Reductio Ad Absurdum: Eternal Copyright Is Crazy… But What About Today's Copyright Term?

from the where's-the-limit dept

A ton of folks have sent in Adrian Hon’s brilliant satirical “modest proposal” for eternal copyright. If you haven’t yet read it, you should. Here’s a snippet:

But what, I ask, about your great-great-great-grandchildren? What do they get? How can our laws be so heartless as to deny them the benefit of your hard work in the name of some do-gooding concept as the “public good”, simply because they were born a mere century and a half after the book was written? After all, when you wrote your book, it sprung from your mind fully-formed, without requiring any inspiration from other creative works – you owe nothing at all to the public. And what would the public do with your book, even if they had it? Most likely, they’d just make it worse.

No, it’s clear that our current copyright law is inadequate and unfair. We must move to Eternal Copyright – a system where copyright never expires, and a world in which we no longer snatch food out of the mouths of our creators’ descendants. With eternal copyright, the knowledge that our great-great-great-grandchildren and beyond will benefit financially from our efforts will no doubt spur us on to achieve greater creative heights than ever seen before.

However, to make it entirely fair, Eternal Copyright should be retroactively applied so that current generations may benefit from their ancestors’ works rather than allowing strangers to rip your inheritance off. Indeed, by what right do Disney and the BBC get to adapt Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, and Sherlock without paying the descendants of Lewis Carroll, the Brothers Grimm, and Arthur Conan Doyle?

Of course, there will be some odd effects. For example, the entire Jewish race will do rather well from their eternal copyright in much of the Bible, and Shakespeare’s next of kin will receive quite the windfall from the royalties in the thousands of performances and adaptations of his plays – money well earned, I think we can all agree.

Of course, it’s easy to laugh at satire like this… until you remember that some make such arguments seriously. But, similarly, it seems worth recognizing that for most of us, copyright is already effectively eternal. Here in the US nothing has entered the public domain in quite some time and it’s questionable if or when anything new will enter the public domain… as most people fully expect Disney to push for another copyright term extension as Mickey Mouse approaches the public domain yet again.

So if you laugh at this kind of satire, remember it’s this kind of “satire” that we effectively live under today with the existing copyright regime. That is… until lawmakers finally come to their senses over the ridiculous length of copyright today.

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Comments on “Reductio Ad Absurdum: Eternal Copyright Is Crazy… But What About Today's Copyright Term?”

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111 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

The length of copyright today is “ridiculous”. To some it is ridiculously long. To others it is ridiculously short.

Ultimately, and despite all the gnashing of teeth, this is a policy issue, with persons holding contrary views each having, nevertheless, legitimate observations underlying their views.

To call one “crazy” with whom you happen to disagree is to close one’s mind to the possibility the other actually presents fair and valid points. It is also arrogant; the quintescent “I am right and you are wrong…so there! Please shut up and go away.”

Watchit (profile) says:

Infinite Driver's license

Copyright is a “Temporary monopoly” issued by the government, and the way I see it it’s kinda like a government issued license, such as a driver’s license. So, arguing for perpetual copyright is kinda like arguing that since you have a driver’s license all of your decedents deserve one too. And of course lets not forget that all of this ignores the whole “temporary” part… Any way that’s the way it looks to me, if a tad bit simplified. Does this seem about right or am I missing the mark? seriously I want to know so I can understand this whole copyright thing better.

illuminaut (profile) says:

Re:

Calling it ridiculous isn’t the same as calling the people in favor of such things crazy. I don’t think these people are crazy at all – it’s a well thought out strategy to get what they want. I have heard their arguments and they make perfect sense – if what you’re after is maximizing the profit of certain rights holders. Since I’m much more concerned with what’s good for society in general, and as an extension for me personally, I can say today’s copyright terms are ridiculous without a hint of arrogance.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re:

You could be a Time Lord. And then the lawyers would have to figure things out like were you born at your last regeneration, did you die then and are you related to all the Doctor’s that were there before you and will be there after you? Just imagine the confusion!

Eternal copyright might solve that completely. 🙂

(With apologies to and claims of fair use and fair dealing to the BBC and it’s show Doctor Who.)

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re:

To call one “crazy” with whom you happen to disagree is to close one’s mind to the possibility the other actually presents fair and valid points.

So present those “fair and valid” points. We’re waiting. We’re practically begging for substantive discussions, but all you have is rhetoric and unfounded assertions. Put forth your facts. Or, to put it another way, “Put up, or shut up.”

I can respect your right to have a differing opinion, even if I have no respect for that opinion. But I see nothing wrong with calling someone crazy when they can’t back up their opinion with data or logical arguments.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re:

The length of copyright today is “ridiculous”. To some it is ridiculously long. To others it is ridiculously short.

