Should copyright be permanent?

Should copyright be permanent?

Note: this is a re-post of an article which originally appeared in this blog on 2010/08/09. I am scheduled for major surgery on January 17th, and I don’t know how quickly I’ll be able to write after that. So, to keep the content going, I am pre-scheduling posts. It’s possible conditions have changed since I wrote it, but I’ll try to lightly edit these when that’s necessary for clarity. 

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution

This is going to be an unpopular suggestion.

I personally benefit greatly from copyright having a limited term.  A lot of the books I read are ones that are free to me, precisely because their copyright terms have expired.

Having a limited term undeniably benefits the reading public.

Why would I want to look at an idea that would take something away from you and me, something that has been in place in the US since 1790?

Times have changed, and I want to make sure that what was fair and logical when the Constitution was first written is fair and logical now.

That’s what the writers of the Constitution intended…that’s why there is the ability to amend the Constitution, and why it has been amended more than twenty-five times.

That’s the first argument I know I have to address.  The Constitution specifically says, “for Limited times”.  It would require amending it to make US copyright permanent, and that’s not likely to happen.

That’s why Jack Valenti reportedly suggested that copyright should be “forever minus one day”, so there was a limitation and it could be done without Constitutional amendment.

That is a trick of the “how”, though.  It’s not about the why.  I’m not going to try to suggest the how of making copyright permanent.  I want to look at if it makes sense.

Using the Constitution literally means one has to also question whether fiction should be copyrighted.  That’s not part of  “Science and the useful Arts”, as quoted at the top of this article.

What would happen if fiction couldn’t be copyrighted?  I think people would still write fiction, but you wouldn’t be buying it.  As soon as a book was released, copies could be made and distributed for free, under the law.  Essentially, you wouldn’t have professional authors.  If copies could be distributed freely, you wouldn’t have a business of publishing.

There are people who shiver at the idea of  a “business of publishing”.  They think art should be given freely, and be part of the culture.

If that’s the case (and there are people who argue this point), copyright laws shouldn’t exist.


I think most people see the value of copyright to the society.  Let’s take an early driver of copyright concepts, the idea of making a map.  Maps of a coastline, for example, were difficult to make…even life-threatening.  Let’s say a cartographer took months carefully navigating a coastline, and made a map.  Once the technology was there, other people could easily copy that map and distribute it.  If the original mapmaker has no control over that, you are probably going to have a lot fewer maps made.  The drive to create the map may still be there in the individual, but what company will sponsor the expedition with no chance of financial return?  How is the mapmaker going to afford to take the time away from their normal profession to make the map?

I think that one seems obvious.  Does the public benefit if the map is given away for free?  Yes…assuming it exists at all.  If the map isn’t made because there was no one to finance the expedition and no one who could afford the time to volunteer to make the map, the public loses out on it.

I would suggest that the same thing applies to fiction.  Without copyright, the public would see fewer novels…they wouldn’t see zero novels, but fewer.

So, let’s accept that the idea of some copyright is justified for the sake of this article.

Why, then, should it be limited?

The concept itself seems odd to me.  When you set a time limit on a copyright, you give people a certain period where they can benefit from their own work.  We don’t do that with anything else (except patents, of course).

From a business sense, publishing a novel is somewhat like opening a restaurant.

People pay to enjoy the experience.  Most restaurants fail within five years, I believe.  Most paper novels went out of print within five years.

If you have a unique vision, though, a special experience, people can want to enjoy it for decades…centuries.

Imagine the government saying, “You have ten years to benefit from your restaurant.  At that point, even if you are fully booked every night, the public gets to take over your restaurant.  They don’t have to pay you any money to eat there.”

Some restaurants might take years to become popular.  If the restaurant is doing great ten years later, why can’t you keep charging for meals?

Let the public decide how long the value lasts, not the government.

I don’t think anybody made much of a flap over the original 1790 US copyright term being fourteen years because most works didn’t have a commercial value fourteen years later.

Technology has changed that.

We can now easily enjoy works that are decades old.  That’s certainly part of what has changed.

Many early movies have simply fallen apart.  In the early days of television, the shows weren’t recorded.  It either wasn’t possible, or it was too expensive.

Technology is not the only thing that’s changed, though.

When I liked listening to music from the 1930s and 1940s during the 1970s, that seemed crazy to a lot of people…certainly eccentric.  How many high schoolers in the 1970s listened to the Dorsey brothers?

How many high schoolers now listen to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or the Ramones?  All decades before their time.

In the 1960s, nostalgia began to rise as an economic force.  You saw posters of W.C. Fields and Humphrey Bogart.  The Universal monster movies appeared on TV, and in the Aurora model kits.

