass on my assets to my family when I'm gone?"


My God.

Can you imagine the horrifying dystopia we would have if intellectual property were treated the same as real estate?

"In a surprising move today, Mickey Mouse equity futures fell 4.87% in after hours trading in response to a rumors of an upcoming Disney project starring the iconic mouse, possibly leading to a glut of Mickey across international markets..."

"Mickey is coming to theaters this summer! Don't let your kids be left out! Call Bank of America today to take advantage of our new low-interest Entertainment Loans, starting at just 6.5%! Remember that a minimum investment of $5,000 in MMEF is required to purchase or view products featuring Mickey Mouse. Brokerage Fees not included...."

posted by Avenger at 10:59 AM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


And why not? I'm a photographer, why shouldn't I own my work? And why shouldn't I be able to pass on my assets to my family when I'm gone?

I hate to add to the pile-on, but I wanted to add my own bad analogy. If you build a house out of someone else's bricks, or on government property, you don't own the building no matter how pretty it is. In this case the government has GIVEN you a short term lease on public property. Please don't look a gift hourse in the mouth.
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:20 AM on March 29, 2008


I read the article, but I still don't get it. Can someone explain to me how the "heirs" can claim ownership of a work their late relative sold to DC comics? Seriously, I'm all for the underdog, but I don't understand the argument.

On another note, I sure wish someone owned the copyright on "Carmina Burana." I liked that song when I was 12 but damn, now it's used in every other movie trailer, a quarter of the sports drinks commercials and every year during the NBA playoffs. Talk about a song jumping the shark. I'd rather hear Sugar Ray's "Fly" or Smashmouth's "All Star." God damn, I hope they extend copyrights on those songs forever, otherwise it'll be the end civilization.
posted by pwb503 at 11:35 AM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Were I given a free hand with copyright law, the second something went out of print (as defined by the inavailability for purchase of the work at the market average under a certain number of copies per year), the current owner of the publishing rights would lose those rights (as they weren't being a good steward of the work),

I don't understand your definition. Surely out of print can only mean that a would-be purchaser can't get it from the publisher. To lose copyright simply because your first publisher drops the title is more than a little scary, I would think. No chance of finding another one, since why pay the author for a work that is in public domain? Less chance of making the movie deal too, since the Hollywoods would have no reason not to wait for out of printdom as well. And would the writer not be double screwed since he would not enjoy the sudden uptick in book sales based on movie publicity?

As to the good steward thing, that's kind of an insult to artists who, through no fault of their own, simply fall out of fashion, either temporarily or permanently. Are you a bad steward if those doo-wop, or disco, or blues records you made down in the delta back in the nineteen twenties don't sell for a few decades? It's not as if the artists wouldn't like their stuff to sell (though there are exceptions).

More food for thought. After Dashiell Hammett died, Lillian Hellman consoled his two distraught daughters and generously got them to sign over Hammett's copyrights for a pittance, telling the girls that the rights were worth nothing as he was out of fashion. As soon as the ink was dry and before the body was cold, she proceeded to market the hell out of them. Daughters obviously bad stewards, but was justice served?

In general, how about death of author (or author's spouse) plus, say, ten years (or age of majority for orphaned children, whichever comes last)?
posted by IndigoJones at 11:44 AM on March 29, 2008


This thread is now my favorite if only for the fact that I finally know what the name of "Carmina Burana" is and can therefore actually search for the fucking thing on the internet.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:10 PM on March 29, 2008


Actually, I doubt copyrights will be extended again. There is a far greater public awareness and passion now.

You haven't been paying attention.

Jan 20, 2012 : Republicans introduce Copyright Extension Act of 2012, which will extend copyright protections for another 98 years. Polls show 98% of Americans oppose; Dem majority of congress 100% in opposition. "We are united in opposition to this bald corporate profit grab for what rightfully belongs to the American people" - Dick Durbin

Feb 3, 2012 : President Jenna Bush leads charge for copyright extension, denounces Dick Durbin as a "Mickey Mouse hater", cries drunkenly. Secretary of State Arnold Schwarzenegger says "Dun't hate da playa, hate da game, baby." Britney Spears announces that she supports it, "because she's the President, and she's super-dooper." Polls show 70% of Americans oppose.

Feb 28, 2012: Bruce Willis testifies about how loss of profits from old episodes of Moonlighting will affect him personally. Polls show Americans 100% opposed to followup album Return of Return of Bruno.

Mar 5, 2012: Chris Matthews surprises guest Dick Durbin on Hardball. "You hate Mickey Mouse, don't you?" "Um no, but I think ..." "You HATE Mickey Mouse with the passion of a thousand white hot suns! Anybody who hates Mickey also hates America!". Instapundit posts link to video, says "Indeed."

Mar 7, 2012: A muffled voice from under the backside of President Jenna's skirt is heard during the state of the Union speech. Headlines the next day read "Joe Lieberman announces complete agreement with Republicans, doesn't hate America like most Democratic Senators." Polls show Americans 60% in opposition to copyright extension.

Mar 12, 2012: A new broadcast from Osama bin Laden "leaks": "Once American copyright law allows us to use the image of Mickey Mouse in recruiting posters, we will bathe American infidels in fire!". Republicans rename "Copyright Extension Act of 2012" to "Stop Hating America Morans Act of 2012".

Mar 21, 2012: Ralph Nader announces opposition, threatens to run for President. Nobody cares.

Mar 22, 2012 3PM: Cory Doctorow announces opposition on Boing Boing.

