DO COPYRIGHT PROTECTION LAST TOO LONG
Do Copyright protection last too long?
Copyright is essentially a provision of monopolistic protection for authors
as an incentive for them to produce creative works for the public good. The
issue of “how long a copyright should last is as old as the oldest
copyright statute and will doubtless continue as long as there is a copyright
law.” The balance between rewarding authors and securing a benefit to the
public is often a delicate one, and indeed it is at the heart of the debate over
the long term of copyright today.
But this monopoly can last – as the Constitution dictates for only a
“limited time.” After that, the work goes into the public domain, so
other authors, artists, and composers can use it in creating new works, and so
the entire public can draw on it as part of our cultural heritage.
Fourteen years was the original copyright term in the United States.
At present copyright lasts in the United States until 50 years after the
author’s death — or in the case of corporate authors (like Disney or
Microsoft), or of works published before l978, until 75 years after their
But such long terms raise the public’s costs for access to the work. They may
also bar access, since the writer’s descendants may not approve of what she
wrote. They may block authors from creating new works based on earlier ones.
Copyrights, unlike trademarks, have always posed problems, even if you think
they’re necessary. They are, after all, government-granted monopolies; as such,
they should be strictly limited and carefully watched. If someone wants to
extend their reach, he’d better have a compelling argument for doing so, and
lawmakers should approach his proposal with due skepticism.
Instead, Congress acts as a rubber stamp for copyright holders, especially
the big campaign donors in the entertainment industry. At the dawn of the
republic, copyrights lasted for just 14 years and could be renewed for another
14. This period has been gradually extended, especially lately: It has been
lengthened 11 times in the last 40 years, most recently by the Sonny Bono
Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998
Governments SAY they promote literacy and education for the masses, but these
bills would remove a million books from a quarter of a billion people, in the US
That is a total of a quarter of a quadrillion books that are now illegal to
copy. Even if you value lifetime book access to each of these books at only a
penny, the loss for the US public is $2,500,000,000,000 $2.5 Trillion or if
you count a book at it’s “street value” of $10, this would equal a sum
of $2,500,000,000,000,000 $2.5 Quadrillion. If you aren’t so localized in your
interests, and were willing to consider the rest of the world, you have to
consider that the US only contains less than 5% of the world’s population; so on
world wide interest levels, every time copyrights were extended 20 years and a
million books were kept out of the public domain.
The total loss to the world was:
20 times $2.5 Quadrillion
OR $ 50 Quadrillion
at a “street value” of $10 per book per human lifetime.
Copyright is based on a philosophical view that sees knowledge as being
spontaneously generated and as not having a past. It acknowledges only one
moment of authorship. In this view, an idea is autonomous, magically springing
into the mind of the “genius”. But we all know that ideas don’t come
from nowhere, for example, the Rolling Stones owe their success to Black
American Rhythm and Blues music, generated by a culture, not an individual.
The existing periods already are so long that only rarely are we talking
about the authors themselves. The human individuals who created the works have
long since passed from the scene.
So who makes the money from long-term copyrights?
Not the authors and artists; they are almost always long dead before current
copyrights expire. The money occasionally goes to the heirs, but usually it goes
to corporations (publishers, movie, and record companies) who buy up the rights.
At a time when Congress is reforming the Welfare System for Individuals, I think
it needs to rethink its Corporate Welfare System also
The fact is that excessive exclusive right durations actually harm the
progress of science and useful arts greatly. I believe that is where we are now,
and that it is time for the Americans to demand the return of its cultural