Public Domain Day
January 1, 2011 9:43 PM   Subscribe

Every January 1 is Public Domain Day, when new authors enter the public domain. Copyright law is "fiendishly complex", but using the generic "life plus seventy" rule, here are some of the authors who enter the public domain today. What could have been entering the public domain today under the pre-1978-era law (Fellowship of the Ring, Dr. Seuss, etc..).. but you can expect further endless extensions of copyright to come. More articles here, here.
posted by stbalbach (115 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
It has always seemed to me that changes in copyright law during the 20th century must be something like the largest transfer of wealth from public to private hands in history... I would think that it must be more than the privatization of the Russian oil and gas industry, for example.
posted by XMLicious at 9:50 PM on January 1, 2011 [31 favorites]


largest transfer of wealth from public to private hands in history

I wonder if anyone has written a manifesto that justifies piracy as civil disobedience in response to unlimited copyright law extension and the breaking of former Conventions (treaties).
posted by stbalbach at 9:58 PM on January 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


What did the public domain ever do for Disney?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:03 PM on January 1, 2011 [39 favorites]



I wonder if anyone has written a manifesto that justifies piracy as civil disobedience in response to unlimited copyright law extension and the breaking of former Conventions (treaties).


People have tried, but then other people say they just want to be able to shoplift music.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:15 PM on January 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


What did the public domain ever do for Disney?

It pretty much gave them the story for every film they ever made. I don't get why they're so opposed to it.
posted by LSK at 10:16 PM on January 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


What became available one year ago.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act was the worst thing he (posthumously) did since breaking up with Cher. But "I've Got You Babe" on an illegally downloaded mp3. So fuck you Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:18 PM on January 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


Heirs should get their own damn job.
posted by maxwelton at 10:20 PM on January 1, 2011 [26 favorites]


I don't think the Bono act could pass today. I think people have woken up enough to how copyright works in their daily life (Hi, Cooks Source) and the value of the public domain that the extensions are over. The problem is they are way too long already and I have equally as little faith that they will be reduced. It's going to lead to a bit of stagnation as the pace of progress speeds up.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:22 PM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


What a fucking farce. I love so many Disney movies but loathe what they have done to copyright.
posted by smoke at 10:22 PM on January 1, 2011


they just want to be able to shoplift music

True. I guess to get around that one would have to only pirate material that should be in the public domain, according to some rationale on what it should be.
posted by stbalbach at 10:23 PM on January 1, 2011


twoleftfeet: "The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act was the worst thing he (posthumously) did since breaking up with Cher."

Lest anyone think the "posthumously" makes this criticism unfair:
Mary Bono, speaking on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, said:

"Actually, Sonny wanted the term of copyright protection to last forever. I am informed by staff that such a change would violate the Constitution. ... As you know, there is also [then-MPAA president] Jack Valenti's proposal for term to last forever less one day. Perhaps the Committee may look at that next Congress."
posted by Rhaomi at 10:24 PM on January 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


See also this Salon interview with two of the first people who (unsuccessfully) challenged the Bono Act before the Supreme Court.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:28 PM on January 1, 2011


"What is entering the public domain in the United States? Sadly, we will have nothing to celebrate this January 1st. Not a single published work is entering the public domain this year. Or next year. Or the year after. Or the year after that. In fact, in the United States, no publication will enter the public domain until 2019. "

I'm celebrating µTorrent Day today. Who's with me?
posted by MikeMc at 10:28 PM on January 1, 2011 [25 favorites]


Sonny Bono = clown shoes
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:31 PM on January 1, 2011


I don't think the Bono act could pass today.

Please. This is the country that passed the Patriot Act, the DMCA, the Futures Modernization Act, Gramm-Leach-Bailey, the Military Commissions Act, the Arizona 1070 immigration bill and Prop 8, and that's just a small sample off the top of my head.

The US routinely passes legislation written by and for corporations without a single peep from our entirely ignorant and cowed populace. The Bono Copyright Act wouldn't even merit a CNN story today, it would pass on a voice vote in both houses and maybe get a single segment of coverage on a non-mainstream news source like Daily Show or Democracy now or a single NYT blurb on page B12.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:36 PM on January 1, 2011 [32 favorites]


XMLicious: It has always seemed to me that changes in copyright law during the 20th century must be something like the largest transfer of wealth from public to private hands in history

You mean the prevention of transfer of wealth from private to public hands, right? Copyright law is to keep the wealth in the hands of those who were previously controlling it, not robbing the public for private good. Extending those rights just keeps it "in the vault" a while longer.


maxwelton: Heirs should get their own damn job.

Whenever I hear about copyright extensions beyond the creator's life, I think of some copyright stooge who likened this to the farmer passing the farm to the next generation. That description is great, except it overlooks the costs involved with actively farming land.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:41 PM on January 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Heirs should get their own damn job.

This is what always made sense when people first wrote copyright laws, and it makes sense when you talk about the Gershwins (who were also active in getting the Bono Act passed), but Disney was in a whole different league, because Mickey Mouse was going to become public domain, and Mickey Mouse is an industry!

There should have been something between copyright and trademark laws where people could say "Great-Grandpa drew this, but now it's a logo". Instead, to preserve the trademark rights of corporations we can't get public domain access to a zillion works that really could use it.

And yes, it costs the public money to protect your rights, Great-Grandpa.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:48 PM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think the Bono act could pass today. I think people have woken up enough to how copyright works in their daily life

About 60 - 70% supported the Public Option, and about 80% support repealing DADT, but one of those laws was taken off the table without a fight and the other was passed only with significant (almost Herculean) arm-twisting.

Congress is not really in the business of listening to the American people.
posted by Avenger at 10:49 PM on January 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


Congress listens to the American People only on issues which might realistically influence the American People's vote or total donations.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:12 PM on January 1, 2011


Congress is not really in the business of listening to the American people.

It would help it The American People would vote for the people who believe in the same things they do, but too many of them would rather listen to commercials. Which is why the two political parties are Coke and Pepsi (with the Tea Partiers playing the role of New Coke and Blue Dogs as Crystal Pepsi). Not even room for Dr Pepper.

That said, this evening I was retweeted a pointer to a 'copyrighted' image I created which had been copied with a link to the original but what was being linked to was just the downsized image. And, hey, my original image looked better. Should I be upset? Maybe if I were a lawyer for Disney, but in the slightly-rephrased words of E.Costello, "I used to get disgusted, but now I'm just amuzed."
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:22 PM on January 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


And let's not even start to get into the three original images I 'fair used' into getting the mash-up/parody image together. It hurts my head too much.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:24 PM on January 1, 2011


Plenty of unpopular legislation get shot down or never gets proposed, dial down the cynicism a bit.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:30 PM on January 1, 2011


Copy that.
posted by inconsequentialist at 11:35 PM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is the country that passed the Patriot Act, the DMCA, the Futures Modernization Act, Gramm-Leach-Bailey, the Military Commissions Act, the Arizona 1070 immigration bill and Prop 8, and that's just a small sample off the top of my head.

