Life plus 70

Yesterday was “Public Domain Day”, celebrated in places like Poland, Israel, Macedonia and Italy, but not the United States.

Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain (CSPD) points out that, in countries that are not the United States, 2012 is a year in which works by authors that include Louis Brandeis, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf become “freely available for anyone to use, republish, translate or transform.” CSPD explains:

It’s the second part of the copyright bargain; the limited period of exclusive rights ends and the work enters the realm of free culture. Prices fall, new editions come out, songs can be sung, symphonies performed, movies displayed. Even better, people can legally build on what came before.

The United States is not part of Public Domain Day because the length of U.S. copyright was extended in 1998 to automatically last for an author’s lifetime, plus 70 years. The earliest that any works covered by the law would become available under public domain is expected to be 2019.

Copyright in the United States was written into the Constitution to reward those responsible for creative works with a limited monopoly on their use. Proponents of legislation like the Stop Online Piracy Act use what is an almost unlimited monopoly to justify an assault on due process.

In a wide-ranging interview with TechDirt’s Mike Masnick, author and IP lawyer Barry Eisler plainly states:

No reasonable person can claim that, with a term of less than a century, artists wouldn’t be adequately incentivized to create. So current copyright terms are clearly too long from the standpoint of what’s best for society overall.

Eisler goes on to point out how these laws backfire:

Every time content providers try to slow, control, or stop new distribution technology, they wind up hurting not just consumers, but also themselves … Lower-cost, more efficient distribution methods are developments content providers should embrace, not attempt to stymie, and fighting technologies that benefit consumers is about the best way I can imagine to lose money, create new pirates, and seed business opportunities to competitors.

In his 2009 book, “Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars”, William Patry argues strongly that innovation depends on a more limited copyright than we now have. In the absence of innovation, we find piracy, the consequence of a bad API.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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