No, it’s ridiculously long. There is no valid argument for it being ridiculously short. Sorry. If you think that, you’re wrong.

Ultimately, and despite all the gnashing of teeth, this is a policy issue, with persons holding contrary views each having, nevertheless, legitimate observations underlying their views.

It is possible, but unlikely. I’ve been living in this space long enough that if there valid views for such extensions I would have seen them. None have been shown.

Setting up a “well there are valid arguments on both sides” lie makes you look ignorant of the facts. At this point there is enough clear data that the length of copyright is too long and is harming the public interest.

Arguing against that position is silly and a sign of ignorance or extreme bias.

To call one “crazy” with whom you happen to disagree is to close one’s mind to the possibility the other actually presents fair and valid points.

I’ll listen to fair and valid points. There are none for such long copyrights. The data is clear on that. If there were valid points they would have been made. They have not.

Pretending that this is some sort of balancing game is silly.

It is also arrogant; the quintescent “I am right and you are wrong…so there! Please shut up and go away.”

I am right. And you are wrong. It’s not “so there,” it’s that you’re ignorant. If you learned a little and looked at the data you would recognize this too. You choose not to for whatever reason. But I will not stand idly by and pretend that crazy ideas are not crazy.

I call it as I see it and I stand behind my positions. I know that’s a foreign concept to you since you’ve never been willing to stand behind a position on this site in your life (including signing your name).

Tor (profile) says:

I have often wondered

It’s simply a result of the power balance. A too long patent term would also hurt some big and influential companies, so in the patent case you have a company vs. company struggle. In the copyright case you have to a large degree companies/special interests vs. the public. The former have traditionally been better organized which is why we see unfair and undemocratic rent-seeking in the area of copyright today.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Calling a moron who can’t understand why granting an eternal monopoly is bad crazy is just being nice, I would call them idiots, that deluded themselves into thinking that nothing or nobody can stop them, they are wrong and when angry mobs start gathering at the gates of their homes and violence breaks out don’t be surprised or try to act like it, you have been warned already.

Excluding others can only lead to one inevitable conclusion and that will be confrontation.

People will not pay for the same thing more than once and keep paying for it their entire lifes that is just not going to happen, if they find a way not to they will embrace it and if you try to stop it, you will get what you deserve and that is scorn.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Re:

Mike you are wasting your time arguing with “well there are valid arguments on both sides”.

Allow me to help you out. What you are dealing with is the classic argument that goes like this.

statement: I respect your opinion but I am entitled to my opinion as well, so we have to agree to disagree.

counter: But your stance is an opinion and my stance is based on fact.

counter: That is YOUR opinion.

In other words, your facts are not valid because the opposition considers your facts to be an opinion like their opinion.

Richard (profile) says:

Re:

Well said!

As I commented above – these people are like creationists, astrolgers and the members of various wacky cults. What one has to remember is that the court astrologer was once a powerful figure in the land – so the possession of worldly respect and authority does not guarantee that you are not talking rubbish!

The problem is that those in authority are so unversed in the scientific method that they cannot tell the difference between facts and opinions – hence the attempt to see valid arguments on both sides.

ASTROBOI says:

So how about this?

Since so many people are determined to turn imaginary property into real property….how about this? Real property passes from person to person, generation to generation without a problem. That’s why your house can be willed to your kids and why somebody else got a house when his parents died. But there is a price. Taxes. If you own real property you must pay real estate taxes. If you don’t the state eventually takes your property away. So let all imaginary property owners register their creations as property. Tax them accordingly and sieze their property to be auctioned off if they don’t pay their taxes. Now watch how fast the value of a movie or tune plummets. Watch how many old books are abandoned to the public domain. And look! A whole new area of tax revenue for our broke government. So you think your 70 year old movie is worth millions? Great! You can share some of that wealth with the public and the government that protects your so-called property. Just like real estate owners do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Can we have GitHub puleeze?!

Quote:

GitHub was originally designed for software developers. It lets programmers upload code and share it with other developers. It keeps track of who made what changes where. And it helps merge all those changes together. It ?controls? the various versions of an open source software project.

But nowadays, it?s also being used to oversee stuff outside the programming world, including DNA data and Senate bills that may turn into laws and all sorts of other stuff you can put into a text file, such as, well, a Wired article.

Source: Wired: The Meta-Story: How Wired Published Its GitHub Story on GitHub By Robert McMillan on February 24, 2012

The Logician says:

Re:

It should be noted, Richard, that the label “creationist” is more of a generalization than you may realize. If you are referring to those of the young-earth variety, you may have a point. However, not all believers take that approach. Merely assuming they do undermines your argument. I do not wish to take things off topic, but I thought it best to correct that misconception.

