EU Officially Seizes The Public Domain, Retroactively Extends Copyright

from the stealing-from-the-public dept

As was unfortunately expected, despite no evidence that this made any economic sense at all, the member states of the EU have agreed to retroactively extend copyright another 20 years, at which point you can expect it to be extended again (thanks to jtdeboe for sending this over). This is nothing short of governments and the entertainment industry seizing works from the public domain. As we’ve said before, the purpose of copyright law is to incent the creation of new works. If existing copyright law was enough to incentivize the creation at the time, then there’s simply no reason to retroactively extend the law.

This proposal, which various studies have shown will do little to help content creators, has been pushed for a long time by the record labels. It had been blocked in Europe for a while, but for reasons unknown, Denmark recently changed its mind, thereby enabling this effort to flat out seize material from the public.

It’s especially sad that this comes just a few months after the Hargreaves report, which explicitly points out that so much policy is made without evidence — and copyright extension is a perfect example of that. Citizens of the EU: your politicians just sold you out to the record labels, taking away content that was legally yours and no longer will be.

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Comments on “EU Officially Seizes The Public Domain, Retroactively Extends Copyright”

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out_of_the_blue says:

Market keeps getting further from "perfectly competetive", doesn't it, Mike?

When your views don’t include corruption, you’ve no grasp on reality. When The Rich are allowed total freedom, they always go crazy and ruin civilization. This is only a small part of their total takeover, this time using computerized policing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Market keeps getting further from "perfectly competetive", doesn't it, Mike?

Maybe there’s a typo in your post or something but this critique of the above, “When your views don’t include corruption, you’ve no grasp on reality.” completely ignores this portions of the text, “Citizens of the EU: your politicians just sold you out to the record labels.” Does ‘sold you out’ need to be spelled out more clearly for you to see that it means ‘corruption?’

The centralization of power in a ‘government’ is what allows ‘The Rich,’ really anyone with significant political influence rich or not, some ‘rich’ are even excluded, the freedom to go crazy. They are not really taking over so much as they’re consolidating their power and they’re not using ‘computerized policing’ as much as they’re just using the same tool they’ve always used: powerful central governments.

MrWilson says:

Re: EU Officially Seizes The Public Domain

So you’re saying the citizens of the countries to whom these government officials are supposedly answerable ignore the laws that said government officials pass while ignoring the interests of the public in favor of monied interests? Sounds appropriate to me.

If the people who pass the laws are not answerable to the public, then the public is not answerable to their laws.

AJ (profile) says:

The EU is not subject to the US constitution

the purpose of copyright law is to incent the creation of new works

Unfortunately only the US constitution says that. I don’t believe many (any?) EU countries have constitutions that limit what their legislative bodies can do in quite the same way as the US does, so they can make the purpose of their copyright laws be whatever they want them to be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The EU is not subject to the US constitution

“The purpose of copyright and related rights is twofold: to encourage a dynamic creative culture, while returning value to creators so that they can lead a dignified economic existence, and to provide widespread, affordable access to content for the public.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The EU is not subject to the US constitution

” and to provide widespread, affordable access to content for the public”

If copyright permits companies to license the content, and make it available at a reasonable price, does that not fit the bill? Does something have to be in the public domain to get widespread, affordable access?

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The EU is not subject to the US constitution

If you ignore the first point (in fact, take it out back and shoot it), yeah, permanent copyright fulfills the second part… until the copyright owners abuse their power and over-charge for their works. Or limit access to them such that people can only get them in formats which the copyright holders prefer. Which we know will never, ever happen.

Tor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The EU is not subject to the US constitution

Yes, it has to be in the public domain.
As long as it is not in the public domain you normally have a big deadweight loss. If there is a great number of people for whom the mental/economical transaction cost of licensing is too high in the individual case then you will have a great number of cases where works of art are never used although they would have been had said works just been in the public domain.

Imagine you have a painter who has to ask for permission every time he wants to use a new color on his palette. Surely he wouldn’t work very well under such circumstances.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The EU is not subject to the US constitution

“Does something have to be in the public domain to get widespread, affordable access?”

Yes. Only a handful of works get made commercially available after their initial releases. Others literally rot away in warehouses because there’s no commercial incentive to release them in a new edition.

jnm says:

Re: The EU is not subject to the US constitution

So much for the protection of the US constitution. The US was 13 years faster than the EU at extending the lifetime.

The Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998 extended copyright terms in the United States by 20 years. Since the Copyright Act of 1976, copyright would last for the life of the author plus 50 years, or 75 years for a work of corporate authorship. The Act extended these terms to life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier.[1] Copyright protection for works published prior to January 1, 1978, was increased by 20 years to a total of 95 years from their publication date.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: The EU is not subject to the US constitution

Well, this was a loophole. The US constitution explicitly says that copyright is limited. It doesn’t say for how long. So legislators just extend and extend copyright thus creating a perpetual copyright cycle.

Eric Eldred and Larry Lessig (a hero of mine, BTW) challenged the pernicious CTEA 11 years ago in the Eldred v. Ashcroft case. Unfortunately, they lost in a 7-2 Supreme Court decision.

Steve Withers (profile) says:

Re: The EU is not subject to the US constitution

AJ: The US Constitution doesn’t limit what US legislators can do. They just appoint an Attorney-General willing to say that whatever violation of the Constitution they wish to enact isn’t really a violation at all….and proceed. This is how the US Patriot Act has made a joke of the 4th Amendment. This is how the US President can claim to have a right to ignore the Constitution in Guantanamo…despite that very same Constitution being the source of 100% of his powers. Only the US House of Representative can declare….yet the US has been involved in over 50 wars since the last time the House declared war. I could go on and on….but please don’t persist in thinking the US Constitution is a living document. It’s stone, cold dead. Killed by corrupt political actors and a complacent, ignorant citizenry.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Copyright vs Reality

The more copyright is extended, perverted, abused, and forced upon populations who are never permitted any say in the matter, the more people who would never give copyright a second thought will be affected negatively somehow.

Since copyright only exists by consent of the public, don’t be surprised when the public decides that copyright no longer serves them and they declare it null and void.

kyle clements (profile) says:

Re: Copyright vs Reality

It’s not about consuming works in the public domain. It’s about re-using them. Sure, I can listen to any song or watch any movie for free. But I can’t include music from the 1950’s in my own videos. I can’t have old AM radio classics in the background of a scene. A character or poster in the background might lead to a legal headache if the estate is packed with douches.

My view: If they can steal from the public domain, we can steal from copyright owners guilt-free.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Outside of one of two works that are discussed in the story, can you name anything else that is suddenly “reclaimed” that was going to be in the public domain?

I bet most people here could not, which indicates how much you really care about the public domain. It’s all about tearing down copyright, not the actual content.

You guys are freaking amazing.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Outside of one of two works that are discussed in the story, can you name anything else that is suddenly “reclaimed” that was going to be in the public domain?”

Everything else released in the same years that were going to be PD before this extension? That would be thousands of works, so I won’t list them here just because you’re too stupid to consider them, or apparently believe that only 2 works were released in that 20 year period.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Paul, without looking hard, tell me:


See, my problem isn’t that works are or are not going to be in the PD, it’s that a bunch of people are here getting all upset about it, yet they have absolutely no idea what works are involved, likely wouldn’t care, and probably have never considered to even enjoy those works.

Please tell us, in your own words, of an exact example that has happened in your personal life that this copyright extension would have harmed, where you would not have been able to do something. Please make sure to include the name of the work involved.

My guess? You can’t name one.

So what I am wondering is, since this copyright extension clearly doesn’t appear to cause you any problems one way or the other, why are you so upset about it?

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Hey, you’re agreeing with the other Anonymous Coward.

Therefore, you must be the same person!

…Makes about as much sense as thinking another A.C. is a “a techdirt staff member posting anonymously.”

To give an answer to the original A.C.’s question:

This year, it would have included “the earliest records of the rock era, including those of artists like Cliff Richard,” according to this “quick quip” from VVM.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:


Hey, I’m over here, concerned about orphaned works and restrictions that prevent rather than encourage new works. I’m concerned about art literally disappearing because some corporation wants to carry on making money from people who died, but they want to continue profiting from their corpse.

You can keep attacking that flaky looking pirate strawman you set up over there in the corner, but it’s not going to help you look like you have a real argument.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“My guess? You can’t name one.”

Ah, this old argument, huh? “I can’t think of any answer that’s acceptable to me, so nobody can”. You’re not only wrong, you’re in your usual position, facing exactly 180 degrees from the truth, but have deluded yourself into thinking you’re right.

Let’s take this slowly, because it’s apparently too complicated for you. The extension covers EVERYTHING produced between 50 and 70 years ago. Assuming it’s immediately effective, that means that everything produced between 1941 and 1961 is affected. I’m not going sit here and list them all just because you don’t have the mental capacity to work out why this is a problem.

To put it bluntly, works including the early recordings of famous artists like Elvis and the entire back catalogue of someone like Buddy Holly has been snatched from the public domain. The reason for this is simply to protect some corporate interests, and profits for people who were almost certainly not alive at the time the work was created. In the meantime, works from artists who didn’t get to be as famous as those people? No commercial incentive to re-release them, and thus they are ultimately erased from history. Unacceptable.

Prisoner 201 says:

Re: Re:

You do realise that stuff that has been legally in the public domain for up to 19 years will suddenly be covered by copyright again.

A number of creators will have their artworks ruined by this, or be forced to jump through countless legal hoops and fork out licencing fees for something that was legally free to use just a few days ago.

So yeah, getting raped up the ass does make you a bit sore.

So you are a anal rape apologist? Well, AC, are you?

JMT says:

Re: Re:

It’s not Mike that’s lost, it’s the whole public. We have every right to be sore when anything is ripped from the public domain at the behest of a bunch of money-grubbing obsolete middlemen. (Is that you perhaps?)

Any time you and your ilk claim “it’s for the artists”, we remember shit like this and add it to the list of reasons to look for ways to avoid giving Big Content money whenever possible. That leaves us with either unauthorized content or anything that sends money directly to artists. Is that the end result you were hoping for?

Anonymous Coward says:

I see no evil here and Europe can pass all the legislation they want because I’m copyright-blind, so I don’t see it and consequently don’t fallow it, meaning I will continue to copy anything I want, when I want and I doubt it will change anything in my life.

Here let me advocate for legal piracy now:

You should really, really stop watching TV, movies or listening to radio that plays the MAFIAA content.

The laws don’t matter what matters is what you do, if you consume that crap you are a supporter of that system and you deserve those laws, if you don’t consume it and it is able to use liberal licenses then those laws don’t matter either.

zub says:

Re: Re:

In fact I’ve been dreaming about this. It would be so cool!

Revision control systems (which is something used daily by programmers, in fact not only them) would be so useful for keeping the laws.

Too bad nobody of the politicans even know what a revision control system is. (And why would they want it, it’s not like they’d want the public to easily see the changes made over time.)

Of course somebody could replicate what they are doing in an own repo, but keeping it up to date would require some work…

AW says:

Let logic dictate

It would seem logical that if the current governance believes that retroactive copyright is promoting the goals of progress, should they not abandon public domain altogether? Why would they take steps that seem to only act as a step towards creating a complacent culture. Giving false hope of a logical and reasonable expectation of a creative work benefiting the public seems damaging to morale and at best dishonest at worst negligent. I would suggest that the goals of stagnation, job loss and creative vacuum could be far faster achieved and should be considered. Please extend this to the logical conclusion EU, abandon public domain and increase taxation of goods on your society, this is the most opportune time to do so, with the high unemployment, they will have to choose between creative signs and wooden stakes and pitchforks. Obviously signs are more a value to them except, of course, if they write a previously used slogan.

Anonymous Coward says:

Once again the public fails to compete and it’s representatives whine and whine.

If post-copyright business models are really the norm, and you can really make more money with them, then you have the resources and the numbers to outcompete the companies (which you so often call incompetent in every respect) that want to lock up content.

You love competition and the market. This is a competition and market for power, influence, and control. Stop whining. Start competing.

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The public fails to compete? Compete with what?
What are you suggesting?
How can the public compete with Mr Moneybags the lobbyist and Mr Corrupt Politician?

There are also no business models to support the locked-up content. In fact an enormous amount of our intellectual culture are now going to waste, all because of the greed of a few stupid-as-fuck MAFIAA-scumbags.

Old music, books and movies that are now left rotting on shelves, because the Big Content companies feel that there’s no money in restoring them, and getting a license to make a legal backup for preservation’s sake are prohibitively expensive. And why? So that Disney Co can still keep the copyright on their stolen Mouse icon.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:


Real Economists (like Milton Friedman) are and were against extending copyright terms.

Hell, Milton Friedman himself only said he would sign onto a brief in Eldred v. Ashcroft (a US supreme court case challenging the Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the term of copyright by 20 years) on the side of Eldred (i.e. the side opposing the CTEA) if the words “No Brainer” were used.

How does it feel to be to the right of Milton freaking Friedman?

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

If anyone was looking for proof of corruption in the EU

it’s right here. There wasn’t so much as a debate on it. They just rubberstamped this.

And they loudly complain and wonder why so few people trust the politicians in Brussels (and Strasbourg).
Gee, do ya think maybe because you put corporate interests before the public’s?

They waste our tax-money, make up ridiculous laws that make very little sense on a national scale, they never listen to the interest of the people (apart from very few notable exceptions).

If it were up to me, we’d disband this whole European Government thing, and give the reigns back to national governments. (Not that they are much better, but at least we have a more direct influence on them, Europe is abstracted away from the people.)
I know that’s very right-wing of me, even though I’m normally quite left-wing socialistic. But in the European Governments’ case, it’s worse than the disease it was supposed to battle.

Oh, and give me back my guilder!

Xenobyte (profile) says:


One thing is to extend copyright on works still under copyright, another thing entirely is to take works already progressed into public domain and return them to a copyrighted state. The first is semantics, the second completely unacceptable.

I for one have almost completely stopped paying for music (own 5000+ CDs) and video (own 2500+ DVDs and Blu-rays) and turned to illegal downloads. Yes, I used to be a happy customer but this obscene quest by the copyright holders to squeeze more money out of their ‘property’ and to control distribution against all logic and common sense has made me say stop. They’ve moved beyond fairness and reasonable and into the domain of pure greed and megalomania.

No more. This ends now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Fail

I too own way too many (Hundreds!) shiny bits of plastic.
I’m getting a VPN account and getting the content I want.
Not once have the copyright shills offered to find a way to make the public happy. Extending copyright is stealing from the public for something they paid for already. Paid for many times over I might sadly add.
Why is the people of the EU allowing this to happen? Why don’t they vote the bastards out of office?
Then again, Obama promised less rules and more transparency and we Americans fell for that load of crap too.
I have always felt that the content creators deserved their due compensation. But this and past actions just smacks of greed and a willingness to imprison their fan base. If we don’t vote the obviously bribed officials out of office, then we deserve to be ass raped over and over again.

Robert (profile) says:

@66 AC retroactive question?

Here’s a quote from the official Dossier translated into English from German.

“This dossier aims at providing an overview of the presently escalating discussion taking place in Europe since 2005, about a term extension for related rights in sound recordings. Start- ing in the UK, music industry lobbyists have been pushing for years to have the term for all existing and future recordings extended by at least 20, better even by 45 years. Below fol- lows a short description of the rights in question, of the points made for and against a term extension and of the chain of events that lead to the situation where this extension might, notwithstanding a strong opposition, be actually made into EU law in September 2011.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Hippie Crap

The purpose of copyright law isn’t to “incent creation of new work”. The purpose is to protect the author’s right to profit from his work.

That’s it. That’s all. This “social justification” idea is a steaming pool of rancid bullshit.

There is no “public domain” from which the government has “seized” anything. Step out of the drum circle, take off your magic RFD wizard cape, and rejoin us in reality.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Hippie Crap

The purpose of copyright law isn’t to “incent creation of new work”. The purpose is to protect the author’s right to profit from his work.

Not in the US, at least. The stated purpose is to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”. That’s it. That’s all. Not to “protect intellectual property”. Not even “to earn money for authors”. It’s to promote progress.

The EU could be different, though.

There is no “public domain” from which the government has “seized” anything. Step out of the drum circle, take off your magic RFD wizard cape, and rejoin us in reality.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even extending past copyrights delay their expiration thereof and concurrent entrance into the public domain. It’s making sure that the public domain is retarded by 20 years and nothing enters it. That’s a significant burden to society.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Hippie Crap

“The purpose of copyright law isn’t to “incent creation of new work”.”

Not its stated purpose, and even then only for a limited time.

” The purpose is to protect the author’s right to profit from his work.”

If you think authors, rather than corporations who did nothing to create the work, are the ones being protected, you might need to read more.

“There is no “public domain” from which the government has “seized” anything.”

If you really believe this and don’t have a paycheck invested in saying this, you’re rather clueless.

“Step out of the drum circle”

Also, is it just me or has the “hippy” accusation been cropping a lot of late? It’s not the ’60s, so such accusations do come across as rather stupid anyway, but I do find it interesting that this seems to be the troll accusation of late for those who actually dare to oppose the corporate gods they worship.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Hippie Crap

The purpose of copyright law isn’t to “incent creation of new work”. The purpose is to protect the author’s right to profit from his work.

This is 100% factually wrong.

Don’t believe me? Ask Congress:

The enactment of copyright legislation by Congress under the terms of the Constitution is not based on any natural right that the author has in his writings… but on the grounds that the welfare of the public will be served and progress of science and useful arts will be promoted… Not primarily for the benefit of the author, but primarily for the benefit of the public such rights are given.

…Or the Supreme court:

It may seem unfair that much of the fruit of the compiler’s labor may be used by others without compensation. As Justice Brennan has correctly observed, however, this is not “some unforeseen byproduct of a statutory scheme.”… It is, rather, “the essence of copyright,” … and a constitutional requirement. The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”

…Or Thomas Jefferson, the founding father (and patent worker) who helped write that clause:

Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody.

It is pretty much the same in Britain (which is where the U.S. got the idea for copyright in the first place).

However, it is different in the European Union. The harmonizing of copyright law is the Berne Convention – which is utterly silent on the ultimate purpose of copyright law, but does include sections akin to Fair Use laws here in the States.

A couple of the member states have “moral rights,” or droit d’auteur. Created in France, these are considered inalienable; they could not be transferred to others, e.g. publishers, even if the authors wanted to. They are limited to what we would call CC-BY: right of attribution. (That’s why CC0 isn’t a legal option worldwide; artists simply are not allowed by law to put their own works into the public domain.) They are also granted the right to object to derogatory treatment of their works; in the U.S., this is covered by libel and defamation laws, and are unrelated to copyright.

Economic rights – the rights granted to publishers – are separate rights, which are not “moral rights,” and those are the ones that were extended.

And even in France, home of droit d’auteur, economic rights were enacted for the same purpose as U.S. and British copyrights. To quote Peter K. Yu:

However… the author’s right was also conditioned on the deposit of copies with the Bibliotheque Nationale, and nineteenth-century commentators characterized the 1793 law as utilitarian and “a charitable grant from society,” rather than a full recognition of the perpetual right of an author’s heirs to the fruits of his labor.

So, you’re pretty much wrong no matter how you look at it.

Anonymous Coward says:

to the states enforcing their legislation

fuck you. fuck everything you claim to stand for. you don’t represent me. you don’t represent anyone i have ever met. how could you? how could something so tyrannical and absolute, like a state, represent or meaningfully amalgamate the beliefs of a group of individuals.
this is all about their insatiable thirst for MORE power. i say fuck them. fuck their ideas, and intentions. the more of us who openly say FUCK YOU to those ‘ruling’ us, the closer we get to murdering those fuckers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Copyright is for losers.

Smart artists know that filesharing is the best “try before you buy” marketing method out there. Stupid ones think the world owes them a living for writing a fucking song or a book. Pirates consistently consume more LEGAL content than non-pirates.

In the end, it doesn’t matter, because with proper precautions in place, the shilltards will never even know their “rights” (I use the term loosely) are being “violated”. The scene has always been faster to adapt and change than the corporate world, and it always will be.

misterdoug (profile) says:

Content? Aww, please

Since everybody else is thoroughly hashing over the copyright stuff I just want to object to the word, “content.”

What we’re talking about is human culture — art, music, literature, all of which got along fine for thousands of years without IP laws or record companies. What is at stake is people having possession of their own culture instead of renting it, and without giving anyone the power to take it away because of a business decision.

Art is more than something to fill up web pages. Calling it “content” just perpetuates the IP industry’s own mindset of treating culture like a commodity.

wvhillbilly (profile) says:

Re: real purpose of copyright law

Right on. If legislators keep extending the term of copyright to infinity no more works will ever enter the public domain unless explicitly donated, the media they are recorded on will rot to dust, the works will be lost forever and all others will be denied the opportunity to build on them. (One of the ways which culture is shaped is by building on the works of others once they are in the public domain.)

Thus all culture will ultimately become whatever the labels/authors dictate it will be, and the rest will be lost forever.

(Oh, we still have Edison cylinder records, if anyone can find them and something to play them on. They’ve been donated to the public domain. Not much else has.)

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