Not to mention the FCC's big business-coddling version of 'Net Neutrality', passed just a couple weeks ago.
posted by jiawen at 12:01 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


stbalbach: “I wonder if anyone has written a manifesto that justifies piracy as civil disobedience in response to unlimited copyright law extension and the breaking of former Conventions (treaties).”

furiousxgeorge: “People have tried, but then other people say they just want to be able to shoplift music.”

Piracy and civil disobedience are diametrically opposed. Piracy is illegal purloining of material for entertainment purposes; civil disobedience is publicly committing a technical crime, daring the authorities to arrest you, to demonstrate openly that a law is immoral. Civil disobedience in this case would involve something like camping out in front of the RIAA headquarters, announcing to them and to the world that you intended to illegally download something, and then asking them what they were going to do about it. And if Rosa Parks engaged in the sort of "civil disobedience" that modern-day software pirates engage in, she would have put on makeup to make herself look white, dressed up as a man, and snuck the the front of the bus, quietly cheering herself when she succeeded to get that precious seat (but not so loudly that she'd get caught.)

I think copyright laws – and in particular US copyright laws since the 1978 change – are crap. But piracy doesn't combat unfair copyright law; piracy perpetuates unfair copyright law. Anyone who doesn't agree should ponder the history of legislation against marijuana in the United States.
posted by koeselitz at 12:11 AM on January 2, 2011 [12 favorites]


"Actually, Sonny wanted the term of copyright protection to last forever. I am informed by staff that such a change would violate the Constitution. ... As you know, there is also [then-MPAA president] Jack Valenti's proposal for term to last forever less one day. Perhaps the Committee may look at that next Congress."

MUST... NOT... TURN INTO BIG GREEN CHARACTER OWNED BY DISNEY....
posted by JHarris at 12:12 AM on January 2, 2011


You mean the prevention of transfer of wealth from private to public hands, right?

Nope. At the beginning of the 20th century in the U.S. there wasn't anything like the automatic copyright that there is today. Created works were in the public domain by default and the author had to apply to the government for special protection. The Copyright Act of 1790 that was in effect at that point was explicitly "An Act for the encouragement of learning" - nothing to do with putting anything in private hands. In fact the basic conception of what copyright was differed so much at that point from what we have today that in 1908 the Supreme Court ruled that at least one kind of mechanical recording of a work - a player piano roll - wasn't eligible for copyright protection at all.^
posted by XMLicious at 12:13 AM on January 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


@koeselitz: What is your opinion on The Pirate Party and the numerous openly operating torrent sites all over the world? Seems like they have a pretty big, "Come arrest us if you can!" thing going on.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:16 AM on January 2, 2011


When the laws are so out of step with public interest, continuing to enforce them merely corrupts the support for reasonable laws and everyone loses. I often hear about how we need copyright laws to protect the artist, and I think that's a reasonable argument. But then there's the Bono Extension, and well, bittorrent takes it all, both the reasonable and the insane. There is no way back.

I think upon the days, not so long ago, when there was no internet file sharing. Let me tell you - it is immeasurably better today, with file sharing. Not better like in "getting it free" (I spend even more money on buying music today, than I did back then - because I can afford it), but because of access to things I'd never ever be able to buy because it wasn't for sale: rare demos, long lost recordings of which only a copy remained, obscure concert tapes and so on and so forth.

The dinosaurs will die. They always do. Too bad that in their death throws, they're destroying good things too.
posted by VikingSword at 12:16 AM on January 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


Here in New Zealand we still have 50 years, although I expect that to disappear up to 70 or 90 or whatever, since we are privately negotiating a "free trade" agreement in secret; from leaked information it suggests the US won't open its farm borders, but we'll sign away Pharmac, criminalise region-free DVD players (Malaysia agreed to put people away for up to 5 years for buying them), and let Big Tobacco sue us anytime we discourage people from smoking.

In the mean time I'll enjoy all the classic Bugs and Daffy cartoons from the 50s being free-as-in-freedom in New Zealand.
posted by rodgerd at 12:18 AM on January 2, 2011


furiousxgeorge: “@koeselitz: What is your opinion on The Pirate Party and the numerous openly operating torrent sites all over the world? Seems like they have a pretty big, "Come arrest us if you can!" thing going on.”

Ha. The Pirate Party is the notable exception to the rule; torrent sites are not really happy to share publicly information about who they are or where they operate. Or maybe you can direct me to a few torrent sites that publish the names and addresses of their maintainers. I'm happy to consider alternative explanations, but I have a hard time believing that torrenting is really ever intended as a political or even public act. If it were, people would eschew relatively anonymous systems like torrenting anyway; I'm aware that torrenting has benefits aside from its anonymity, but the anonymity is a drawback when it comes to civil disobedience.
posted by koeselitz at 12:23 AM on January 2, 2011


What anonymity? You broadcast your IP address every time you download. I don't think there would be much problem figuring out who owns the sites if the government wanted to arrest them, it's just that they host in places where the government doesn't want to do that.

I don't think that is much of a strike against them. Civil disobedience does not require you to turn yourself in.

(But yeah, torrent sites are profit motive not protest)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:35 AM on January 2, 2011


Maybe we need a new term, then, something like "economic disobedience": the refusal to participate in the approved manner in a sector of the economy that you find oppressive or distasteful. It's not Gandhi but it's better than nothing.

Personally, I feel a little bit guilty every time I pay full price to "license" a product from the people and corporations who have fought so effectively for the diminution of the public domain. Since I lack the moral courage to announce my identity in the form of an IP address across bittorrent, I just buy everything secondhand. It's cheaper and less morally compromising at the same time. Result!
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:20 AM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


You folks advocating piracy are getting it wrong. The problem isn't being unable to copy a 70-year-old Mickey Mouse movie, it's that you can't write a new Mickey Mouse story and publish it commercially. You can't take the old cultural ideas of the 40s and 50s, remix them, and come up with something new and more appealing to modern audiences. There's a lot of wonderful stories that have been put under lock and key forever. We can't use them as springboards to reach even greater heights.

The stated reason to have copyright at all is to encourage the development of new material. In exchange for making something new, you get a fairly significant monopoly over it for some period of time, but then it's supposed to pass into the public domain. When that doesn't happen, there's no pressing reason to create anything new. You can just keep extracting the old rents.

Consider: Disney is still using Mickey Mouse as their mascot. He was invented 80 years ago. Ynder the original copyright terms (17 years), they'd have had to reinvent their pantheon four or five times by now. Instead of being forced to create something new, they can stay in their ancient rut forever. That's pretty much the polar opposite of encouraging the creation of new material.

Copy, don't copy, it doesn't really matter. It's orthogonal to the real problem, cultural impoverishment.

Personally, I think about the maximum acceptable copyright term should be life plus 25 years. That'll guarantee that you can raise your children off the proceeds of what you create, and give them a great start in life if you made something very popular. But society does not owe your children rent on your stories for the rest of THEIR lives. If they want rent, they should have to create something of their own.
posted by Malor at 1:36 AM on January 2, 2011 [58 favorites]


Personally, I think about the maximum acceptable copyright term should be life plus 25 years.

