No to perpetual copyright

I’ve talked about copyright before. I believe the extension of the life of copyright is a bad thing for artists/creators. If that sounds counterintuitive, you should read the articles below…

— Mark Helprin, a fellow at the Claremont Institute, argues that copyright should be perpetual! He equates copyright ownership with that of land ownership (or any other tangible asset). There’s a fundamental flaw in that argument and the next link (below) explains it well. I believe Helprin’s moving in the wrong direction on copyright.

— Lawrence Lessig starts a wiki page to offer a counter to Helprin. Excellent collaborative piece that explains why Helprin is wrong and why freeing creative works after a certain point helps to “free culture”. In addition to explaining the difference between tangible works and intangible property, it clarifies the point that artists are entitled to profit from their work, but usually the ability to extract value from a work, ends after a few years. When that period is over, the rights should end in order to allow others to create…

Further, the legal burden on authors and artists would increase immeasurably, literally to the point where no new works could be produced. There are a limited number of popular plot lines, a limited number of melodies, and so forth. As already noted, artists have always appropriated others works and incorporated it into their own. Homer, Shakespeare, Calder, Warhol — there is no artist that does not incorporate the culture that surrounds them, produced by previous artists and artisans. into their own art. It would be impossible for an artist to research the copyright ownership of every element they incorporate into the work they produce.

But,you say, it would be absurd to copyright, for example, plots. Boy meets girl.Consider then, music written in 4/4 time. A liberal calculation, assuming a 16 note scale, sharps, flats, and regular notes, the possibility of silence, a possible 32 beats per note, and 4 beats per bar, yields a total of only 75,264 different melodies expressed in 12 bars or less. This includes one or more repetitions within the 12 bar interval, as well as the melody of John Cage’s 4’33”. At the rate of one new melody per day, surely not an outrageous rate given the number of musicians in the world, all possible 4/4 melodies will be exhausted in a mere 207 years. Of course we will run out of appealing 4/4 melodies far sooner.

In addition, the wiki postulates that artists should be able to attach a creative commons license to their works so that they can determine that the work can not be used for commercial purposes etc.

Since I now fall into the camp of creators (albeit a very, very minor one with my two little short films), I tried to put myself in the shoes of a creator and think about this problem. After the end of the copyright period,1 I would be perfectly happy to attach a Creative Commons license to my work and let it go2. Now, for me, the Creative Commons license would be a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license3 so if someone else makes money off my work, they have to pay me. But if they don’t and if they attribute appropriately, and are also willing to share their work, go for it.

— Finally, here’s a YouTube video that Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University put together using minuscule clips from Disney cartoons. It explains copyright law, how it has changed, and provides a brief overview of Fair Use as well – all by clipping words out of the Disney cartoons! Worth a watch.

Hat tip for both the YouTube video and the debate between Helprin and Lessig: Boing Boing

  1. What about before the end of the copyright period? Hmm… probably fine with that too, if the Creative Commons license is followed. 

  2. Note: Copyright is now the life of the author/creator plus seventy years! Clearly way too long. 

  3. The same one that covers this blog