General Politics/Government

Copyright Extension Debate: Urban Legends

Jerry Brito’s Not an Urban Legend exposes the holes in the arguments for a need for extended copyright.

The arguments made to extend copyright vary slightly, but you’ll almost always hear that without the protections of copyright, people wouldn’t have the commercial incentive to create. It’s convenient for the people making such an argument to ignore the fact that Walt Disney pretty much built an empire by creating new works from works that were no longer protected. When Disney was creating works, the public domain wasn’t more than a generation old. Today’s Walt Disney must wait many, many more decades before he/she is allowed to do the same, and yet arguments are still made that extending copyright is a good thing.

Jerry Brito basically pointed out the flaws in one such argument, made by James DeLong of IPCentral. DeLong claimed that the idea that older creations are not forgotten by their creators and so are not deteriorating into nothing due to the inability of preservationists to copy them into a less fragile medium. He points to entire packs of older movies being sold on Amazon as proof that copyright holders are “diligent [in] panning their slag for gold.”

But I would point him to another series for sale on Amazon called Dover Thrift. It is a series of books, priced at about $2 each, the underlying works of which are all in the public domain. That is, they are being printed—and someone is making money—without copyright.

Therefore, what I argue for is not no copyright, but rather sensible copyright. I argue for taking into consideration the public domain, and not just the interests of creators, when setting copyright terms. What should be the balance is up for debate, but an informed debate requires that we face facts and not simply dismiss those facts as urban legends because they are inconvenient to our position.

Sensible copyright would be nice.

4 replies on “Copyright Extension Debate: Urban Legends”

Copyright supporters routinely make this ludicrous argument. A law, which makes it illegal to do X (make copies) somehow is supposed to result in more X (copies) being made. Bullshit. Doesn’t happen anywhere else in life, doesn’t happen here. The whole purpose of copyright law is to make copies LESS AVAILABLE, which allows the outlets that do have them available to charge higher prices due to scarcity. Delong is aware of this – he’s just lying.

In the absence of copyright laws, all movies ever made would be available on DVD, not just the tiny subset actually available. For movies that have long been paid for (50 years ago!), they would be available at the marginal cost of producing a DVD, less than $1/disc. In the absence of copyright laws, all movies ever made would also be available for internet download, at the marginal cost of the download, which is only a few cents.

All movies ever made would be available in the absence of copyright law. There are some arguments for copyright, but “increased availability” is a totally false and mendacious one.

I’d be fine with people who believed in positions opposite of mine so long as they were honest about why they believed in it. It’s why I get frustrated with politicians, too. If you think you need to dance around the truth in order to convince me of your position, maybe your position isn’t right.

Is it right that a creator should be paid for the sweat of their brow that they put into a creative work? Absolutely. Yay for copyright law that allows that, and non-intrusive measures to help enforce it!

Should a creative work be given the TIME it needs to earn its author its value? Certainly. That “feels” right and fair. After all, Lord of the Rings didn’t catch on until… what…. 20 years after it was first published?

If the original artists die after producing said creative work, is it fair that the money they would have received go to their immediate family to support them the same as other investments and efforts? Surely. You don’t wanna tell the widow and the young children that they’ve now got NOTHING coming in after they supported the author in his years of toil.

Should the company that helped finance, publicise, and distribute that creative work be entitled to a share of the profits? Why not? They invested in it, they provided a service to the creator, and they should get a return on that investment. That’s capitalism at work. And that division of labor tends to improve things for everyone from the customer to the artist and everyone in-between.

So far, so good. I don’t think there’s anything here that most reasonable folk (at least those of us used to a capitalist economy) would have a problem with.

But is it required that an artist’s GRANDCHILDREN continue to receive payments on something grandpa did decades before they were born? Ummm…. that’s pretty questionable.

Is it mandatory that a company of people continue to receive income on an effort made by a predecessor they don’t even remember? Even more questionable.

How about a corporation that had absolutely nothing to do with the original creation or popularity of the work, but picked up the license in some bankruptcy court and decides to exploit the original without contributing anything in the process (other than paying some legal teams to help “crack down” on illegal copies of the work)? I’m sure some businessmen see that as being truly right and fair, but I don’t think the general public thinks of it in any such light.

And I think that last, in particular, is what’s tainting people’s views into believing that there’s nothing wrong with piracy. They KNOW the whole “artist’s rights” thing is a joke, because it’s been S.O.P. for a long time for media middlemen to own ALL the rights to a creative work,a nd they have a perception that the only artists who receive back-end income from the work are the ones who are so fabulously wealthy from it anyway that they won’t miss a couple pennies from a lost sale.

They KNOW that the average “struggling artist” slaving away to create something is so far down the revenue stream that individual consumer behavior’s impact is barely more than a butterfly effect.

So IMO, the extended copyright calls and intrusive copyright protection schemes are doing more harm than good. They are just reinforcing public opinion that the only ones benefitting from copyright are a bunch of sleazy lawyers and rich studio executives. And that’s just going to make copyright even harder to enforce in the future as it gets less reasonable.

You make a good point, Jay. Copyright used to be easy to enforce because the only ones who would infringe were publishers. For some time now, the common citizen can infringe, and it is very easy for them to do so, especially since copyright law isn’t taught in civics class and they don’t know that they might be infringing.

With major companies tightening their grip on copyright, it just makes it easier for the everyday citizen to assume that “one copy won’t hurt anyone”, regardless if the infringement is against the rights of a major conglomerate or an indie.

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