That's still way too long. Remember, the kids are going to have all of the cash Mr. Creator stashed from the blockbuster original. Society doesn't owe the creator's kids a free lunch.
posted by maxwelton at 1:53 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Remember, the kids are going to have all of the cash Mr. Creator stashed from the blockbuster original.

Not if the creator dies the day after he publishes it, in which case no one gets anything. Some small period after creator's life seems reasonable to me to cover these cases, or maybe it can be like a minimum time since publication (say, all works get at least 25 years, or up to creator's life if longer).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:15 AM on January 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


Personally, I think about the maximum acceptable copyright term should be life plus 25 years.

Far too long. People have a right to make use of the culture they grew up with.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:40 AM on January 2, 2011


It has always seemed to me that changes in copyright law during the 20th century must be something like the largest transfer of wealth from public to private hands in history... I would think that it must be more than the privatization of the Russian oil and gas industry, for example.

Can't work that way, because it ignores the prior case- you first have to transfer the wealth from the creators to the public.

Personally, I think about the maximum acceptable copyright term should be life plus 25 years.

Far too long. People have a right to make use of the culture they grew up with.


You can make use of culture just fine. You just have to respect the rights of the people who created it. People who create have a greater stake in that creation than those who just happened to be around to read the book.
posted by gjc at 3:38 AM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Far too long. People have a right to make use of the culture they grew up with.

Does that right supersede the right of the artist to do with their creation as they see fit? Assuming the answer is "no," then it's just a matter of "life" vs "life plus eighteen or so." It's not that big of a difference, and personally, I'd rather make sure every work receives at least some protection, even the ones people create later in life.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:40 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's still way too long. Remember, the kids are going to have all of the cash Mr. Creator stashed from the blockbuster original. Society doesn't owe the creator's kids a free lunch.

Society isn't giving them dick- society didn't create the work.
posted by gjc at 3:42 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would be curious to know how many folks here in this discussion, advocating for the shortening or elimination of copyright periods have a parent or grandparent whose copyrighted work is still earning, or potentially could earn income. Is anyone in that position?
posted by HuronBob at 4:02 AM on January 2, 2011


If the beneficiaries of bad and immoral laws could veto any change then the USA would still be a nation of slaveholders.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:15 AM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


The number of people in the Tolkien estate is small, but the number of people who make money off the new movies is actually rather large -- new revenue is created through the reworking and reimagining of the work of prior generations. What the current system does is create a bunch of gatekeepers who presume to know the original authors intent, and keep bums like me from reworking Tolkien.

The number of works still producing revenue fifty (or seventy) years after the death of an author is basically zero as a proportion of the number of works created. The debate places a quantifiable harm to a small number of people holding rights to profitable works against the unquantifiable harm to the rest of the society.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:47 AM on January 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


Society isn't giving them dick- society didn't create the work.

But society creates the laws. The laws that protect rights. In this case the right to exclusivity. Supporters of IP laws like to frame them as moral rights, but IP law started out as a relatively simple bargain - a temporary evil (a monopoly) that was tolerated on the understanding it would lead to a long-term good. Every adult is familiar with that kind of devil's bargain. But when one of the parties to a bargain pushes the boundaries it quite understandably creates tension and mistrust. That's where we are today - counting everything we've lost as a result of these monopoly rights. Society has more than lived up to it's obligations to creators, to it's own detriment.
posted by Ritchie at 4:50 AM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Society isn't giving them dick- society didn't create the work.

True. But society is enforcing a near-perpetual monopoly on the work in their favor. That is actually quite a generous benefit from society.

I would be curious to know how many folks here in this discussion, advocating for the shortening or elimination of copyright periods have a parent or grandparent whose copyrighted work is still earning, or potentially could earn income. Is anyone in that position?

Back in the 60's my grandfather patented (okay, not exactly the same thing, I realize, but bear with me) a sucessful and innovative line of dentistry products. He made a very good living for himself and my family. I was just a toddler when he died but I remember that we were fairly well-off mostly thanks to him (his son -- my dad -- would eventually squander all of his inheritance on sports-cars and heroin). The patent expired sometime in the early to mid 80's, and larger dental-product corporations began to appropriate my grandfather's original designs.

And as much as I hate to admit it, the other companies managed to make granddad's designs cheaper and more efficiently than we ever could. I would argue that the quality of our family's product was (and still is) better than our competitors, but they blow us away when it comes to actual production. Our family company still exists and moves a few million units every year, while our chief competitor moves, (conservatiely estimating here), ten or twenty times that. Maybe fifty.

As much as I sometimes would like a guaranteed-for-life monopoly on granddad's products, I have to admit that the expiration of the patent allowed my grandfather's designs to reach enormous market shares that our family operation could never have hoped to achieve. Our competitors literally spread granddad's innovative ideas around the world, in a way that he never could have imagined. Granted, I'm not getting paid for it. But, I suppose that's all right. I didn't invent his stuff and even if we we're still getting money from it, all that sweet cash would have just been eaten up in my father's race to an early grave.

Perpetual or near-perpetual (and 90 years or so is nearly perpetual for human purposes) copyright is bad because it has the same effect on cultural innovation that perpetual or near-perpetual patents would have on technological or business innovation: it would stunt innovation, encourage heirs (either familial or corporate) to sit on properties and collect rent rather than do anything productive with them (or to do anything new and productive themselves) and drastically limit market share of ideas or products that could greatly improve human life.

Another aspect, which others have hinted at above, is that perpetual copyright creates a kind of semi-aristocratic rentier class who's "job" is just to sit on valuable properties and extract real wealth from the economy in the form of rents. Granted, nowadays these aristocrats would be large corporations rather than dandies in powdered wigs, but the ultimate result is the same.

In closing, I should also mention that grandad's original company is still in operation although (as I mentioned earlier) at a much smaller scale than our large competitors. We've survived by marketing ourselves as "The Original [line of products]", and business is still good. Not insanely good but good enough to keep some uncles and cousins of mine in a middle-class lifestyle. I don't get any dividends, but I did work there for a year or two in my early 20's so I figure I earned my fair share of the family's money.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by Avenger at 5:04 AM on January 2, 2011 [37 favorites]


Supporters of IP laws like to frame them as moral rights, but IP law started out as a relatively simple bargain

That's it exactly. Society doesn't owe you shit once you've been dead for a long time. The bargain is to protect your creations long enough to benefit your offspring, but really not much longer. You and your offspring benefit from the protection, society benefits from your creation. It's an even bargain.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:11 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Supporters of IP laws like to frame them as moral rights, but IP law started out as a relatively simple bargain - a temporary evil (a monopoly) that was tolerated on the understanding it would lead to a long-term good.

This.

IP law was originally designed to benefit society and culture. It gave the creator sole benefit for a limited amount of time to encourage creation, but then let those benefits expire so society could pick up the ball and run with it. That was always the deal.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:35 AM on January 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


The bargain is to protect your creations long enough to benefit your offspring, but really not much longer.