Anonymous Coward says:

So how about this?

Not everything is taxed in the same manner, but taxed it is nevertheless, be it directly or indirectly.

Tax law is a rather poor method of trying to craft an argument for what is and what is not “property”.

Merely by way of example and not limitation, when you sell your home the transaction is taxed as a captital gain. The same is true when you sell your copyright in a work. Surely no one is suggesting that because capital gain is the metric that both must be “property”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

I would drop the prices to $0.001 and distributed it globally to reach as many people as possible.

I would also offer a cloud service where they would be able to upload and download anything, and sync that with an online store, and keep offering better materials or complementary materials also for $0.001 you see, once they get the material most people don’t want to have to deal with having to organize and manage those collections and if they lose those they probably don’t care that much because they can buy it again on the cheap in their lifetimes and they will keep spending little by little on my store and I will be collecting from the whole world and not just one geographic region.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Physical property is already limited, when was the last time you saw a family own a piece of land for centuries?

You don’t see that anymore, durable goods don’t last forever they are limited too, now this BS IP is not and it should and because it is an exclusionary that encroaches on public space it should be very very limited indeed.

I don’t even think there should be IP at all, I am sick an tired of those people who claim ownership on ideas and try to extract rent from others who do all the work.

John Locke said back in the 18th century that fruits of labor should befall the guy worked, not the guy who seats there and tries to collect from others because worked once and think he doesn’t need to work anymore because of that one instance.

Anonymous Coward says:

So how about this?

Also why is IP not taxed more? it takes a lot of resources from the state to make it happen, it is logical that they need to pay more for the privilege of being granted a government enforced monopoly.

IP should be taxed at every level and at every transaction to help pay for all the costs involved in enforcing something that can’t really be enforced.

Anonymous Coward says:

For the last time

And like all legal constructs it is flawed.
IP doesn’t farewell on the public space, it can’t be enforced there because there is no legal entities that depend on a government to do business in there, the public space is constituted by people and they can live without a governing body or laws but they can’t live without learning and that is what IP threatens the learning and spread of knowledge, it burdens natural freedoms that everybody has and make use of it everyday and so will never be enforced in the public space and it can’t be, that would mean the end of any fair society dreams people have, if everything had an owner and needed to be paid for, 40 million Americans today would be in for bad times and wouldn’t be able to learn anything or use anything to get out of the poverty they are in.

Anonymous Coward says:

For the last time

Oh, but since IP is not enforceable people are free to infringe on IP laws all they want, the risks are low of getting caught and everybody is a thief even those people who say otherwise, we infringe on IP even without knowing because it is so easy to do so.

Thank God IP is just an illusion, a make feel better kind of law, because if it was possible to enforce it and make everybody fallow it, we would have a lot more poor people in this world.

sevenof9fl (profile) says:

It's ludicrous

I worked in a place wherein the original patent was held from well before WWII (in the late 1920’s) for several instruments that are vital test equipment for many fields today. This means, effectively, that the copy holders have held these processes without competition for almost 100 years and refuse to license the processes to anyone. The 5th generation lives off the enormous profits and royalties and and are not very sharing, even with employees. While they still run their business in the US (commendable in this day and age), it really makes me wonder if this is misuse or fair use of the policy. I’m not sure I would have wanted my 5th generation progeny to use his/her share of the money my work provided to finance video games, sports cars and a life of leisure.

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re:

I think every square inch of artistic human culture should be owned and any part thereof can only be used with the expressly dead-letter written permission of said owner.

An excellent idea. Now all you need to do is define “artistic human culture”. I’m sure there won’t be any arguments about that so no problem there.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have often wondered

Whoa, you appear to be conflating new products entering the market with inventions secured by patents. They are most certainly not one in the same.

Transistors came onto the scene in the 40’s, and yet they are still important building blocks in current electronic goods. Cellular methods, componentry, protocols, etc. came onto the scene at least as early as the 60’s, and yet they continue to be incorporated into even the newest generation products. The list goes on and on.

As to many of these older components any associated patents expired many, many years ago, so their use in new generation products poses no problems, unless, of course, some older components have undergone improvements over their original embodiments, or perhaps even new and improved methods for their manufacture. Some of these are no longer secured by patents, but this cannot be said about all of them.

The point to be made is that new products enter the market continuously, but this certainly does not mean that they do not rely in significant part on components, manufacturing methods, etc. whose genesis dates back many decades.

abc gum says:

I have often wondered

“Transistors came onto the scene in the 40’s, and yet they are still important building blocks in current electronic goods.”

