How Far Out Do Content Creators Look?

from the death-plus-50-years-or-so dept

One of the ongoing issues in talking about copyright extension is whether or not it really incentivizes creators any more to know that their works will be protected fifty years past their death or seventy-five. A reasonable argument can be made that it makes no difference at all to the average content creator and, thus, copyright extension efforts make no sense. The entire point of copyright, after all, is to create incentives for content creators to go about their business creating content. If an extension of copyright fails to do that… why extend it? With that in mind, Ernest Miller raises an interesting point after reading a NY Times piece pointing out that most investors can’t look out beyond five years in choosing their investments. If that’s the case, Miller notes, it’s worth wondering if content creators have similarly short time horizons in the investment they make into their own content. The situation is a bit different, obviously — but it does highlight the need to re-examine copyright issues to look at whether or not these changes really do serve the core reason for having copyrights in the first place.

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Comments on “How Far Out Do Content Creators Look?”

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Mike Brown (user link) says:

Copyright term

Mark Twain, of all people, made a very eloquent speech on this point back in 1906.

I am aware that copyright must have a limit, because that is required by the Constitution of the United States, which sets aside the earlier Constitution, which we call the decalogue. The decalogue says you shall not take away from any man his profit. I don’t like to be obliged to use the harsh term. What the decalogue really says is, “Thou shalt not steal,” but I am trying to use more polite language.

The laws of England and America do take it away, do select but one class, the people who create the literature of the land. They always talk handsomely about the literature of the land, always what a fine, great, monumental thing a great literature is, and in the midst of their enthusiasm they turn around and do what they can to discourage it.

I know we must have a limit, but forty-two years is too much of a limit. I am quite unable to guess why there should be a limit at all to the possession of the product of a man’s labor. There is no limit to real estate.

Doctor Hale has suggested that a man might just as well, after discovering a coal-mine and working it forty-two years, have the Government step in and take it away.

What is the excuse? It is that the author who produced that book has had the profit of it long enough, and therefore the Government takes a profit which does not belong to it and generously gives it to the 88,000,000 of people. But it doesn’t do anything of the kind. It merely takes the author’s property, takes his children’s bread, and gives the publisher double profit. He goes on publishing the book and as many of his confederates as choose to go into the conspiracy do so, and they rear families in affluence.

And they continue the enjoyment of those ill-gotten gains generation after generation forever, for they never die. In a few weeks or months or years I shall be out of it, I hope under a monument. I hope I shall not be entirely forgotten, and I shall subscribe to the monument myself. But I shall not be caring what happens if there are fifty years left of my copyright. My copyright produces annually a good deal more than I can use, but my children can use it. I can get along; I know a lot of trades. But that goes to my daughters, who can’t get along as well as I can because I have carefully raised them as young ladies, who don’t know anything and can’t do anything. I hope Congress will extend to them the charity which they have failed to get from me.

The full text is available at:

Emichan says:

Re: Copyright term

As has been discussed here before, Mark Twain along with many other people is eloquently mistaken. His mistake is the assumption that you can treat art, literature, and things of their ilk as property like real estate or a suit of clothes. There is, however, a fundamental difference between the two types of property.

Intellectual property is not really property at all, but a government granted monopoly. To use the same example as Mr. Clemens, traditionally, the rights to a mine are granted for a limited time to the first to stake a claim on the mine, but the land was never sold to the miner, simply leased, so that for a limited time a certain person was given the right to benefit from the output of the mine. This is actually very similar to intellectual property rights.

The person who creates a work of literature or art can never really own it. Once it is shared with others, it cannot be unshared, the ideas cannot be sucked out of someones head once it has entered therein. Then, it belongs to anyone who has read the book, looked at the painting, seen the invention, and so on, and all this sharing takes nothing away from the creator.

A copyright, like a mining right, merely grants for a limited time the right to benefit as one can from the output of a creative work.

For some interesting discussion along these lines, read this past Techdirt post: Arguing For Infinite Copyright… Using Copied Ideas And A Near Total Misunderstanding Of Property.

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