Kids in the 1950s didn’t think fads of the 1920s were cool in the same way.

Star Wars is three decades old…Star Trek is four.  How many of the biggest moneymakers of 2009 were based on fiction more than fourteen years old?

Okay, not too many people want to go back to a fourteen-year term.

How short makes sense, then, if the economic value is still there?

A current widely used term (in Europe, the US, and South America) is Life+70 years.

The copyright lasts for the life of the author plus seventy years.

That is presumably to say that your children and grandchildren can benefit from your work.

That seems inherently unfair.  First, if I write something that people are willing to buy for two hundred years, why shouldn’t it benefit my descendants for that long?  Why does the government get to say my family can benefit for so long, but no longer?

Second, it seems ageist, and I’m somewhat surprised it hasn’t been successfully challenged on those grounds.

If a twenty-five year old writes a bestseller, it is likely (but not inevitable) that she or he will get more economic benefit out of it than a ninety-year old who writes a bestseller.  I don’t understand that.

Of course, a twenty-five year could die at twenty-five.  A badly-timed step off a curb or a drunk driver could see that.

“Sorry, kid…your grandfather could have provided for you, but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time…so we say you can’t make any money from that classic he wrote.  Oh, I know your buddy can…but her grandmother lived to be 108.”

The other thing is that the “Life plus” means its harder to figure out if a work is in the public domain or not.  Let’s say you buy a book published in 1980 at a garage sale.  You’ve never heard of it before, but it’s great.  The printing company is out of business.  You’d like to make it available to other people.  You Google the author…no information.  You can’t tell if it’s okay to publish it or not.

It would save a lot of money and time if we weren’t in doubt about whether or not something was in copyright.

I’d suggest that rightsholders have to keep on file with the Copyright Office a way to contact them…that would make things simple.

One of the arguments I’ve had people make against this idea is that they don’t want corporations to control classic works of art.  “Would you want Sony to own the works of Beethoven?”

If it’s okay during the copyright term as it is now, why isn’t it okay two hundred years from now?

If Disney can own The Lion King now, why can’t it own it later?

What changes?

Is it great that college theatre groups can do Shakespeare without paying royalties?  Sure, that’s great for the community!  Wouldn’t it be great if they could do Wicked?  Um…wait, you say, Stephen Schwarz is still making money from that.

Right…so what would be wrong with Shakespeare’s descendants doing the same?

What would be wrong with the company that bought the rights from Shakespeare still making money on it?  What has changed about the relationship between the consumer and the work?

I’ve seen arguments that a permanent copyright would stifle derivative works.  Should Arthur Laurents (West Side Story) and Cole Porter (Kiss Me, Kate) have had to pay Shakespeare for Romeo and Juliet, and The Taming of the Shrew?

Why not, if Shakespeare contributed to the success of those works?  I’m not saying we shouldn’t have West Side Story: I just don’t see what is wrong with compensating someone (or their descendants or the company to whom they sold the rights) for their contributions.

The next obvious question to me is academic and research use.  Yes, I would considerably strengthen Fair Use (USA) and Fair Dealing (UK), as part of this package.

For example, I would let high school students get a book for free for a limited time (which could be done easily with e-books).  Maybe you get three months to read To Kill a Mockingbird when a teacher certifies that you are taking a class with that as part of the curriculum.  At that point, it deletes itself from your device…to get it permanently, you have to buy it.

Would that cut into some sales now?  Initially, yes.  When I managed a brick and mortar store, we did sell quite a few copies of Tom Sawyer when it got assigned.

I think that would be more than compensated by a permanent copyright term.

Colleges would not have to get clearance for even contemporary audio works to be used in a classroom…that’s more complex in the UK than it is in the USA, currently.

I want works to be available for academic and research purposes.

I think people should pay for recreational use.

Would this be difficult to establish?  Absolutely.  Not only would there be the US constitution with which to contend, there would be international agreements.  Some countries (notably Canada and Australia) have shorter terms than the USA now, some have longer (Mexico, for one).  If we did have the longest term on the planet, that would be a huge economic advantage for us in the forever environment of the digital age.  My guess is that other countries would quickly follow us, so as not to be left behind.

If you think permanent copyright is a bad idea, I don’t think you need to worry too much.  The obstacles are probably insurmountable, for now.

As a concept, though, what do you think?  Yes, it would be a big takeaway from the majority of people (even though many people don’t take advantage of it).  I think, though, that making the majority happy at the expense of the minority isn’t always the right thing to do.

Feel free to let me know what you think.

