Seizing The Public Domain: Europe Trying To Extend Copyright Term Retroactively [Updated]

from the total-failure dept

The last century of copyright law has basically been one story after another about how the “deal” between content creators and the public has been shifted further and further away from benefiting the public in any way. The worst of the worst is the idea of retroactive copyright term extension. This simply makes no sense whatsoever. The point of copyright law is to provide incentives to someone to create new content in exchange for a limited monopoly, after which the work goes to the public. If the term of copyright protection was enough at the time of creation, then the incentive “worked.” Changing it retroactively makes no sense, and appears to be a pure violation of the principles of unilateral contract changes. Copyright is a contract with the public, but under retroactive copyright term extension the public gets the terms of its deal changed without any compensation or recourse.

So it’s sad to see that it looks like Spain may be the latest country Europe is the latest to take up retroactive copyright term extension (Google translation from the original found via Copycense). Given that Spain has generally been pretty reasonable on copyright laws (though, under pressure from US special interests, some have been trying to change that), it’s sad to see them look to seize the public domain right out from under its citizens like this. Update: Sorry for the confusion. The Copycense piece said Spain, but as is noted in the comments, this is actually across the EU and not specific to Spain. Which doesn’t make it any better. It actually makes it worse.

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Comments on “Seizing The Public Domain: Europe Trying To Extend Copyright Term Retroactively [Updated]”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Corporate Welfare

All these legislative changes are corporate welfare. Commercially valuable government-granted monopoly privileges are being extended purely to put more money into the hands of the corporations, who are overwhelmingly the owners of said monopoly privileges. Corporations love being given more money, at the expense of the public. Do not expect them to apologize for their greed, anytime soon.

Tor (profile) says:

Term extension - a couple of analogies

Copyright is essentially a legislative way of trying to internalize an externality so it’s natural to compare it to other similar efforts. Increased availability of different kinds of works is a positive externality. Let’s consider a negative externality – pollution. Some societies have tried to internalize the effect by introducing a system of emissions trading.

If we translate retroactive copyright term extension to that field what would it look like? Well, it would mean that the state could suddenly force a company to pay up the billion dollars it “owes” for its pollution in the 1960s, even though emissions trading had not yet been introduced at that point.

In most countries it would probably be illegal for the parliament to pass such retroactive laws. So how come there are not more people who question the legitimacy of passing such laws in the field of copyright?

Let’s say that we were talking about a public subsidy and not copyright protection (actually they are quite similar, since actively keeping works away from the public domain is a cost for society just like paying tax money is). If this subsidy is handed out, not in order to promote a future public good, but in order to reward certain people and companies for what they have already done, can it then even be called a subsidy? Would not “present from the taxpayers” be a better name? And what criteria would one use to distribute it? Would a retired celebrity “deserve” it more than a hard working single mother with a low income?

Old Man in The Sea says:

More they ignore history, more they will repeat it

As we can see with a look at history, the more any government ignores its people, the more its people will ignore it, till the government is overthrown.

What those in government have forgotten is that if you give any group of people everything so that they no longer have to work for it, then the more that group of people will die off. This has been an effective government policy in many areas when it it has been used previously.

We see this played out with various special groups around the world.

The more that you try to suppress a people the more that they will resist.

This is as applicable to business entities as to any social group as business entities are social groups.

So the demise of the big copyright holders is just around the corner (any time in the next few decades), unless they want to really bite the bullet and start actually being productive again.

In the meantime, those who are being suppress will find ways to fight and rebel against those who are supposed to be representing them but instead are oppressing them.

What is happening now is the logical consequence of what was seen 20, 30, 40 or more years ago.

Remember the old adage, this too shall pass.

nelsoncruz (profile) says:

It's not Spain, it's the EU Council

It’s not Spain that’s behind this, it’s the EU Council (formed by the governments of every EU country). A few years ago the EU Commission proposed a directive to extend the rights on sound recordings from 50 to 90 years. The EU Parliament eventually approved it with reduction to 70 years. It stalled in the Council however. There was no majority to pass it there. Now the government of Denmark has reversed its position, and suddenly there are enough votes.

Christian Ensgr?m of the Swedish Pirate Party made a petition to have it voted again in the Parliament, since it was approved before the last elections. It was rejected. Apparently it’s against the rules. It should move to EU Council now. I’m not very hopeful any miracles will happen there unfortunately.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I try to be polite, I said TRY….

But FFS, if they can’t make enough money off of it in 25, 50, 70, 90, 125+ years giving them more time isn’t going to help.

All this does it make them feel better, causes more people to infringe (some unknowingly) so they can complain more about imaginary losses.

Can any politician explain what the people actually get out of this any more?
We give up some things and we are supposed to get something in return at some point.
Moving those times well out of any of our lifetimes seems to be a bad deal for the people.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“But FFS, if they can’t make enough money off of it in 25, 50, 70, 90, 125+ years giving them more time isn’t going to help.”

Most people, no. But, there’s a small minority of corporations with large portfolios who can stand to make a lot of money if their most perennial products are allowed to make profit for them and them alone. Think Disney – OK for them to raid the public domain for their material, but God help anyone who suggests that the resulting works should be PD.

“Can any politician explain what the people actually get out of this any more?”

I’m sorry, they can’t hear the people over the sound of the “contributions” they’re being given by the corporations.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Time to leave the comptuer for a while and start voting.
There are millions of “pirates” imagine what would happen if we stopped telling ourselves our vote won’t matter and start voting the idiots out.
Very small blocks of voters seem to control the world, I think its time we stop pretending we are powerless and get out and vote.
When we remove one, the others might start to show the right amount of fear.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It won’t happen and the reason why is simple.
The people don’t have the infrastructure in place to do that kind of stuff.

Where is the place where people will discuss and find common ground to what they want?

You see people mostly just get angry but they don’t do nothing about it, they don’t do what the other side do and that is to bring the law they want directly to politicians already written.

Without a clear view of what things need to be there will be no majority and worst taking them out is easy, but finding someone that is not the same as before is just near impossible today

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The people don’t have the infrastructure in place to do that kind of stuff.

Where is the place where people will discuss and find common ground to what they want?

We have the internet. If that isn’t the massive infrastructure needed to discuss and find common ground, then what the hell are you doing posting comments in a tech blog that deals with this every day?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Here is an analogy, the internet is the foundation of the building and we have all these wonderful materials(tech) to build the building with. We just didn’t actually build it yet and so nobody can live or conduct business inside something that doesn’t exist yet.

Techdirt is wonderful, is light a lighthouse, awareness is not actual law, it is not actual statistical numbers and can’t tell anybody how much support there is for an idea, or what proposals are being made can it?

Where is the place to create the draft for laws? where people can check if those laws are what they want and if they support that and can say why they support or not something so people can see the problem clearly and address the needs that will enable some proposal to move forward and create the unity necessary to put someone in congress to act upon those proposals?

Do you know of any platform that can do that?
It also needs to be trusted which is hard.

Where are the programmers creating the open source tools that will enable little communities to track their proposals and see what others think about them?

One could call such project maybe Democracy 2.0, but it does not exist today does it?

The tech is all here, we can do databases, we can do websites, we can distribute those things to people, but nobody actually build it and so we can’t move forward.

People get angry but can’t do nothing because they although more connected then ever before can’t actually communicate or exchange ideas in one place where everybody goes and so we get all these small little groups of people who agree in general terms but don’t work together on the issues because they don’t have real data to work with just opinions and that is sad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The only people I see proposing laws are the people who represent the MAFIAA and it will always be bad for the people.

When will people start to organize and lump together in groups and start making their own proposals?

Just discussing them and getting angry about it won’t change things, unless people do something about it, either go to the streets and fuck the other side up or we put our own proposals using existing mechanisms to change things which I prefer as a first choice if you ask me.

This brings me to one thing Techdirt could do and that is to create a database of suggestions for laws where authenticate users could go and express their support, critics and suggestions to those proposals, create that here and others may fallow and then maybe just maybe all those groups from different parts start to come together to form bigger groups representing bigger and bigger portions of the population.

As it stands now is like “give an opinion and pray” there is no planing involved, there is no proposals involved there is nothing just a general idea of where things should go and that is not good enough.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:


? 102. Subject matter of copyright: In general

[strike](8) architectural works.[/strike]

? 103. Subject matter of copyright: Compilations and [strike]derivative[/strike] works

(a) The subject matter of copyright as specified by section 102 includes compilations [strike]and derivative[/strike] works, but protection for a work employing preexisting material in which copyright subsists does not extend to any part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully.

(b) The copyright in a compilation or [strike]derivative[/strike] work extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material. The copyright in such work is independent of, and does not affect or enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any copyright protection in the preexisting material.

Where I can look up the law and propose changes to it like I just made above and receive feedback?

The first thing I noticed is that I would have to have some sort of mechanism to find all the instances of the relevant law to be able to conduct a search&replace operation on it.

Where are the European laws so I can take a look at the relevant laws that govern that? or the Canadian laws?

In the case of this post from Mike, could we reach out to other groups to inform them of the proposals from the otherside and encourage others to send in their own proposals to the problems faced?

To do that we would need a copy of the proposed laws so we could look at it and decide if it was to be throw out or if it could just be changed is there anywhere on the internet that people can do that?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Where is the Techdirt button, Change the law linking to the laws that govern the issue being discussed so people can send in their proposals to Mike on how to do something about it so he can plaster them all over the internet?

Where are the numbers for acceptance of such proposals here?
If people support the changes why do they do so and if not why?

Those are data points that I don’t see anywhere else, there is not a single place in the world where people can do that right now and that is why I believe we all fail to change things.

ps: The law patching thing could actually bring Techdirt to congress since it is something they(politicians) can use and probably many politicos would do so without acknowledging where they got their ideas from.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The common ground we want is not what we have now.
While I appreciate the idea of over thinking and trying to find something/one we can all agree on, the clock is running out on the people.

We need to target as many of them as we can. I’m willing to put up with 2 more years of stupidity from a new face, if the fact all of that stupidity is from freshmen congresscritters because we cleaned out every single one of them we could.

The power is in showing that as a block, we are not these apathetic people who whine on the net, but that we say what we mean and we mean to have change.

It will not matter how much money the special interests give them when our goal is to not let a single one of them remain in office until they start doing whats best for the people and not only for corporations.

Sure they can have a warchest of 150 million for their election, will that matter when a large group of motivated people says the lesser of 2 evils is evil so I’m voting for the other guy. Eventually they will learn that they have gone to far ignoring the people who put them in office.

Stunning upsets always make them a little worried, imagine when there are that many stunning upsets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You do understand that putting someone blindly in power is dangerous right? You could end up with the next Mussolini in power.

Aside from that, what good does it make?
The laws are not made by politicians they are drafted by the industry and their lobby and put in front of ignorant politicians that don’t read anything.

It doesn’t matter who you put there, if you don’t have a pledge from that person they could just as well vote for anything the industry says they need to vote on, if you want to really start to change you have to work harder and draft your own bills to so the ignorant politician in there can choose another law to vote for as it stands today the only people putting options in front a politician is the industry and not the people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Copycrap is just one part of the political spectrum to get other people to join, pirates will need to address others concerns too.

And that is what is missing for people to organize themselves and actually do something about it.

A place where people can discuss and find common ground and put a plan forward that everybody agrees must be followed.

Where is the forum, where is the plan and where is the draft for the laws people want?

Until that appears I doubt anyone else will go out of their way to do something in sync with others since we have a lot of small groups that are all over the place and have many different views of how things should be.

But the other side have a unified front, they speak with one voice and they plan what they will do and who to support they also draft the laws and just say to their puppets how it should be voted and that is what the people should do and are unable at the moment of doing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Here is an example:

– Copyright should last 10 years with two 10 years extensions possible, and to get the full protection of the law one should have to pay a fee lets say $100 bucks for the first term, $1000 dollars for the second and $10.000, the fee also should be based on a percentage of the earnings of said work and whichever is higher is the amount that should be paid for a renewal.

– Copyright fines should have a very low minimum and one base on the income of the person or institution so it would have the same effect if you earn nothing or a billion dollars, it will hurt just the same and it makes the law more future proof since no values need to be adjusted in the future for inflation or anything like that.

– Copyright should only apply to commercial interests not to private ones.

Now how do I translate that to laws that can be enacted in Europe, Asia, Australia, America, Africa and so forth?

Now most importantly what do you believe copyright should look like?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Now that is just me, those are the things I would like to see copyright become, but there is a world out there that doesn’t care about copyright law, what do they care about and what would it take for them to support what I want?

Would I have to support health care reform, what the draft law are they proposing?

Would I have to support anti-gay marriage legislation to get some aboard and what exactly are the laws they want to see enacted?

Where do we discuss this and how do we gather statistics to show how much support something has?

With that now you can put anybody in congress that sign a term of agreement that he will vote that legislation to put in place and it will not be just about copyright it will be about IP, finance, health, security, environment and so forth.

Creative Paralegal says:

We need a bold artist

Not sure if this would work in the EU but it might work in the US.

You need an artist who made a lot of money selling their music to or through a label that should by now be in the public domain under the copyright laws in effect at the time of the sale. Said artist now starts packaging up and selling CD’s and downloads of some of that music, vocally and publicly. Record company sues for infringement of copyright under new copyright term extension. Artist raises a defense that the “all rights” sale only included “all rights” that existed at the time of the sale, that the copyright didn’t “transfer” to the public but ceased to exist at the end of that period. They could also argue that an obligation to transfer the work to the public at the end of the term went along with the sale.

Alternatively, the artist could sue the record company for infringement on the same theory unless there were a term in the original contract that anticipates future changes in copyright law, which would probably itself be illegal under basic contract law principles.

Come on guys. We’ve all seen extremely creative lawyers. Why can’t a few of them get together and get rid of this shit altogether? In the US, you might be able to plausibly argue that extensions of copyright are unconstitutional because of the “limited” term in the Constitution regarding copyrights.

Tim (profile) says:

I don;t understand how governments (EU included) can retroactively extend copyright laws without gaining concessions from those currently holding copyright in return. It’s a bargain, and the governments are giving away more and more for nothing in return – the money from this extension will not be going to nurturing new artists or creating new works.

DanZee (profile) says:


The ironic thing is that copyright laws are protecting a tiny percentage of information and literature. Probably more than 99% of stuff that’s printed is NEVER reprinted, meaning that it’s inaccessible since there’s no incentive to print it until it goes into the public domain (which it never will).

I love how Goggle has digitized entire libraries, totally ignoring copyright laws. They’re sitting on a database that contains almost the entire literary output of the world since the beginning of time. But they’re not allowed to share it freely.

The bottom line is that works should go into the public domain after a reasonable length of time. Families members who weren’t even born during Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitgerald’s lives should not be profiting from their works,

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