Minor detail:
The transistors to which you refer (late 40s) were of a bipolar design and made from germanium. These devices are still being made and used today, although the processes have been improved. The majority of transistors made today are used in integrated circuitry, these are of a field effect design and are based upon silicon with various other elements diffused in order to create positive and negative areas. Other elements are also used for transistors (Ga As for example). The point being, that the William Shockley patent on the bipolar junction germanium transistor is not applicable to the FET silicon transistors of today.

“The point to be made is that new products enter the market continuously, but this certainly does not mean that they do not rely in significant part on components, manufacturing methods, etc. whose genesis dates back many decades.”

Agreed. Standing on the shoulders of giants

Anonymous Coward says:

I have often wondered

Minor detail as well:

I do believe I mentioned improvements to hardware and manufacturing processes.

Yes, people stand on the shoulders of giants. Problem is only a select few of them are able to rise even higher and perform acts of particular significance in the fields of science and useful arts (here using the two terms embodied in the Constitution). A point to be considered, however, it that one has to wonder how many of these particularly significant acts would have come to light when they did were it not for incentives associated with patents and copyrights. Would they have come to light eventually? Probably. As soon as they did? This is the $1M question. In many cases the answer is clearly yes.

Watchit (profile) says:

Lifetime copyright.

That’s kinda how it already “works” copyright is for 70 years or 20 years after the author’s death, whichever comes first. After that it goes under the public domain. The problem is every time copyright is about to run out and things are finally about to go into public domain, Disney, Hollywood, and the MAFIAA, raise a shitstrom about how we “need to extend copyright another 10+ years or else we’ll all fail, no one will create anything new, the world will end, and we won’t be able to bribe- I mean contribute to your campaign anymore!”

nasch (profile) says:

So how about this?

IP if it is to be property should be taxed accordingly, just like every other piece of goods that generate revenues

Revenue (income) is taxed, but the common (as opposed to real) property that generates it is not necessarily taxed. If a business buys a piece of equipment, the sale of it is taxed, but they’re not then taxed every year for owning it, or using it, are they?

Though I don’t disagree with the plan to tax IP. Combine this with an opt-in system, and it would solve a lot of problems if done right (which of course the powerful interests would make sure it isn’t).

Anonymous Coward says:

For the last time

A necessary attribute of property in our society is that it be something capable of being “owned”, with “owned” generally being a right to possession/control recognized and enforceable at law. This definition transcends merely physical objects (e.g., one who “owns” a debt that can be enforced against the debtor).

Yes, an acre of land at a particular location is unique from all others, but in our society what gives it meaning as property is recognition by law that is is possessed/owned, and one who interferes with ownership/possession may be called to account before a court of law. Otherwise, society devolves down to “might makes right”.

It is said that law can be wielded as a sword. Speaking just for myself, I would rather face the “sword of law” than a physical sword in the hands of someone who knows how to use it and who is upset with something they believe I have done that caused them wrong. The former is civil society. The latter is anything but…

Anonymous Coward says:

For the last time

My point is only that the law has for centuries recognized both corporeal and incorporeal “property”. They do not share identical attributes, but each are nevertheless capable of being owned/possessed.

Merely FYI, the term “property” is easily one of the most difficult concepts for those new to the law to wrap their arms around. Nevertheless, these are concepts that must be mastered because of their profound effects on a stable body of law necessary to facilitate domestic and international commerce.

nasch (profile) says:

For the last time

My point is only that the law has for centuries recognized both corporeal and incorporeal “property”. They do not share identical attributes, but each are nevertheless capable of being owned/possessed.

Yes, but even that is just a passing similarity, as it’s true for fundamentally different reasons. An item can be possessed because of its nature. If I possess this banana, you cannot also possess it at the same time (ie it’s a rivalrous good). The right to copy something by its nature is infinite. I can copy it and you can copy it at the same time, without interfering with each other. The restriction, or ownership, of this ability can only happen because the law is written that way.

Law recognizes and protects the possession of actual property, while it artificially creates the possession of intellectual property.

Nevertheless, these are concepts that must be mastered because of their profound effects on a stable body of law necessary to facilitate domestic and international commerce.

I think you’re conflating the two issues. Intellectual property is not necessary to facilitate domestic and international commerce.

Niall (profile) says:

Re:

Actually, tht’s a good point. When land and other proprty descends to another generation, it gets taxed to bits by the state. So what would happen if the same inheritance tax idea were applied to Imaginary Propery rights?