[2019 note: in the past more than eight years, I’ve thought about this a lot. I do think it could genuinely work…permanent copyright in exchange for greater Fair Use rights for study (and preservation). It seems like it would benefit society in a few ways: greater exposure to contemporary works for study, more incentive to create and preserve works…but I still don’t think it will happen or that many of my readers will agree with me. 😉 ]

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

47 Responses to “Should copyright be permanent?”

  1. tuxgirl Says:

    I personally prefer the fixed term copyright over Life+Blah. In fact, I think current US copyright term is too long.

    I see an inherent flaw to your restaurant analogy, btw. In a restaurant, for as long as you are serving food, there are costs to you. So, if you stopped being paid, you would be losing money. For a book, there is an initial investment. It’s a high initial investment, but once it’s made, you don’t have to continue making the same level of commitment forever. Keeping your book available to the public after the copyright expires doesn’t cost you anything.

    I agree that there should be a period of time where the author or their estate should be able to reap the benefits of their work, but I think that 50 years is sufficient time to make up for the costs of the investment put in to the book’s creation.

    Making copyright permanent creates a chill on creation. Many artistic creations are remixes of older works. Do you think that Disney ever would’ve made the movie Alladin if they had to figure out who owned the rights to the original story? What about Mulan? Hunchback of Notre Dame? Hercules?

    What if, if you wanted to quote Thomas Jefferson, you needed to get permission from the estate? Or, if you wanted to create a book of famous artwork, you needed to track down the estates of each and every artist you wanted to feature. Souvenir shops in Italy would need to track down Michelangelou’s estate before making their reproductions of the David, and every symphony orchestra would need to pay a royalty to Mozart’s estate.

    I think that making copyright permanent would detrimentally hurt society. I agree that there needs to be an incentive to do good work (although authors like Cory Doctorow do quite well despite releasing all of their works via creative commons licenses), but I don’t see why my great great great great great grandchildren need to be reimbursed for what I did.

    Sir Isaac Newton said that his success was due to standing on the shoulders of giants. Why should we lock the giants up and charge a fee to stand on their soldiers?

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tuxgirl!

      Your comments are well-written and well-reasoned. Your point about the restaurant is reasonable…it’s not a perfect analogy. I was just trying to show that putting a time limit on a business’ success seems unreasonable to me. No, you don’t have a continuing expense after you write a book, that’s certainly true. However, I still don’t see why you should stop making money after a certain amount of time. The work doesn’t exist until you create it. The relationship between the reader and the book remains the same.

      There wouldn’t be any tracking down: the way I have it, the contact information has to be available at the Copyright Office. I thought I’d mentioned that, but I’ll have to look at it again. I also wouldn’t make this retroactive…it’s too confusing to have a work have been in the public domain and then have it not be.

      So, let’s say Disney wanted to make a movie out of, oh, The House of Night books by P.C. Cast. They’d have to pay for that, right? Why is that different now than one hundred years from now?

      If you want to make a book now of famous comic book covers, you have to get permission…same thing, right?

      As to the shoulders of giants, I don’t want to lock them up. I just don’t want people climbing up there without their permission. 🙂 We already charge for standing on their shoulders, just for a limited time. I want to make it easier to use works without permission for non-profit purposes, harder for profitable ones.

      Remember too that I’d have sweeping exceptions for academic/research/non-profit use. If a professor wanted to write a book quoting Thomas Jefferson for academic use without permission, that would be fine. If you wanted to do it just for fun, the rightsholders would benefit. That seems reasonable to me.

      I expected people to disagree with me on this one. 🙂 I understand that it takes things away from the masses. I can see how there is some benefit to society in taking the rights away from the creators (or their agents) after some time…but I’m not sure that it is justified.

      But I’m fine that you have a different perspective on it.

      • Timothy Says:

        “I still don’t see why you should stop making money after a certain amount of time.” – Bufo

        “You” don’t stop making money under the current copyright laws. It’s your descendants that stop having that opportunity. Yes, our family can benefit from our efforts in life, but they shouldn’t be allowed to fall into laziness just because their ancestors created something popular.

        Just out of curiosity, you expected people to disagree with you, but are you actually a proponent of the ideas you presented or just putting forth food for thought?

      • bufocalvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Timothy!

        The rights would, I think, in many cases belong to a company. When Walt Disney died, should the Disney company have become owned by the government? That seems like a parallel to me. If you write something that people choose to pay for years later, it seems moralistic for the government to decide how that money should be used (or rather, if it should be generated at all), even if it is contrary to what your stated wishes may have been. You could give the copyright to a charity, for example.

        It seems similar to the 100% death tax that has been proposed in the past. You’ve created a successful company and made great investments. When you die, all of your money goes to the government…and your descendants start from scratch. Providing for your descendants can be a great motivator…not everyone is making money for themselves.