If corporations are now people, it makes a kind of twisted sense that their IP never expires, since they never die.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:45 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It would help it The American People would vote for the people who believe in the same things they do

The problem is that many of the people running for elective office straight up lie to get elected, or, once they get into power they decide it's more important to defer to the wishes of the entities who wrote the biggest checks for their campaign (in hopes that the checks will be forthcoming again for the re-election campaign.). The "American People" have largely become patsies in all but the most local politics. Even the teapartiers are about to get a rude awakening.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:01 AM on January 2, 2011


If corporations are now people, it makes a kind of twisted sense that their IP never expires, since they never die.

They never die because they're not people.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:10 AM on January 2, 2011


Even the teapartiers are about to get a rude awakening

The backlash has already started.

They never die because they're not people.

I meant in a legal sense, where activist judges equate corporations with people, to the extent of giving them many of the same important legal rights.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:22 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


activist judges equate corporations with people

But where are they when a diaper needs changing? Corporations ≠ People.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:31 AM on January 2, 2011


HuronBob: I would be curious to know how many folks here in this discussion, advocating for the shortening or elimination of copyright periods have a parent or grandparent whose copyrighted work is still earning, or potentially could earn income. Is anyone in that position?

My father is, and has been for much of his life, a professional musician. He plays a kind of music (traditional delta blues wandering into bluegrass/jazz influences on occasion) that is obscure enough to be never 'mainstream' big-time money, but popular enough to make a living from.

He has quite a number of albums released through various labels/imprints over the years.

Basically, he doesn't make money from this. Companies do. He makes his living from touring. Blues festivals, sponsored events, etc. Last time I got down with him about nitty-gritty (he hates talking about money), as far as I could tell the vast majority of his income comes from live performance.

This is not an accident. He has his own philosophy about these things, and I'm wary about putting words in his mouth, but I think I would be safe to say that he believes that music, quintessentially, a performance art, and that recordings of it, and the profits derived therefrom, are incidental to the art itself. The fact that music is capitalized upon is in some sense inevitable, but that is not what music itself is. Real musicians (and yes, he does use the term 'real musicians') do not play music for the money. The money allows them to play music.

So copyright matters not a whit to him. When I've asked him about such things, he uses phrases like 'sophistry', 'lawyer scum', and 'them who killed Socrates.' He is not unbiased (who is?) and has his own view on these things. But anyway, I think my point is that yes, I am personally connected to people who earn money from copyright, and all I want to say is that the views on what copyright is, and should be are much broader than most discussions portray. For some, copyright is an extremely modern invention, apart from the thousands of years of human history in which no such laws existed.

Which leads to a thought:

How long has copyright been around? After all, it is itself a (legal) invention. Maybe copyright, as a concept, is fast approaching its own expiry date?
posted by jet_manifesto at 6:58 AM on January 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


Maybe we need a new term, then, something like "economic disobedience": the refusal to participate in the approved manner in a sector of the economy that you find oppressive or distasteful = "Black market."
posted by GrammarMoses at 7:16 AM on January 2, 2011


them who killed Socrates

Wonderful.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:16 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suppose I would support more copyright extensions if there was a usage involved.

"Hi. We need copyright extensions on these things extended, because we have a amount of money invested in project b, and c amount in project d." instead of "We need copyright extensions on these things in case someone, sometime, somewhere might have an idea based on one of these."
posted by Samizdata at 7:16 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Society isn't giving them dick- society didn't create the work.

I t absolutely did. Every single artist builds from work that preceded them. We draw from a massive public well of culture. We create art in collaboration with the culture that produced us. Insisting on treating new works as private property for a nearly endless period allows us
to borrow from the culture that produced us without paying back in.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:19 AM on January 2, 2011 [19 favorites]


You want government protection for your intellectual 'property?' Then let's start assessing that property for taxes. We could use the money these days.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:40 AM on January 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


I've been in a band that had major-label distribution, and I can second what jet_manifesto says above. My version is that the music industry exists to take as much of the profit as it can for itself, and the musician is left to fend for themselves. In this case I don't think the copyright holders and performance rights associations exist except to further their own interests.

Here's Courtney Love's take on the music industry vs musician earnings debate.

And by the way, the idea that organized media piracy or running a bittorrent site is somehow a moral statement about anything is ludicrous. The site operators are just the next group demanding a cut from the distribution system. Only now we've moved the whole system outside the law, where at least in theory people could vote for improvements to the system.
posted by sneebler at 7:45 AM on January 2, 2011


Speaking as someone with a distinct economic interest in his copyrights:

1. My own preferred copyright scheme is life plus 25 (or 70 years, whichever is longer), for the simple and sentimental reason that I think it's fair for me to be able to use my copyrights to provide income for my spouse and/or minor children after my death.

2. My grandkids can get jobs.

3. In the absence of the comprehensive trimming back copyrights to life + 25, which to be frank I don't see happening, ever, what I would like to see is a way for authors/copyright holders to voluntarily relinquish their copyrights to the public domain after a specified time of their own choosing, so those who want to get their work into the public domain earlier than the statutory length of copyright allows may do so. At the moment, as I understand it, this is not easily possible -- one can attempt something like it under Creative Commons, but its possible an ambitious and erstwhile heir could challenge it -- so I would want to see it codified into law in a manner that is non-controversial.

If such a thing is possible, I would take advantage of it. I want to see the economic benefit of my work while still alive, and I want to take care of my spouse and any children for a couple of decades after I'm gone. After that I'm happy to have the public have a crack at the work.
posted by jscalzi at 7:59 AM on January 2, 2011 [10 favorites]


Does anyone have links to where the new public domain works can be downloaded? I just took a quick peek at Gutenberg, and I don't see new additions to the list (i.e., no West, whom I quite like).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:13 AM on January 2, 2011


I certainly think orphaned works should be entered into the public domain immediately. I don't really want to access Mickey Mouse, although Disney stole it from Ub Iwerks who in turn based it on sketches by Hugh Harman (and possibly an existing children's toy), so that's one fellow who nobody should have any rights to.

But Disney's desire to protect their one little mouse has meant that literally millions of ownerless work is off-limits, because it's still understood as being copywritten. It's like when Elvis' early catalog was about to go into the public domain in England, producing a lawsuit to prevent work from that year from becoming public domain (which the studios justified by pointing out that Elvis had actually reentered the charts the previous year), which meant that in order to privilege the profits of a studio based on the unlikely event of one song returning to popularity, every single other piece created in one year would suddenly be made unavailable.

This is the model for our copyright laws. The truth is, most of what I write won't retain any market value. It might keep for historical value, and I would hope that it might have some value for artists down the road looking for inspiration, but I don't expect it is likely that I will produce anything that my children will profit from. It could happen, but that's the lottery of being creative -- its unlikely. Nonetheless, I make much of my living from creating stuff, which also means I am a sort of lottery winner, in that this is also quite rare. And I guess I'm not really willing to trade in the actual value my work might have in the future -- which is a social value -- for the value I imagine it might have, if I were lucky enough to win the artistic lottery.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:14 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would be curious to know how many folks here in this discussion, advocating for the shortening or elimination of copyright periods have a parent or grandparent whose copyrighted work is still earning, or potentially could earn income. Is anyone in that position?

I am an artist and book author. I favor total elimination of copyright. If I could push a magic button and make it vanish, I would do it in a heartbeat.