IRS to Billy-Bob Lucas:
“Ok, as your share of Grandpa George’s estate, you own the rights to ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ – please pay us $1 billion dollars”
Billy-Bob Lucas:
“Phew, I’ll earn at least $2 billion from that over my lifetime.”
IRS to Billy-Bob Lucas:
“You also own the rights to ‘Star Wars: Caravan of Courage’ – please pay us $1 billion dollars.”
Billy-Bob Lucas:
“Nooooooooooooo!!!!!”

Anonymous Coward says:

So how about this?

No, under my circumstances I would not be taxed via property taxes if at my home, but I would not be surprised to discover some town employee snooping around to see if I am running a business out of my garage (hence, business tax). Heck, the town even wants me to fill out a form (and pay a fee, of course) in order to get permission to remove a tree that is deader than a doornail after a lightning strike. This is true even if the tree is a small one in the dead center of a two acre lot.

If this site really wants to score some points, maybe some articles about government taxes (federal, state, municipal, etc.) would be appropriate. Government taxes and all to which they apply make the labels and studios look like amateurs when it comes to accounting.

Franklin G Ryzzo (profile) says:

Re:

The fact that you actually take the time out of your busy day of kicking puppies and screwing over artist and the public to daydream of me fapping just made my whole day… Make sure your fantasy is as accurate as possible though… I will always be wearing socks that don’t match during the fap, covered in bacon grease, and there will be German techno blaring in the background behind the shrine I’ve setup to your mom… Think Friday the 13th meets Super Troopers… Hope that helps complete the picture 😀

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re:

> To avoid the problems of fighting over what
> home or car you will be using today, it makes
> a pretty damn compelling reason to allow
> exclusivity laws for them.

Private property rights don’t exist in order to alleviate the inconvenience and confusion of multiple people trying to use the same car or live in the same house at the same time.

I have a private property rights in my home and car (and all my other stuff) because they’re *mine*. Nothing else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

True, but it does fail to acknowledge that the reason they are his (i.e., he has a right of possession superior to everyone else but the tax collector) is because law is the means by which his possessory right is enforced. Otherwise, his possessory right would be no greater than when a bully beat him up in grade school and took away his (fill in the blank). While imperfect, in civil society law is more…well…civil than resort to a mammoth tusk club.

nasch (profile) says:

Re:

True, but it does fail to acknowledge that the reason they are his (i.e., he has a right of possession superior to everyone else but the tax collector) is because law is the means by which his possessory right is enforced.

I don’t agree that that’s the reason they are his. That would mean that without the law, they would no longer be his. Are you saying that outside of law, there is no ownership of anything? Clearly enforcing property rights with laws is more civil, but it isn’t the only possibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

No, what it means generally speaking is that without law the possessor would only be able to retain possession as long as he wields his mammoth tusk club more forcefully that a rival for possession of whatever is at risk of being taken away by force.

With law societal norms rights are established, which under our system of laws is the right to have our courts come to the assistance of the rightful possessor (the “owner”) and kick the interloper good and hard.

One can certainly see how a rivalrous good is somehow more in line with general notions of property than a non-rivalrous good. However, the law is not so limited, because it has long been recognized that even non-rivalrous goods may be deserving of legal protection. Patents and copyrights are two examples that easily come to mind, but there are a host of others that are likewise non-physical, e.g., a stock certificate, a promissory note, etc. These are mere pieces of paper with little intrinsic value as paper, but otherwise quite valuable so long as the law provides support for what these papers represent.

I mentioned it before, but I believe it bears repeating that one of the most difficult concepts to master in preparing for the practice of law it to try and grasp the entire notion of property as has developed over centuries of legal jurisprudence.

BTW, I do appreciate your very thoughtful comments. Here it seems it is far too easy to simply dismiss what someone says merely because you happen to disagree. It is a pleasure to exchange positions is such a respectful manner, and for this I thank you.

nasch (profile) says:

Re:

One can certainly see how a rivalrous good is somehow more in line with general notions of property than a non-rivalrous good. However, the law is not so limited, because it has long been recognized that even non-rivalrous goods may be deserving of legal protection. Patents and copyrights are two examples that easily come to mind

Right.

there are a host of others that are likewise non-physical, e.g., a stock certificate, a promissory note, etc.

Those are non-physical, but they are rivalrous. For example, you cannot (honestly) sell more than 100% ownership in a venture. Thus, if you sell Bob 10%, that’s 10% of it that you can’t sell Jim. Rivalrous and physical are orthogonal attributes.

I mentioned it before, but I believe it bears repeating that one of the most difficult concepts to master in preparing for the practice of law it to try and grasp the entire notion of property as has developed over centuries of legal jurisprudence.

IP and actual property are completely different areas of law though, are they not?

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