        I can see a society where all children have the same amount of money dedicated to their care. No “trust fund babies”…Paris Hilton could have had no more clothes or taken no more trips than a kid from the inner city. You say that the family should benefit in life, but why? Where is the difference between them benefitting while the author is alive and afterwards? If the government took the money away (or the money-making opportunity away) while the author was alive or while the author is dead, where is the difference ethically?

        As to your last question…it’s more food for thought. 🙂 As I mentioned, I don’t think it’s going to happen, and it’s why I titled it with “should” and a question mark. I do think “Life Plus” is unfair, and I think that should be changed. However, I’m more than willing to listen to arguments why “Life Plus” is a good term (as opposed to, say, one hundred years). I think permanent copyright is an idea to be considered, not one to which I pledge myself.

  2. Roland Says:

    The Question that has to be answered is: What kind of right is copyright?

    […] Legal rights (sometimes also called civil rights or statutory rights) are rights conveyed by a particular polity, codified into legal statutes by some form of legislature (or unenumerated but implied from enumerated rights), and as such are contingent upon local laws, customs, or beliefs.

    In contrast, natural rights (also called moral rights or unalienable rights) are rights which are not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of a particular society or polity. Natural rights are thus necessarily universal, whereas legal rights are culturally and politically relative.

    Says Wikipedia…

    So what are the customs in the different cultures? The proof is in pudding it seems.
    History will tell you what kind of right copyright really is.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Roland!

      While the concept of natural rights is arguable, the question of to whom they are applied and under what circumstances is fluid. For example, the right to vote, own property, and so on, has varied for different groups within the USA at different times. Regulations granting those rights have been contrary to the “local laws, customs, or beliefs.”

      My feeling is that the right to benefit from your own labors and creations might be considered a natural right by those definitions. It certainly hasn’t always been that way, but this is a case where it might be applied differently to two different groups. If a person builds a house, many societies (but not all) would think that the person is entitled to that house. The recognition of intellectual property as property is less evenly recognized.

      For myself, I would tend to put the concept of copyright as a “natural right” in those definitions.

      How long a term and to what it applies would fall under a legal right, by the definitions you cite, in my opinion.

      For that, we go back to the Statute of Anne in 1709 as a start of the codification. It was argued that didn’t apply to the colonies, so then we go to our first copyright act in 1790. The length of term has been lengthened several times since the original 14 years (renewable once if the rightsholder was alive). I think that’s partially since the value of intellectual property has increased over time.

      It is to the advantage of the state to have a longer copyright term, of course, because the can collect taxes for a longer period.

      History in Afghanistan would tell me that there is no copyright. History in the US would tell me that there has been a legal copyright since 1790 and that it has lengthened over the years. Customs, of course, change.

      Summing up, my feeling is that there is both a natural right to control your own creatiions, and a legal right that determines the parameters of that control.

      I’m not quite clear from your comment: what does history tell you about copyright?

  3. Timothy Says:

    The problem I see with a permanent copyright is who gets the money 400 years down the road? By that time, there are thousands of descendants of the creator of the work, and dividing the money amongst them all results in a few pennies per person. It does give added incentive to knowing and proving one’s genealogy, but that’s hardly a justification for making a permanent copyright.

    I do like the life+70 argument, but with life spans as they currently are, I could easily also accept 100 years as a set limit. Down the road if life span increases drastically, that might need to be increased, but I disagree with a permanent copyright.

    Who, for example, would receive financial benefit for the copying of the Declaration of Independence? Thomas Jefferson’s descendants? The U.S. government?

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Timothy!

      The royalties would be paid to: the estate; or the company that currently held the rights (who might or might not have a current agreement with descendants). For example, an author might sell the rights to a novel for $100,000 to a publishing company, which would then hold that copyright forever or until it sold it to someone else. Like anything else, the distribution of those royalties would be dependent upon contracts or wills.

      There is nothing in what I suggest that says that the descendants can make a claim to the government for the money. For example, J.M. Barrie willed the royalties from Peter Pan to a hospital, as I recall. While a descendant could challenge the will, that’s always something that could happen.

      As to the Declaration of Independence, I wouldn’t make this retroactive. I think the idea of something going into the public domain and then coming out of it again would be very confusing. If the Declaration was written today, it would likely be in the public domain (as US Government documents typically are). No one would be entitled to royalties on it.

  4. Al Says:

    Listen to this lecture:

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Al!

      I’ll try and get to this. Can you tell me a bit more about it? Who is the lecturer, for example?