It would be better for me, personally, if copyright existed. But it hurts society. A one-day copyright hurts society. We need it gone completely.

If we had no copyrights, things would definitely change. Many artists wouldn't be able to make a living -- at least not in the way they currently do. That would suck for them. But many artists currently can't make a living. And yet they still make art.

Art is not going to die no matter what. People make art because doing so is part of being human. People have made art in repressive regimes that murder artists. People have made art on cave walls before money even existed.

So I would like to take "if we eliminate copyright, we'll have no more art" off the table. What we'll have is art by people who need to make it so badly, they'll make it no matter what.

There's a weird cult-of-the-artist that I find baffling and off-putting. And it's mixed up with some stuff that's even worse. If you want to argue that we need copyright so that artists can eat and have warm clothes, I sympathize. I don't agree, but I understand. But usually, what I hear is all kinds of crap about how our culture doesn't respect artists. (Which is true or false, depending on who you count as an "artist.") What's absurd about this is that it vulgarizes "showing respect" into "paying money to." I guess our culture does that in general, but so what? That doesn't make it any less vulgar and silly. And in general, these artists we respect don't get most of money anyway. We respect songwriters SO much, we give lots of money to record labels. Huh?

I DO think it's likely -- inevitable -- that if we do away with copyright, there will be MAJOR changes. Without it, how will Hollywood support itself? Probably it won't be able to. Maybe the entire movie industry will cease to exist. Maybe we won't have movies any more. That would suck. It would suck for me. I'm a HUGE movie fan. I probably like movies more than any other artform.

But so what? Art forms come and go. Art endures. How many people listen to multi-hour recitals of epic poems these days? How many people (in the US) listen to radio plays? If movies die, something else will take their place.

That leaves us with income-for-the-artist vs. needs-of-society. I think society needs to win. If someone has a brilliant idea for how to improve a song that was written by someone else last years, we need to let him put it into action. Option one is we don't: society (billions of people) lose out and the original artist (one person) gains. Option two is we favor the billions over the one.

I don't discuss this much, because what's the point? What I want isn't going to happen.
posted by grumblebee at 8:19 AM on January 2, 2011 [11 favorites]


I want to see the economic benefit of my work while still alive, and I want to take care of my spouse and any children for a couple of decades after I'm gone.

I imagine plumbers do as well. We should institute a toilet tax to take care of their kids.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:51 AM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Copyright should be non-transferrable, and only own-able by people, not organizations. That is all.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:54 AM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think the Bono act could pass today. I think people have woken up enough to how copyright works in their daily life

Awww, that cute. Think'n that living breathing humans in mass actually:
1) have any real influence in today's political process
2) care enough to "do" something about it

The 'citizens' who care are the ones that are actually large corporations.

Here's the reality:
1) Those 'citizens' need your money to survive.
2) Your only real "vote" is where you spend your money.

The simplest solution is to stop buying what they are selling. The more complicated ones include becoming familiar with law and lawsuits or even "performance art" where you sell stuff at say a farmers market and tie the sale to using the massive databases to determine if they work for X or have Y amount of net worth and state "No, not gonna sell to you" as I'm rather sure being an employee of X or having Y amount of cash doesn't make you a protected class.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:02 AM on January 2, 2011


I imagine plumbers do as well. We should institute a toilet tax to take care of their kids.

Well, if said plumber invents a completely new method of moving waste from a home, he and his family should absolutely be able to profit from the fruits of his own creativity.

I'm so torn on the whole copyright/IP thing. On one hand, it does, on the face of things, seem pretty over-the-top to extend copyright protections to the extent they are. On the other hand, my reaction to a lot of the copyfight rhetoric is that it just feels like a lot of people who can't create something on their own wanting to simply take what someone else has created. Yeah, I know that's over-simplified, but that how it all hits me. I mean...wtf are you going to do with Micky Mouse anyway, if he was in the public domain, that you couldn't do with a new, novel creation of your own? Satire? Already been done. A lot. A whole lot.

I realize we now live in a culture where appropriation is almost more valued than originality, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be some sort of additional reward for original creation.

I dunno. Put me in the "undecided" camp on this one.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:10 AM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm looking for some clarity here:

Is it piracy or civil disobedience:

1) a collection of MP3's of music (multi terrabytes as I remember) was mentioned to exist in the US Military in a Michael Moore movie?
2) When you are related to or are people in Congress/POTUS and have a pile of MP3s?


Military Photos > General > Off Topic and Humor > How many MP3 song files do you have?
[could not find a link to the lawyer who question the legal status of some MP3 and ended up deleting his blog]
posted by rough ashlar at 9:10 AM on January 2, 2011


Thomas Jefferson wanted a set period of copyright protection in the Bill of Rights.

"I like the declaration of rights as far as it goes, but I should have been for going further. For instance, the following alterations and additons would have pleased me... Article 9. Monopolies may be allowed to persons for their own productions in literature, and their own inventions in the arts, for a term not exceeding ___ years, but for no longer term, and for no other purpose."

This term is referenced in the above article as being between 30 and 35 years from the date of the creation of the work.
posted by pashdown at 9:12 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Silly people! Don't you know that public domain is for works that you can't squeeze any more money out of? Cash cows don't go in the attic.
posted by dr_dank at 9:15 AM on January 2, 2011


to borrow from the culture that produced us without paying back in.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:19 AM on January 2 [2 favorites +] [!]


That snippet pretty much sums up, for the duration of my lifetime at least, the American attitude toward everything.
posted by Ndwright at 9:15 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sucks to your ass-mar!
posted by not_on_display at 10:01 AM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Copyright should be non-transferrable, and only own-able by people, not organizations. That is all.

So my employer won't employ me to write code, because it won't own the code? Um, no thanks. I'll thank you to let me do my Anglo thing and sell my copyright rights to my employer for money.

And gosh, the Free Software Foundation would have a hard time shipping GNU software if people couldn't assign copyright to them.

Also, if the Germans didn't agree with you, then I could watch the fan movie DAMNATUS, but since authors (fans) are forbidden by German law from signing over their rights as you propose (in this case to the owners of the fictional universe in which the the fan movie is set) then the owners of the fictional universe have (quite reasonably) forbidden its distribution and any other fan movie (otherwise the fans will gain authorial rights over the fictional universe.) Shame. Fan filmmaking and copyright in a global world: Warhammer 40,000 fan films and the case of Damnatus by John Walliss
posted by alasdair at 10:10 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does this mean we can get a Master and Margarita movie this year with Brian Blessed as Behemoth? Pretty please.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:10 AM on January 2, 2011


I want to see the economic benefit of my work while still alive, and I want to take care of my spouse and any children for a couple of decades after I'm gone. After that I'm happy to have the public have a crack at the work.

That is, I think, precisely how copyright should be used. I like your addition of 'max of 70 years'.... that's a sensible restriction. If you die early, your spouse and children continue to benefit long enough to get your kids most of the way through college. If you have a nice long lifespan, you reap the benefits of your work for more than two generations. After that, it's fair game.

You and your immediate heirs have been compensated for your efforts, and in exchange our cultural inheritance for society as a whole gets richer. As someone said upthread (can't find it now, or I'd credit you, sorry) the intent of copyright was never to turn the public domain into a series of fiefdoms, with no collective culture to draw from.

And while I have some sympathy for the arguments that we should be able to re-use the cultural ideas from our childhood years in our adult lifetimes, on balance I think I'd prefer to see the creator keeping control of his or her work for most of their working lifetime. This may not actually serve the stated purpose of copyright properly, in the sense that it may somewhat discourage innovation, but we live a lot longer than we used to, and raising children is exceedingly expensive in this super-technological world. Many of us will live to be 90 or more, and we can't just cut kids loose at 18 anymore to fend for themselves.

Taking longer lifespans into account, and recognizing that bringing the next generation up to speed takes a long time and a lot of money, I think the lesser of either 70 years or life + 25 years is probably the right balance. Those goals aren't in the stated charter for copyright, and we may actually be harming total cultural accumulation with such a long term, but I think it's still reasonable.

You could probably argue me down to a maximum term of 50 years, but I'd start to get uncomfortable if it went any lower.
posted by Malor at 10:58 AM on January 2, 2011


2) Your only real "vote" is where you spend your money. The simplest solution is to stop buying what they are selling.

There's an extent to which I believe in this -- and it's one reason why I disagree somewhat with koeslitz in that I think piracy is actually a partially effective act. But to the extent that we are a plutonomy, where most of us spend our money may not matter as much as we'd like to believe.
posted by weston at 11:02 AM on January 2, 2011


As an aside, I just saw an article about "Nollywood", the Nigerian equivalent of Hollywood. In Africa, the total term of copyright protection, in any kind of real sense, is a few weeks. After that, the pirates get their films into mass production, and export copies all over Africa for about a dollar each.

In response, Nollywood generates a vast number of films, something like fifty a week. And most of them are absolute crap. The very short practical term of copyright means that you get a ton of garbage.

My conclusion is that, if you want genuinely good works, there needs to be enough copyright protection to make the creation of those works worthwhile. SOME copyright appears to be important.
posted by Malor at 11:10 AM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


So my employer won't employ me to write code, because it won't own the code? Um, no thanks.

You could always write USEFUL code and the employer pays you to create utility.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:19 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


piracy is actually a partially effective act.

So is picking a different product. At one time Microsoft had no license checking tools with their product and noted how they felt piracy helped them. They added the license check to the Office line of products. And now they have removed the license checking from Office.

Is that a reaction to people picking Open Office and therefore more people would just use a pirated copy of Microsoft Office?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:25 AM on January 2, 2011


Amanojaku wrote: "Does that right supersede the right of the artist to do with their creation as they see fit?"

The artist always has the right to not publish his or her work if he or she desires to keep absolute control over it. My personal opinion is that copyright should last around 35 years from first publication and not be indexed to the author's lifespan. If an author desires that a work support them for the remainder of their life or provide for their children, they can save some of the money like the rest of us.

Realistically speaking, any work that has the requisite popularity for the copyright status to matter after 35 years will have made the author more than enough money to enjoy a decent standard of living for the rest of their life provided they don't mismanage the money. Any work that does not will likely be valueless after 35 years.

That said, I'm not terribly opposed to "life of the author" with some minimum term. I still object to the notion that I or any other creator of content "own" that content in any traditional sense of ownership or that society owes the creator a monopoly on their creative endeavors. We as a society should enforce copyright monopolies only insofar as it benefits society. Enforcement of attribution, on the other hand, I could get behind for longer terms. While content creators still have no inherent right to control something they willingly publicized, I think that attribution (if desired by the author) has a definite benefit to society.
posted by wierdo at 12:11 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not terribly opposed to "life of the author" with some minimum term.

And when the 'author' is an 'immortal' Corporation?
posted by rough ashlar at 12:24 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Corporations should have a limitation on how long they can hold a copyright, just as they are limited in how long they can hold a patent.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:30 PM on January 2, 2011


To first order the growth rate of our knowledge must be directly proportional to our total available knowledge. The more we know the faster we can learn etc. Anyone that has had some important question answered by a good google book search can attest to this.

How many questions would be answered how much quicker if we had a logical intellectual property system? How many orphan works are lost that would have been just the right answer to some important question?
posted by Chekhovian at 1:41 PM on January 2, 2011


Jscalzi wrote: My own preferred copyright scheme is life plus 25 (or 70 years, whichever is longer) ...

You could make it a flat 25 years and still capture the vast bulk of royalties. Even if it were a flat 70 years you would avoid the problem of orphaned works. This "for the life of the author" nonsense is just a gotcha that makes things hard for publishers.

... for the simple and sentimental reason that I think it's fair for me to be able to use my copyrights to provide income for my spouse and/or minor children after my death.

You don't expect other jobs to pay an income to the workers' heirs. Why should writers be different? Take your royalties and invest them; leave your investments to your kids. Yes, I'm aware that most authors don't earn very much, but that also means that the copyright on a deceased author's works isn't worth very much.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:53 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


>Society isn't giving them dick- society didn't create the work.

I t absolutely did. Every single artist builds from work that preceded them. We draw from a massive public well of culture. We create art in collaboration with the culture that produced us.


This. Absolutely. No idea arises from a vacuum. They are all combinations of pre-existing ideas. At the root, everything made is remix culture.
posted by JHarris at 1:57 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


No idea arises from a vacuum.

I don't know - I've seen some people who seem to have a Vacuum between their ears. Alas, the courts have decided that opening their head with an axe was not legal so I can not test my theory. (L. Borden VS State I believe)

At the root, everything made is remix culture.

The original idea is just not traceable back far enough is all.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:07 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd settle for copyrights that expire after some rational term unless registered and extended by the rightsholder every few years- with a maximum number of renewals. That way, Disney keeps Mickey, the GPL still protects code, and orphaned works come into public domain automatically.

It'll never happen, but it seems like it would bridge the gap between all parties.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:27 PM on January 2, 2011


Thorzdad writes "Well, if said plumber invents a completely new method of moving waste from a home, he and his family should absolutely be able to profit from the fruits of his own creativity."

We don't hold copyright to a "completely new" standard; why should we hold plumbing to that standard. IE: Prints (both fine art and photographic) are identical; much more so than any plumbing instalation even in tract homes. Why should they be granted copyright?
posted by Mitheral at 2:53 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia:

"You don't expect other jobs to pay an income to the workers' heirs. Why should writers be different?"

Leaving aside the fact that indeed other sorts of jobs often do pay an income to workers' heirs, in the form of inheritable pensions and other such retirement accounts, I think people are either intentionally or unintentionally confusing the job of the writer (the act of writing) with the product of the writer's job (the finished work). That work product can have value which remains long after the initial work on the product is completed -- and that heirs may benefit from it -- is not particularly controversial.

"Yes, I'm aware that most authors don't earn very much, but that also means that the copyright on a deceased author's works isn't worth very much."