Mar 22, 2012 3:01PM: Above post linked on Metafiler, gets 300 comments, all some variant of "Cory may be right, but he's still a weenie."

Apr 3, 2012: In critical Senate races, Republicans run ads morphing Democratic candidates' faces into Osama bin Laden. Public opinion polls plummet, man on the street interviews indicate that most people were "surprised that Hillary Clinton was a Muslim, and had never noticed the long beard before."

Apr 4, 2012: Sen. Clinton holds press conference in opposition to ads, announcing that she really, really loved Mickey Mouse and intended to protect him "for generations to come." Switches vote. At following Q&A session, reporter asks who does her hair. Hillary cries.

Apr 7, 2012 12:00 PM: Miley Cyrus announces opposition to Copyright Extension.

Apr 7, 2012 12:01 PM: Disney/ABC/Cap Cities/MTV/Nickelodeon/General Electric announces "NEW Adventures of Hannah Montana" starring Bruce Willis.

Apr 7, 2012 12:02 PM: All celebrities everywhere announce support for Disney's Intellectual Property rights. Polls show 51% of Americans opposed to having "Mickey Mouse disappear forever".

May 13, 2012: Dick Durbin announces position switch, will support copyright extension "as long as the sun shall shine" and offers new "voluntary copyright relinquishment act", which allows corporate copyright holders to place things in public domain "whenever they want."
posted by swell at 12:55 PM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I finally know what the name of "Carmina Burana" is

It's actually only "O Fortuna" that they overuse. It really is sort of appropriate for sporting events, once you know the lyrics.
posted by dhartung at 1:29 PM on March 29, 2008


And why not? I'm a photographer, why shouldn't I own my work? And why shouldn't I be able to pass on my assets to my family when I'm gone?

There are two things created when you take a photograph. The physical photograph itself, and the creative expression itself.

You own the photograph. It's a standard piece of physical property. The negative or flash-media card is a standard object which is unique in all the world - and its yours. If you sell it to me, it becomes mine, and nobody elses - not even yours.

Now, the expression of art in the photograph? Who owns that, without copyright law? Well, you can say you have a moral right to be called its creator. Fair enough. What happens when you make a copy, and sell me that copy? That copy becomes mine, just as if you'd sold the original to me.

The copy is physical property - my physical property. Why can't I make as many copies as I like? It is mine, after all. Why can't I show it to all and sundry? If it was a song, why can I not broadcast it to all and sundry? If I've bought a copy of a story, my very own property, why can I not tell it to everyone verbatim, exercising my free speech right to do so?
I can make as many copies as I like, do what I like, because it's MY property.

Aha, we say. You sold me an object, and the object is mine, but it came with conditions attached. I can't sell copies. Or make a modified version, and sell copies of that. The government passed a law saying so. Only you can make copies, or distribute modified versions.

I ask - so, did you pay the builders of your buildings in your photo, did you pay every person that appeared in your photo? Did you pay the creators of the technology of your negative, or your flash card their fee every time you took a photo? Did you pay everyone that ever inspired you to frame that photo that way? Did you pay your teachers a fee every time?

Copyright is a bargain. I give up many of my physical property rights and my free speech rights, and give you an exclusive right to make copies. In exchange, it passes to the public domain after a limited period, for new works to be based upon - where it would be anyway without a law saying it isn't.

Culture is deep and wide and expansive. I'm not talking about youtube videos, but the very nature of what makes us a collective species that creates ever newer and greater things, built upon what came before. Great artists steal!
Think for a moment what the consequences would be if you were still paying a fee to his descendants for every idea derived from Newton's "Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica ", and other fees for every other invention in human history you use.

Copyright strikes a balance between creators and the general public who own the culture from which their inspiration is drawn, and the owners of the copies of their work they sell.
That balance gets worse for all of those groups, and the corporate middlemen get more and more out it constantly.

Copyright is *not* a natural right, and it is *not* a property right. The way it works when now works can be copied easier than ever before is broken, and rewards neither public or creator properly. Extending its duration so it becomes a defacto property right will cause a HUGE amount of cultural damage in the long term, and plenty of damage to creators and public in the short term.

Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:06 PM on March 29, 2008 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry if I came across a little... strident, Bradbane. I do believe there is benefit in paying artists to create - the ability to create new ideas, new things, good photos is still a rare act of skill and ability, and we want to encourage and support that.

I just don't think copyright is proving to be a good way of doing that anymore, and the consequences of what has been happening in the last 50 years will be dire consequences for future generations - there will be a black hole of culture and history, where much of the work that was created, much of our history will simply disappear. Not due to war or fire but because it was locked in vaults and allowed to disappear because it wasn't profitable.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:25 PM on March 29, 2008


I read the article, but I still don't get it. Can someone explain to me how the "heirs" can claim ownership of a work their late relative sold to DC comics? Seriously, I'm all for the underdog, but I don't understand the argument.

Because the law says you can do that. When copyrights were extended, the laws were changed so that Heirs could take back IP that had been extended. The theory was the original creator had only sold the work for the term of copyright that existed at the time, not the eventual extension. So who should own the copyright during the term of extension? Well, the law says the Heirs.
posted by delmoi at 6:09 PM on March 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


An FAQ regarding the case by Comics Should Be Good!'s Brian Cronin.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:10 AM on March 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Those are good explanations, delmoi and Alvy Ampersand.
posted by grouse at 4:33 PM on March 30, 2008


I'm just glad Rangeboy beat me to being the nerd who corrects people about their incorrect Batman-related beliefs. Sorry, ladies, I'm taken.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:52 AM on March 31, 2008


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