    • tuxgirl Says:

      Very nice explanation on why permanent copyright would be damaging…

      Bufo: It’s a talk by James Boyle at ORGCon called “The Incredible Shrinking Public Domain”

  5. tuxgirl Says:

    Honestly, I think one of the best arguments for keeping copyright short is the fact that 85% of copyright owners did not renew the copyright when it was 28 years with the possibility of renewal. Look at the number of orphan works now that are under copyright, but that nobody knows the rights-holder. If the copyright becomes permanent, who’s going to preserve those books? If you look at the stuff PG is trying to preserve, you’ll find that much of it would be lost if it was still under copyright

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks again, Tuxgirl!

      Yes, but that was the paper world, and at a time when many people didn’t think that stories in a pulp (for example) would have value thirty years later.

      Libraries already have exemptions on storing digital copies in some circumstances. Digital files are much easier to preserve than paper copies. I have some books in my collection that are quite rare…partially because they wouldn’t be seen by many people of being of much value. However, if they had been digital files, they would have been easily preserved.

      The Library of Congress already requires digital copies when you register digital works. I would extend that requirement to all literary works that are registered, even if you intend to only publish in paper.

      Project Gutenberg has to do that incredible, marvelous, arduous work because the books weren’t digitized initially, largely.

      If the copyright became permanent (which I think is very unlikely), then: the Library of Congress would preserve the work: the copyright holder would preserve the work; public libraries would preserve the work. The British Library, for example, is dong a great job with preserving digital works.

      There is less reason for a (former) rightsholder to preserve a work in the public domain than one still under copyright. I don’t think letting copyright protection expire encourages preservation.

      As to the orphan works, I would require contact information to be stored with the LoC. There shouldn’t be any problem finding the rightsholder in normal circumstances, so the problem of orphan works is greatly diminished. It would be trickier if someone died with no succession of rights plan. In that case, as happens now with physical property, it would probably be held by the government so claims can be made against it. After a certain period, it might go to the government, which could then auction the rights…sort of like a foreclosure.

      • tuxgirl Says:

        What if it was something like this:
        Copyright term of 25 years, that can be renewed indefinitely. If it doesn’t get renewed, it falls into PD.

        Do you think that would be fair? I think it would allow works to continue being available to the public, as, most likely, the people who are keeping the copyright alive will keep the work in print, and the others would be available via PD.

      • bufocalvin Says:

        tuxgirl, I think that’s a reasonable suggestion.

        I think there are a lot of possibilities. 🙂

        I would want the Library of Congress to get all the renewals on-line, which they don’t have right now.

      • tuxgirl Says:

        Agreed on getting the renewals online. I know PG has some of the years of renewals, because I saw some comments from people on PGDP about proofing them. But that’s not an ideal format to search… 🙂 It would be really nice to be able to tell easily which of the books published after 1923 had valid renewals, so that we could determine if they were still under copyright.

      • bufocalvin Says:

        tuxgirl, absolutely!

        We can search 1950 to 1963 online…but not 1923 to 1949, I believe. It also doesn’t resolve the issue of a valid copyright symbol, which matters in some cases.

        That seems like a good idea regardless of whether or not copyright terms change.

  6. draegi Says:

    no, no and no! That’s a terrible idea!

    I’m biased against it personally because the majority of my use of the kindle is free. I am a medieval literature student, and there’s no way I’d be able to afford the academic prices for all the books which I read/have on kindle searchable for when I write essays.

    One of the greatest strengths of the kindle for me, is that I can easily SEARCH through hundreds of books, for free, whenever and wherever I want, without them taking up the space of hundreds of books. I’m lucky in that there are very few “set texts” for my studies, and my scholars started studying and translating a looong time ago (a significant amount of work is outside of copyright). Gutenberg and amazon books are usually useless because they don’t use page numbers, but the journals on the internet archive are perfect. I don’t usually know which books will be useful before I get them, but kindle searches (when they work properly) mean that quite often I have more resources available than my supervisors… Although my essays have started to show a slight bias towards early scholarly work which I think means I spend even more time in the library!

    From a medieval studies point of view, all writing is an expression of culture and individuality. I understand copyright to an extent, but I agree with tuxgirl that it should be shortened. (I think 50 years or “life”, whichever is more, is enough for everybody to profit) The best writings, whether they’re academic or children’s books have a big impact on culture. Culture is something nobody owns, and although I always give credit where it’s due, and approve of people profiting from their contributions, ultimately trying to keep your work away from the world unless the world pays to see it is a way of holding culture hostage. (There’s a long ranting sentence for you!) I think that readers who are truly touched by the words of a book deserve to “profit” from it, just as much as the accidental ancestors of the genius who wrote it. Most of all I think one of the greatest innovations of the internet is freedom of information, and it’s led to a situation where ideas on the internet are getting FAR more attention than ideas which are held hostage from the world. I think many youtube videos are more influential than many of the latest movies.