Philip K. Dick -- to name just one example -- would like a word with you.
posted by jscalzi at 3:16 PM on January 2, 2011


Philip K. Dick's words would mostly be about how the prophet Elijah was stealing his brain.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:14 PM on January 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


Speaking as a sculptor who only earns royalties off my work only when they're my own damn images, I'm all for copyright dying a fast death. It's great that music and images are protected, but that still leaves out a big chunk of the arts. Most of us in the 3D fields (sculpture, craft, architecture, industrial design, etc) aren't protected by it (aside from nebulous "look and feel" clauses which are the sole province of big companies with herds of lawyers) and are, in fact, currently being actively screwed over by it and yet we somehow seem to continue making money. My sympathies for those who are afforded protections who then claim that those protections are not enough is slim indeed.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 4:58 PM on January 2, 2011


I'll start with the normal disclaimer: For the last 18+ years I've made my living selling creative works, and I loves me some copyright protection. In fact, when [redacted large media company] stole images from my website in 1995, it was our threat of a copyright-infringement lawsuit that got our company purchased, and off we went.

Life + 70 years is an insanely long amount of time. Way too long. I love the idea of 70 years max, and I love even more the idea of something that scales better. Like 20 years, and you can renew for an 10 additional 5-year terms with each term costing a bit each time. But I live in the real world, and copyright lengths are never getting shorter.

I'm looking forward to the fight in 2017 or 2018. In Eldred v. Ashcroft, the Supreme Court case that was brought to stop the 1998 extension to US copyrights, one of the arguments for allowing the extension was that life expectancies had increased, and thus copyright lengths should follow. I find this assertion to be crazy, and it will take something even crazier to allow for another extension.
posted by andreaazure at 5:27 PM on January 2, 2011


Why not implement a tax on copyrights registered for more than a certain number of years? Orphaned works enter public domain, Disney covers the value that is lost to the public by maintaining a monopoly on their products.
posted by one_bean at 5:28 PM on January 2, 2011


Do Shakespeare's heirs have an army of lawyers waiting in the wings, ready to sue a room full of monkeys banging away on typewriters?

Methinks they do.
posted by Xoebe at 6:01 PM on January 2, 2011


One Bean:

"Why not implement a tax on copyrights registered for more than a certain number of years?"

I once suggested on my blog that after a certain reasonable time for copyright (which I defined at the time as life+25 for live people, and 75 years for corporations), copyrights would have to be renewed on an annual basis, for the sum of 2 to the x power, where “x” is equal to the current year past the original copyright expiration, with the monies raised going (initially, at least) to US deficit reduction. Year +1, the fee would be $2. Ten years later, $1,024. Ten years after that, $1,048,576. And ten years after that, $1,073,741,824. By which time, of course, whatever it was would very likely be in the public domain.

I don't ever expect this to happen, either, but I still think it would be a nifty idea.
posted by jscalzi at 6:04 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]



I t absolutely did. Every single artist builds from work that preceded them. We draw from a massive public well of culture. We create art in collaboration with the culture that produced us. Insisting on treating new works as private property for a nearly endless period allows us
to borrow from the culture that produced us without paying back in.


Copyright doesn't stop any of that. There are fairly robust mechanisms for copyrighted works to be used while they are still copyrighted- especially in music.

If there was no copyright law, individual authors would have to just start suing people for damages. The resultant common law (or would it be equity?) might well have ended up worse.

I'm not arguing that the law is perfect. Just that I can't fathom a mindset that would simply take property from someone (or their heirs) because other people would like to not pay for books/songs.
posted by gjc at 7:57 PM on January 2, 2011


Jscalzi: Yes, I'm sure that Philip K Dick's estate is worth a fair bit, since his stories have been the basis of several major movies. How much do you think Kornbluth's estate is worth? Brunner's estate? Hal Clement's estate? Cordwainer Smith's estate?

As for your argument that "other sorts of jobs often do pay an income to workers' heirs, in the form of inheritable pensions", surely you realise that this is because part of their earnings has been saved in a fund for their retirement? Authors can do the same, and many probably do.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:25 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


But one thing, Joe... if copyright expires instantly at death, that's a strong perverse incentive for famous authors to have, you know, little accidents.
posted by Malor at 9:11 PM on January 2, 2011


I can't fathom a mindset that would simply take property from someone (or their heirs) because other people would like to not pay for books/songs.

Yes, but here's another problem with the pro-IP argument - not only is it framed in terms of morality, but it is framed in terms of property rights, thus producing a false equivalence with material property. Nina Paley gets into this in more detail, and discusses how IP should really stand for something like Imaginary Property or Intellectual Privilege in order to more accurately capture it's spirit (Nina also recommends using the term Intellectual Pooperty).
posted by Ritchie at 9:28 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just that I can't fathom a mindset that would simply take property from someone (or their heirs) because other people would like to not pay for books/songs.

You are conflating intellectual property (not a limited resource) with physical property (a limited resource). A monopoly on an idea is a right purely granted by the state.

I have a modest proposal for those who think intellectual property is the same as physical property: for every piece of IP you create you pay property taxes. If the state is going to enforce your rights to IP, you get to pay for the enforcement. Did you write a new song? You need to pay IP taxes every year to protect your property rights for that song. If you fail to pay the taxes the state will seize your property, just like it does with physical property. Also like physical property it doesn't matter if you turn a profit, a claim of ownership alone makes you liable for taxation. Fair?
posted by ryoshu at 9:33 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


malor wrote: if copyright expires instantly at death, that's a strong perverse incentive for famous authors to have, you know, little accidents.

I don't think death should be a factor in IP law. It should be a fixed period from publication, the way it is for works "created" by corporations. This would avoid the problem of orphaned works: the copyright period would be determined by the date of publication, not the date of the author's death.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:55 PM on January 2, 2011


Just that I can't fathom a mindset that would simply take property from someone (or their heirs) because other people would like to not pay for books/songs.

I have difficulty believing you here because you seem to be acknowledging in response to AZ that an author is taking IP from the public domain without paying for it at the point when the work is created, without exhibiting any inability to fathom that.

It's pretty straightforward: the ideas and material that the author borrowed from the public in the creation of a work aren't on permanent loan, but must be paid back in kind with interest; sometimes after the author has made millions with that loaned property, incidentally also using an elaborate legal regime, enforcement mechanism, and institution of the courts which society has also created and provided. The author doesn't get off scott-free just because she would like to not pay for books/songs and other public source material she uses in her product.
posted by XMLicious at 2:31 AM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've never thought of the "life plus n years" aspect of copyright as being about the copyright holder's heirs. I always thought it was to protect investments made by others in the work - if a person writes a book then dies the day after it's published, the persistence of copyright allows the people who edited, published, printed etc the book to get a return on their investment.

The fact that copyrights are inheritable just seems to me to be a random consequence of them being treated as personal property, and isn't about protecting the dead holder's descendants. After all, it's not as if the money the author earned while alive has just disappeared - as mentioned upthread, if they wanted to provide for their descendants there are many fine banks which will take money on deposit.

Ritchie - I love the term "Intellectual Privilege".
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:01 AM on January 3, 2011


It was originally coined by Tom Bell, I believe.
posted by Ritchie at 4:10 AM on January 3, 2011


I've gone ahead and written up some of my thoughts on the subject for an arts site I currently guest edit. While doing so, I decided to figure out some of the film's Walt Disney made as public domain properties that, thanks to the Bono Act, would still have been under copyright when Disney made them:

[H]ere’s a partial list of Disney films whose original works would not have been in the public domain under the Bono Act: “Pinocchio,” “Song of the South,” “Treasure Island,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:53 AM on January 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


gjc: “There are fairly robust mechanisms for copyrighted works to be used while they are still copyrighted- especially in music.”

The rest of it may be neither here nor there, but I wanted to point out that this is flatly not true. Not unless you mean it's simply not allowed. There are whole art forms that have been completely crippled, reduced to a pale shadow of what they were, by overzealous enforcement of copyright law. Anyone familiar with hip hop should be able to tell you this.

But of course the hip hop artists who built new songs out of samples weren't important enough or artistic enough or white enough to really matter when the copyright police showed up.

This is another reason why copyright should end right now. If you release your art, if you put it out in the public consciousness, you are putting it in the "public domain." In every meaningful sense, it belongs to the public after that moment, to be used, to be considered, to be replicated and to be remixed and to be mashed up and turned into something completely new. Treading lightly here, carefully stifling certain uses of that very public echoing of art, means only one thing: shutting down public discourse. That's all you're doing when you enforce copyright. And that's one of the things that's most wrong with society today; in the name of profit we shut down public discourse. Call me a socialist all you want, but I happen to think that's wrong.

Why is "intellectual property" such a worthless concept? Because the materialist metaphor of ownership utterly fails to safeguard justice where artists and creators are concerned. If you want to legislate to make sure that these people are taken care of, do it without muddying the waters with capitalist analogies.
posted by koeselitz at 7:41 AM on January 3, 2011


Why not implement a tax on copyrights registered for more than a certain number of years?

Why not just let them into the public domain, and collect taxes on the resulting works instead?

If there was no copyright law, individual authors would have to just start suing people for damages.

On what basis?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:35 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why not just let them into the public domain, and collect taxes on the resulting works instead?

Because Disney will not stand for that. Letting Disney pick up the tab on their intellectual property seems like a compromise that would free up a lot of works that are being held hostage by Mickey Mouse.

shutting down public discourse. That's all you're doing when you enforce copyright.

When copyright laws work correctly they promote public discourse by providing a profit mechanism for people with good ideas. Completely eliminating copyright will also shut down public discourse because not very many people are able to work for free.
posted by one_bean at 9:07 AM on January 3, 2011


one_bean: “When copyright laws work correctly they promote public discourse by providing a profit mechanism for people with good ideas. Completely eliminating copyright will also shut down public discourse because not very many people are able to work for free.”

Well, there are a couple of problems with this line of thinking.

First of all, eliminating copyright law doesn't prevent people form profiting from their works. I think this is clear today. Effectively, in many sectors there is no real copyright law observed; music, for example, can generally be had freely and easily through piracy that is effortless and casual to the general user as logging into an email account. It's everywhere. And yet people have not stopped making money from music. I think it's strikingly clear that copyright isn't necessary for people to earn money from their creations.

Second, I think you're assuming a whole lot when you say "when copyright laws work correctly." Strictly speaking, copyright laws have never worked correctly. (The constant attempts by copyright advocates to change the laws surrounding copyright are clear proof that even they agree that copyright isn't functional right now.) To use my own example: whole swaths of music were simply shut down in the late 90s as a result of a flurry of copyright lawsuits. That's killing creation. And one might note that artists have never been fairly supported for their creations. In fact, now, when (in many sectors) copyright has less force than ever before, I think artists are compensated better for their creations than they were when copyright law was strong.

Finally, I feel like it's important to note that public discourse and profit have very little to do with each other when it comes down. I think artists are fantastically important for the health of society, but it's precisely because of that importance that we shouldn't reduce them to pandering – which is what a dependence on mere profit does. They should be supported as they are, ideally, without being forced to make money from their art. I know it's second nature in a capitalist society to simply assume that the property/profit metaphors are applicable to anything and everything, but art is one place where they really don't fit. I accept that on some level there might not be a system that's that much better, but given that artists and creators can earn a living from what they make even without copyright law, I think it's probably a good idea to eliminate it.
posted by koeselitz at 9:43 AM on January 3, 2011


Because Disney will not stand for that. Letting Disney pick up the tab on their intellectual property seems like a compromise that would free up a lot of works that are being held hostage by Mickey Mouse.

You think Disney will stand for that? I thought we were talking pie-in-the-sky stuff here.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:21 AM on January 3, 2011


As far as software is concerned, for most of it abolishing copyright wouldn't matter at all. Proprietary software source code is never released, it remains a trade secret. People who write software for a living (e.g. me) would make the same sort of money.
posted by phliar at 6:08 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a modest proposal for those who think intellectual property is the same as physical property: for every piece of IP you create you pay property taxes. If the state is going to enforce your rights to IP, you get to pay for the enforcement. Did you write a new song? You need to pay IP taxes every year to protect your property rights for that song. If you fail to pay the taxes the state will seize your property, just like it does with physical property. Also like physical property it doesn't matter if you turn a profit, a claim of ownership alone makes you liable for taxation. Fair?

Do you have to pay property taxes on your computer, your cell phone, your couch, etc? No? Then you are wrong. When people say IP = property, they do not mean real estate.
posted by gjc at 5:53 AM on January 7, 2011


The rest of it may be neither here nor there, but I wanted to point out that this is flatly not true. Not unless you mean it's simply not allowed. There are whole art forms that have been completely crippled, reduced to a pale shadow of what they were, by overzealous enforcement of copyright law. Anyone familiar with hip hop should be able to tell you this.

But of course the hip hop artists who built new songs out of samples weren't important enough or artistic enough or white enough to really matter when the copyright police showed up.


No, they just had to play by the same rules everyone else did. If you want to use someone else's work, you have to pay the fee.

Or you can do what everyone else has done and use your creativity to make a new song. But that wouldn't work, would it. Because the point of sampling is to evoke the feelings from that specific recording of that specific song.

Also, hip hop doesn't exist any more? *surprised*
posted by gjc at 6:01 AM on January 7, 2011


First of all, eliminating copyright law doesn't prevent people form profiting from their works. I think this is clear today. Effectively, in many sectors there is no real copyright law observed; music, for example, can generally be had freely and easily through piracy that is effortless and casual to the general user as logging into an email account. It's everywhere. And yet people have not stopped making money from music. I think it's strikingly clear that copyright isn't necessary for people to earn money from their creations.

That is only because of an asymmetry of access. Not everyone knows how to get music without paying for it, or are willing to pay for the convenience. Musicians are thus not being paid for their work, but for convenient delivery mechanisms.
posted by gjc at 6:03 AM on January 7, 2011


Musicians are thus not being paid for their work, but for convenient delivery mechanisms.

Most musicians earn the bulk of their money from performing and not for recordings. This has always been true. Digital copies (an infinite good) have just put this into stark relief.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:33 AM on January 7, 2011


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