    Your ideal world is a world where ideas are given the biggest chance they can get to support their owners, mine would probably be where the greatest authors are given the biggest chance they can get to support their ideas, and when they’re dead, the ideas are freed. – I’d love to see a tracing-back to some Welsh or Cornish family to try and buy the rights to write books and films about King Arthur. Or no more writing about UFOs or little green men, including as a newspaper article unless you find the first paper that mentioned them 150 years ago.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      draegi, thanks for writing!

      It’s interesting, because the vast majority of what I read is also in the public domain (although it’s much more likely to be 19th Century than 9th). I would be hurt by it, in that sense, because I read it for recreational reasons. That would no longer be free.

      However, you academic uses would be. As I’ve explored the idea, I’ve stressed strengthening Fair Use. IF what you were doing was academic, you’d have free access. Since the rightsholders could continue to benefit, they would have an incentive to keep versions up to date with the latest searchability (as one example).

      I also didn’t make the point in the article that it would not be retroactive…those works in the public domain would continue to be in the public domain. That’s been pretty typical as the term has lengthened.

      In terms of writing about UFOs and such, you can’t copyright the concepts in the article. You could write about them, you just couldn’t take the verbatim text. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s pretty close.

      In an academic setting, you could give your students the latest book on UFOs without paying for it…for a limited time, specific use. That would be better than the academic use now. If you wanted to sell the book, and you wanted to use the specific words, then yes, you would owe somebody money. That’s not different than what we have now…it just lengthens the term.

      That concept of “collective culture” is an interesting one. Again, I would stress that academic use as an exception would be strengthened. If people want to study Bob Dylan, or Dylan Thomas, or Dylan Champion, they could do it.

      Culture would be shared for academic use…even current culture. Recreational use would require permission of the rightsholder.

      I don’t mind at all that we are arguing two different sides of this…I’m interested in the discussion. I think your life would be easier with a permanent copyright/strengthened Fair Use combination…as would be the case for other academics. In exchange, the rightsholder (which would often be a company) would be able to make money on recreational uses for a longer period.

      • draegi Says:

        You’re right, it’s certainly an engaging topic and you present a pretty convincing argument considering how strong a view you’ve taken! Anyway, I think if I paid as much attention to Gildas and Bede as I do to Verne and Conan-Doyle I would be a much better student. ;> But personal uses aside. I never know quite what I’m going to need for my work. Last year I was writing an essay about the earliest Irish poetry (roscada) but ended up needing to reference the Bhagavad Ghita in the Mhabarata (a Hindu religious text). I don’t think Krishna would mind too much me not paying him royalties for accessing a free copy of his work, but what about if I was a politics student studying something newer? Would I be allowed carte blanche whilst writing an essay?

        I see a lot of commercialisation surrounding the Constitution – should those companies be paying the descendants of the founding fathers? Should children actually be allowed to see it at all if they aren’t actually studying it? Should restaurants that sing “happy birthday to you” really have to give royalties to Warner Brothers? (oops, that already happens ;>)

        I suppose in a book or work of art you would let people get away with a reference to a character as long as they weren’t trying to defame or steal intellectual property (fair use), but if you put our heritage in the hands of businesses, does it seem impossible that they might recognise how valuable what they’re holding is, and start charging enormous prices for even a look at it? The only safe place for something that valuable, is in everyone’s hands. Imagine in the future after JK Rowling died, if Amazon decided that harry potter was very nice, thankyou very much, and that our grandchildren could only see the books if they paid huge sums of money. There are no more paperbacks, and your personal ebook edition can’t be transferred (Amazon DRM). In the current situation businesses can sell old books if they make a cool new edition or translation, but if a person wants to read granny’s copy, or retell it, or translate it themselves for a friend, or even write bad fan fiction, or poetry in the same style, then they’re free to. I don’t understand how you can improve on that! What if anthropologists came to an oral society, but were told they couldn’t report back any stories unless they paid copyright. – It’s a huge limitation. Culture is very communicative and limitations on the freedom of information mean we lose something about our culture – for our grandchildren it might mean they have no idea what people in the twenty-first century read, unless they did a course on it. Public domain means that no-one has a monopoly, and prices shouldn’t go too high.

  7. krystalspin Says:

    Suggest or recommend (can’t decide which) that you watch this YouTube of Johanna Blakely’s TED Talk regarding copyrights and creativity. Really affected my thinking on the subject! Pretty hard to make her numbers lie. Blip says: “Copyright law’s grip on film, music and software barely touches the fashion industry … and fashion benefits in both innovation and sales.”

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Krystalspin!

      I appreciate you including the clip! I’ve seen some great lectures from TED and I look forward to watching it. Twelve hour door-to-door workdays right now, so it may be a couple of days.

      I haven’t seen it yet, but the fashion industry seems an odd comparison (although perhaps not as odd as the restaurant thing I used). 😉 Do we want books to be effectively gone from the world when the next season comes along because of less expensive imitations? Fashion has to innovate (and many people find those innovations extreme) because the life cycle of fashion is so short. Introduce a fashion in New York in February, and it’s in the stores in the fall. The next year, it’s done, generally. Release a hardback in September, it sells through the holiday season (hopefully), keeps working its way around (if it succeeds) until the paperback, when its renewed…and then continues to sell as a backlist title for decades. That pattern is changing with e-books, of course.

      I’m sure her lecture may address that, and I hope I’ll get to see it soon. I’m open-minded…I’ve only suggested permanent copyright as a matter for consideration.

      For me, I don’t see the

    • bufocalvin Says:

      krystalspin, thanks again for including the video! I had fifteen minutes to watch it at lunch today. 🙂

      It does not convince me at all that books should not have copyright, because the two industries are so different. When you mentioned her numbers, the one key slide seemed to be the bar graph, but I think it’s an artificial isolation of the variable. Do people spend more on food or on books? Food, obviously (well, I may not have always done that, but overall, I assume that’s true). Is that because you can’t copyright a dish? I’m thinking there may be other factors at play. 🙂 If we removed copyright from books, would that industry gross as much as the food industry? I’m guessing not. We could do a similar comparison of the value of the book industry in different countries, based on the length of their copyright laws. The EU and the USA both have Life+70 terms (although ours is more complex). Afghanistan, I believe, has no copyright law. If we looked at the gross for publishing in the EU, USA, and Afghanistan, would it be appropriate to conclude that the longer copyright term results in a higher gross? No, because there are other variables that might affect it as well. I may graph something like that, though…might be interesting. 🙂

      I enjoyed watching the video…thanks again!

      • tuxgirl Says:

        Bufo: have you had a chance to watch the video that Al posted? I thought that one was very focused on copyright, particularly with books.

      • bufocalvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, tuxgirl!

        Not yet. I just saw the video krystalspin suggested from TED. I will, though.

  8. Man in the Middle Says:

    I see limited copyright term as a justice issue, same as estate taxes. The basic justification for some being rich and others being poor is that all competed equally on a level playing field. The goal is for each new generation to also compete fairly, rather than having some in the new generation starting out far ahead through no merit of their own. When some do start out with unfair advantage, why should others graciously accept losing? The end of that road is rebellion, which harms both rich and poor. Americans consider each other equals, with no one better than anyone else. Would we really be better off with a hereditary aristocracy? These questions of economic justice were well raised by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so perhaps it’s appropriate to consider them again on his holiday.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Man!

      It’s an interesting perspective. George McGovern famously ran into opposition with a group of essentially blue collar workers when he talked about increasing the estate tax. While one might anticipate that people of fewer means would be in favor of the government getting the money at death (and presumably putting it into public programs), I don’t think that’s perceived as fair.

      The current copyright term (Life+70) seems designed to provide for descendants.

      It seems to me that the justice is in all people having an equal opportunity to acquire the wealth and distribute it to descendants, not in the descendants getting it. Do we otherwise prohibit living grandparents from giving gifts (or paying for the education of) grandchildren? Should we also prohibit the grandparents from giving money to the parents unless the parents agree not to spend it on the grandchildren? Otherwise, with your suggestion, it appears to me that the grandchildren of rich grandparents are “unfairly” advantaged. I think reading and traveling are two major advantages for a child: since the child doesn’t earn the money (typically) for books and trips, should books and trips for children only be allowed when financed by the government? That would be the only way to create a “level playing field” for that generation, it appears to me. Private education, I presume, would also be banned.

      As to Dr. King, I’m not aware of anything where he opposed people being able to provide for successive generations. There have been discussions of his inheritance in the press, so I assume he left a will.

      My intuition is that a 100% death tax, where all money and property was assumed by the government at someone’s death, would have more likelihood of inspiring rebellion than the current circumstance. In the current situation, some people are born into rich families and are advantaged for that reason. If the ability to reach that rich state is perceived as being afforded equally, I don’t think that is seen as an intolerable social structure by most people. It’s when the opportunities are seen as unequal that we more clearly enter the area of inequities with which Dr. King was concerned, in my opinion.

      Thank you for a very thoughtful comment on this important day!

  9. Round up #47: Mags for AmTab, e-books subsidize paper? « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] four things are to be considered. When I wrote what turned out to be one of my controversial posts Should copyright be permanent? I explored the idea of permanent copyright. Part of what I suggested there was a broader definition […]

  10. Supreme Court to decide: can Congress take books out of the public domain? « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] you. When something falls out of copyright, people can do anything they want with it. I’ve talked about the idea before of copyright being permanent, but this is something […]

  11. SOPA, PIPA, and why Wikipedia is on strike today « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] country which is in the public domain in that jurisdiction and not in mine. I’ve explored the idea that copyright should be permanent (which I know is one of my most controversial posts). I am not anti-DRM (Digital Rights Management) […]

  12. Round up #97: Amazon Yesterday, “romanticized” classics « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] This is all legal, of course, under the current laws in which books fall into the public domain. If you think people shouldn’t be able to alter the classics this way, then you might be interested in the idea of permanent copyright. […]

  13. Little Orphan E-books | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Should copyright be permanent? […]

  14. Re-imagining copyright | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Should copyright be permanent? […]

  15. Kindle’s 10 most wanted: July 5, 2014 | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Should copyright be permanent? […]

  16. Round up #263: parody legal in the UK, Kindle case for those with grip issues | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Should copyright be permanent? […]

  17. Copyright law: inherently unequal? | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Should copyright be permanent? […]

  18. John Donkey Says:

    The central issue is that permenant copyright removes incentive to create new works. Instead you would have rightsholders milking franchises and existing works for eternity; why take a risk with something new when you can continue to milk what’s tried and true? Thanks to Disney’s tireless efforts, we may be approaching such an end anyway, but it’s in all our best interests that this does not occur. It’s no different than patent law; you need some protection to give people the incentive to invent or create but not so much that you kill any motivation to ever do so again.

    But if it ever does come to that, there are always work arounds, yar har har!!!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, John!

      It’s an interesting assertion. While you describe it as “central”, I don’t think it’s something that I’ve seen commonly given as a reason for terminating copyright after a certain period. I’d very much like to see any data that supports that. For example, something that shows specifically that because X was reaching the end of copyright protection, the rightsholder created new property Y.

      It seems counterintuitive to me. If the copyright for Steamboat Willie had been permanent, would Disney not have made Fantasia? Frozen? When someone publishes the first novel in a series, do they wait until the copyright is going to run out before they publish the next one? Do they only write the second novel so that they’ll have copyright protection for one more year? That all seems unlikely.

      For creative works, novelty sells. I can’t see a rightsholder sitting on a decades old property, not creating new things, while competitors are doing exactly that.

      That seems quite different from a patent. A zipper still has value decades later…people aren’t looking for a new zipper mechanism, commonly, in he way they are looking for a new thing to read (or to watch).

      Summing up: you take the risk, in part, because older creative works have diminishing value. I believe people also do it for creative reasons. I don’t think that having permanent copyright would have a chilling effect on the creation of new works: my guess is that it would be the opposite, because it would encourage new authors/creators to produce new works, given that their ability to earn money on it (for themselves and their descendants) is not based statistically on their age when it is published.

      If you do have data to support the idea (perhaps a lawmaker involved in crafting or opposing a copyright extension mentioning it), I’d be happy to see it.

      Regardless, I hope to hear from you again! Always intriguing when someone comments on an older post like that. 🙂

  19. Google wins appeal | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Should copyright be permanent? […]

  20. Round up #314: Discovery Zone, A Truth Worth Tellin’ | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Should copyright be permanent? […]

  21. Amazon revised the public domain publishing policy again, and I think it’s… | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] * I have explored the idea of permanent copyright in exchange for more robust Fair Use rules in Should copyright be permanent? […]

  22. Public domain makes strange bookfellows | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] on my posts, and me responding) in this blog about copyright. I’ve explored the idea of permanent copyright, and have really appreciated the thoughtful and respectful arguments against that idea, and in some […]

  23. Round up #176: buy a delivery business from Amazon, Prime Day 2018 | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Should copyright be permanent? […]

  24. Books (& more) enter the public domain in the USA today…in a way we haven’t seen for 20 years | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Should copyright be permanent? […]

  25. Books (& more) enter the public domain in the USA today…in a way we haven’t seen for 20 years | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Should copyright be permanent? […]

  26. 10 years of ILMK! Free books! Amazon gift certificate giveaway! All to thank you! | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Should copyright be permanent? (this may be my most controversial post…over time I have come to like better the idea of permanent copyright in exchange for expanded Fair Use provisions) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: