Do Bad Things Happen When Works Enter The Public Domain? The Data Says… No

from the more-public-domain-please dept

It’s getting to be that time again, when Mickey Mouse gets closer and closer to the public domain — and you know what that means: a debate about copyright term extension. As you know, whenever Mickey is getting close to the public domain, Congress swoops in, at the behest of Disney, and extends copyright.

Copyright maximalists make a variety of arguments as to why such copyright extension is necessary. We’ve long argued that, even if you believe that longer copyrights are good, at most they should only be applied going forward, rather than retroactively. After all, the stated defense of why we have copyright in the first place is to create the incentives for creation — and once that work has been created, it’s clear that whatever incentive there was — whether via copyright or other external incentive — worked just fine. Extending a copyright on an already existing work, creates no new incentives for works already in existence.

However, maximalists have come up with a typical list of reasons for why they believe that copyright should be extended, and we should expect to start hearing those arguments made public again shortly, as the debate reemerges. Among the usual arguments are that (1) no one will produce those works any more, because the incentive is gone without the ability to exclude competition, and thus we’d have “under-exploited” works. (2) Quite contradictory to the first item, that because there’s no way to exclude, the content will be “over-exploited” because now everyone can use it, and thus the works will be everywhere, diminishing the value of the works. (3) That the works will be “tarnished” because once in the public domain, people will take the characters and… do bad things with them — whether it’s producing significantly inferior versions, or creating derivative works that somehow take away from the value of the original (such as by putting Mickey Mouse into pornographic situations).

Some new empirical research suggests that… none of these arguments are even close to being supportable. At all.

Michael Scott points us to the research by law professors Christopher Buccafusco and Paul Heald entitled Do Bad Things Happen When Works Enter the Public Domain?: Empirical Tests of Copyright Term Extension. The simple answer is, no, not at all:

Our data suggest that the three principal arguments in favor of copyright term extension—under-exploitation, over-exploitation, and tarnishment—are unsupported There seems little reason to fear that once works fall into the public domain, their value will be substantially reduced based on the amount or manner in which they are used. We do not claim that there are no costs to movement into the public domain, but, on the opposite side of the ledger, there are considerable benefits to users of open access to public domain works. We suspect that these benefits dramatically outweigh the costs.

How do they show this? Rather creatively, by looking at audiobooks for the years in which most works are in the public domain, and the same period of time after works are still under copyright: so they looked at the audiobook versions of best-selling books from 1913 to 1922 as public domain works, and similarly audiobooks of the best-selling books from 1923 to 1932 for similar works that were still under copyright. They did part of the research on all such works, and part on 20 works from each group that were deemed “durable” works by a group of experts — meaning books that are still popular and read today (such as James Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (public domain) and William Falkner’s The Sound and the Fury (not public domain)). Why audiobooks? Because audiobooks are a derivative work off of the original, which lets them also compare the impact on derivative works.

The results were pretty clear. Works in the public domain were much more available, but certainly weren’t flooding the market — so there’s little to support the “over-exploitation” argument. They were generally (though not always) cheaper, but not by a huge margin. And there were still “professional” versions of the reading, so the “under-exploitation” argument fails as well. In terms of quality and tarnishment, they ran another series of experiments comparing professionally read ebooks to amateur read ones, and again found nothing to support that public domain works are treated poorly.

Our data provide almost no support for the arguments made by proponents of copyright term extension that once works fall into the public domain they will be produced in poor quality versions that will undermine their cultural or economic value. Our data indicate no statistically significant difference, for example, between the listeners’ judgments of the quality of professional audiobook readers of copyrighted and public domain texts.

In the end, the full study is worth reading, but the results are clear. The so-called “harm” of works falling into the public domain does not appear to exist. Works are still offered (in fact, they’re more available to the public, who we’re told is what copyright is supposed to do), there are still quality works offered, and the works are not overly exploited. So what argument is there left to extend copyright?

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Comments on “Do Bad Things Happen When Works Enter The Public Domain? The Data Says… No”

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132 Comments
MrWilson says:

All three reasons are pure bullshit.

All three assume that the market (i.e. consumer preferences and tendencies) has no bearing on the status of a work.

Under-exploitation will only happen with public domain works that are deemed by the greater consumer populace as not of sufficient enduring quality and relevance to continue to be exploited at a significant rate.

Over-exploitation will once again be controlled by the market. When everyone comes out with their own Batman movie, only the versions that are considered by consumers to be any good will make any money, hence only the people who produce good versions will recoup their costs and get to make more. Bad versions will be mocked and ignored.

Tarnishment is in the eye of the beholder. People already create pornographic parodies of popular movies. Does anybody actually make the decision not to see The Dark Knight Rises because someone made a Batman parody porno film? People who aren’t inclined to watch Mickey Mouse porn won’t care that Mickey Mouse porn exists because they won’t be forced to watch it.

Over-exploitation and tarnishment incorrectly assume that a creative work can be ruined or over-used. People, consumers, naturally filter out things that don’t appeal to them. The cream floats to the top. And what might be considered “tarnishment” apparently happens even with authorized uses, such as the atrocity that I heard at a Starbucks a few months ago: Willie Nelson covering a Coldplay song. ::shudder::

Aaron Wolf (profile) says:

There's another (bad) argument: sabotage!

Nobody actually seems to make this argument, but there’s a real reason that extending copyright on old works might have an impact on publishing for the public good:

New works have to compete against existing works for attention. As new works are under copyright, and thus less accessible than public domain, sabotaging the public domain by extending copyright on old works could help new works to compete. In other words, we incentivize new creations by restricting access to old ones.

I do not believe doing this is actually in the public interest, but it is at least a rational concept. I suspect it is more real than the other arguments. I suspect that if we suddenly brought all works older than 20 years into the public domain, there would be a substantial reduction in the sales of new works. On balance, I think this trade off would be worthwhile, but that’s at least a rational debate to be had.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: There's another (bad) argument: sabotage!

It is a semi-rational argument, yes.
But have you ever heard of LibriVox? It’s a website that hosts high quality volunteer recordings of public domain literature. It’s a small, but growing collective, and as yet seems not to be threatening to the copyrighted audiobook market.

It actually has a lot of good stuff. Practically all of Mark Twain’s published work is available for download, as is the work of Saki, and H.G. Wells. It’s a great repository of good literature that’s fallen into the public domain, although I suspect that most people who want to listen to Tom Sawyer probably buy a major publisher’s version.

Aaron Wolf (profile) says:

Re: Re: There's another (bad) argument: sabotage!

Well, I knew about audiobooks on archive.org and elsewhere. I agree with you overall, but actually the sabotage issue has more to do with certain media. Pop music, for example, there’s tons and tons of substantial stuff if we go back just a few years. There weren’t that many audiobooks 30 or 40 years ago though, so that’s an emerging medium.

In fact, almost all modern media is copyrighted. Public domain is puny for video, photos, audio recording? literature and sheet music are among the few items that have a substantial public domain, and they are also the media the public is most used to getting from the public library historically.

We’re not used to having public domain pop songs or movies. If we had that, it could bring a big shift in our habits for buying new music or movies. Who knows??

Personally, I basically want to see the end to all intellectual property laws. I’m just talking about what the issues are as I see them. I think there would be a downturn in the sales of new sheet music and new pop music records and new movies if copyright were brought back to shorter terms. Everyone would spend more time enjoying the public domain. Which is a good thing, though, in my opinion.

Ed C. says:

Re: There's another (bad) argument: sabotage!

The sabotage also applies to new works, or at least independent works anyway. With repeated copyright term extensions, the big publishers have amassed huge back catalogs of content–the vast majority of which does NOT get republished. The only purpose those works serve is for the culture tax of massive licensing fees and ammunition for lawsuits. Of course, works produced within the clique of the big publishers are largely protected from those fees and legal threats. It’s the works produced outside of the publishers and their “buddy” system that have to contend with the high taxes and real threat of being ambushed at any moment. It can happen just months after publication, or even before; it can happen decades after the fact. It doesn’t matter.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: There's another (bad) argument: sabotage!

If Star Wars were in the public domain, people might watch it without paying, or make their own prequels (that will be much better than what Lucas made), or make the porno Star Whores, or manufacture their own toys – but we would still always have Star Wars. All it would mean is George Lucas won’t make nearly as much money.

But the concept of copyright wasn’t intended to keep something profitable 30 years down the road. It’s supposed to make George Lucas keep creating. I’d rather have Lucas making more movie (good or bad) than repeatedly tinkering and re-releasing Star Wars. There’s been more creativity put into Star Wars toys than Lucas has put on film in the last 30 years.

The majority of the population is looking for something new – within the last 25 years, or even the last 10 years. There are a lot of people that watch old movies, but the majority of movies and television watched today is new and recent material. Even today, when we’re drowning in a sea of media (paid for or otherwise) people still get ridiculously excited by new things and happily pay money for it. They have yet to say, “nah, there’s enough movies in the world. We don’t need to make any more.”

Keroberos (profile) says:

Re: Re: There's another (bad) argument: sabotage!

If Star Wars were in the public domain, people might watch it without paying…

This is actually probably all you would be able to do (except the porn–that should fall under fair use/parody). Everyone seems to forget that the name “Star Wars”, character names and likenesses, place names, and other various bits would still be covered under trademark laws. So as long as Lucasfilm is still using the Star Wars IP all of that stuff is still protected.

The same is true for Mickey Mouse, if Steamboat Willie were to fall into the public domain, the only changes would be that you could watch it for free. Mickey would still be covered under trademark (and will be as long as Disney continues to use him as a mascot–basically forever), so very little would actually change.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: There's another (bad) argument: sabotage!

New works have to compete against existing works for attention. As new works are under copyright, and thus less accessible than public domain, sabotaging the public domain by extending copyright on old works could help new works to compete. In other words, we incentivize new creations by restricting access to old ones.

I believe that this is the true motivation of the copyright extension lobby. However they are embarrassed by it – so the keep quiet about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: There's another (bad) argument: sabotage!

However rational this possibility may be, I believe it to be quite a virtual abstraction that doesn’t stand the test of reality. There’s no shortage of new pop hits in Egypt, Jamaica, India, Maroco and anywhere in the world where copyright does not really exist or is enforced and where people buy almost only bootleg copies on their local markets. New music is constantly produced. Even the most popular hits fade away after a while in favor of new ones, etc…

The argument over-estimates the influence of sellers and providers generally over people’s demand. Even if sellers where making everything available of 20 years ago, novelty is still valued enough and will be in demand. Also, if copyright really works the way it is generally thought to work as an incentive, producers will still want that 20-years exclusive distribution window and make new works available.

To be honest, I’m quite surprised that there are so many virtual arguments made on the supposed merits or dangers around copyright, and that we don’t many studies on the many many markets in the world where copyright is largely ignored or non-existant and have yet a very very vivid cultural economy.

Keroberos (profile) says:

Re: There's another (bad) argument: sabotage!

No, the public domain helps in the creation of new works. Case in point–the movie that spawned the zombie craze Night of the Living Dead has been public domain since it’s release–has that stopped anyone (including its creator) from profiting from zombie movies/books? No it probably helped–it took years for it to become a financial and critical success, under copyright it would have disappeared, with no subsequent works being created–and quess what? Its still making money. Another thing is distibution. With public domain works becoming easily accessible on the internet–do you think the current creators would continue to drag their feet in entering a 21st century distribution model?

But really, even at it’s original length (14 years–28 with extension) do you think new stuff would have any trouble competing? I highly doubt that. Creative works are unique in themselves and can’t be easily replaced with something else. A new version of Star Wars–no matter how good–cannot replace the original (look at the stink the fans raise every time George Lucas changes the originals).

Here’s a better idea for helping new works compete. Quality, if new works had to compete with newer public domain works, quality and originality would have to increase–one of the stated purposes of copyright in the constitution.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: There's another (bad) argument: sabotage!

Actually this busted down line gets made all the time.

People created artistic works when there was no money in doing so. People create for creation’s sake.

So novel stuff will be created regardless.

This is before we get into the fact that novelity is rare. Most creative works are highly derivative and yet still novel. There’s a reason why Disney keeps raiding the public domain for inspiration for their most successful and iconic works. It’s because drawing on pre existing creative materials enriches on-going creativity rather than impoverishing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

What is there to answer? Yes, copyright has been extended, in at a pace similar to the actual use of the material and it’s lifespan.

100 years ago, a book might get 1 or 2 printing and disappear. Now books are often updated and reprinted for decades. Times change, the useful like of the content has extended, and the ability for the author to continue to sell their work cheaply while having a chance of income over a longer period is good for us all.

It’s the reason why 30+ year old episodes of MASH are still in distribution, because there is still value, still demand… unlike what might have been there 100 years ago for a book or a song.

You have to admit, it’s unlikely that the framers were considering internet distribution, cable networks, and blu-ray / DVD combo packs when they wrote copyright law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Part of the problem of copyright is that many focus on the lock up, rather than the reasons why.

A company that produces content, and continues to produce content will invest it’s income into new productions. To this day, you can be sure that Disney income goes at least in part towards making new content. Disney isn’t standing still.

Actually, I find using Disney as perhaps the worst possible example for opponents of copyright extension, because Disney has the best case possible: They keep making new stuff using their characters that trace back to the earliest days of the company. THere are new Mickey Mouse products being produced today. Disney is an active brand, with active development, and clearly a vested interest in making sure that their characters and content are not knocked off and cheapened.

Also, Disney is a company that routinely updates, improves, and re-releases their content in current formats and versions. They are careful to tend their garden of content, as it were.

It seems silly to use one of the more prolific and best companies when it comes to maintaining copyrights, trademarks, and such to try to prove a problem. Disney is a shining example of careful control and use of their products, and a caring attitude.

Since Disney continues to sell, to update, to maintain, and create new material, it seems that extending their copyright, especially as they continue to actively use the material and use the funds to move forward… they are the perfect example of why copyright works right.

silverscarcat says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“Disney is a shining example of careful control and use of their products, and a caring attitude”

You mean the company that takes from Public Domain (Cinderella, Snow White, Hunchback of Notre Dame) but gives nothing back?

You mean the company that shamelessly rips off other people for their movies (Lion King was a rip off of Kimba the White Lion) but if anyone tries anything similar gets sued out of existence?

Disney is pretty much as bad as it gets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“You mean the company that takes from Public Domain (Cinderella, Snow White, Hunchback of Notre Dame) but gives nothing back?”

wah-wah-wah.

You can do the same. I don’t say that Disney gave nothing back. Let me ask my 2 year old if he thinks Disney gives nothing back. He’ll tell you that his favorite channels is disney and that his favorite characters are almost all disney characters (and Thomas the Tank Engine… )

The rest of your comment is just whining, plain and simple.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

It’s because the question is the standard slanted whine that comes from people who aren’t thinking for themselves. It’s just whining, nothing more.

I have explained this before (and I think to you). You are free to go back to the public domain sources and make your own treatments of the material that is in the public domain, providing you don’t duplicate what Disney has done.

They didn’t snatch anything. It’s a whining strawman from those who blindly oppose copyright without considering what they are saying.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

You are free to go back to the public domain sources and make your own treatments of the material that is in the public domain, providing you don’t duplicate what Disney has done.

In theory yes – but – just try it – and see how far you get.

Disney’s real skill is not in making stuff these days – it is in fooling people – and you seem to be a fine example.

abc gum says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

” It’s a whining strawman from those who blindly oppose copyright without considering what they are saying.”

So why not say that to begin with? Since you have explained yourself previously, it should be rather simple to repeat without the grade school silliness – is this too much to ask?

Certainly after reading your “wah-wah-wah.” post I should’ve realized that I had been schooled on this issue before and then regurgitate your views upon this subject – how droll of me to egg you on in such a coyish manner.

RD says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Right on brother! I know i have greatly enjoyed my vhs,laser,dvd and now glorious bluray copies of Song of The South many years now! How awesome is it that the mighty Disney is such an amazing steward of their “locked behind copyright” classics that I have been able to enjoy this movie I love so well for so long on home video!

Whats that? It has NEVER been released on home video and remains to this day unavailable in ANY legal form?

“Good stewards” my fat raging ass.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The fallacy of your argument is that the purpose of copyright is to benefit the PUBLIC by encouraging the creation of new works for the PUBLIC. If creators are able to extract nearly ALL of the value because the work is more durable, then little value is left for the public defeating the purpose of copyright in the first place. The fact that the holder is allowed to benefit exclusively FOR A LIMITED TIME is the means, not the objective.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

100 years ago, a book might get 1 or 2 printing and disappear. Now books are often updated and reprinted for decades. Times change, the useful like of the content has extended, and the ability for the author to continue to sell their work cheaply while having a chance of income over a longer period is good for us all.

This is demonstrably FALSE! Books that are in the public domain are far more likely to be reprinted than those of similar vintage that are still under copyright. Hell, the last time copyright was extended, ~3% of the works from the era that stood to benefit were still being published. That’s right, the other 97% that could have been republished under the public domain remained locked up instead. That does not benefit the creators or the public.

Another issue that you fail to comprehend is that the actually creators get little to no compensation in royalties for their older works. The publishers usually take the lion’s share of the profits, then come around again and take portions of their expenses from the royalties! The publishers are the ones who have been pushing for longer copyright because they are the real benefactors, not the creators or the public.

It’s the reason why 30+ year old episodes of MASH are still in distribution, because there is still value, still demand… unlike what might have been there 100 years ago for a book or a song.

Wait, you think that if MASH was in the public domain where anyone could distribute it, NO ONE would? Considering that MASH is already distributed outside of copyright, though illegally, it obviously would be distributed if it was in the public domain all the same.

You have to admit, it’s unlikely that the framers were considering internet distribution, cable networks, and blu-ray / DVD combo packs when they wrote copyright law.

Of course not, but so what? That’s inconsequential to your argument about the length of copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Wait, you think that if MASH was in the public domain where anyone could distribute it, NO ONE would? “

Actually, it wouldn’t be distributed by normal means. Remember, if there is no money in it, why bother? No TV station would want to run something that everyone can get freely without issue. There is no audience to collect and charge for ads as a result.

The net result would be what happens to almost everything in the public domain: it gets ignored.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Remember, if there is no money in it, why bother?

This presupposes that you can’t make money off of public domain works.

This is absolutely false. Dover, for example, has been making money for decades by reprinting public domain books. And plenty of TV stations did – and do – show “Night of the Living Dead,” even though it’s always been in the public domain.

In fact, it is easier to make money off of public domain works, because there are fewer barriers to entry – you don’t have to licence the rights.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

No TV station would want to run something that everyone can get freely without issue. There is no audience to collect and charge for ads as a result.

This is so self-evidently false that I feel no need to refute it – it refutes itself.

The net result would be what happens to almost everything in the public domain: it gets ignored.

Well – almost all works get ignored anyway -but those in the public domain get ignored LESS than equivalent works still under copyright. The evidence for this has been presented here on nyumerous occasions – including the article above – did you bother to read it?

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Actually, it wouldn’t be distributed by normal means. Remember, if there is no money in it, why bother?

If there wasn’t, public domain works would NEVER get republished. Yet they get republished MORE than works of similar vintage. You entire argument is based on a premise that is completely and totally false. There is still value and money in providing content services. The copyright status of the works is secondary to that. What matters is whether the service itself provides enough value to cover its cost and turn a profit.

No TV station would want to run something that everyone can get freely without issue. There is no audience to collect and charge for ads as a result.

If people deem the service TV stations provide to have value, they could easily turn a profit from ads on public domain works by simply not having to pay massive license fees. The same would apply to ALL content services. And so what if some of the old services would no longer be deemed profitable. That still in doesn’t mean that NO service could find a profit. Again, entire argument is based on a premise that is completely and totally false.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Actually, it wouldn’t be distributed by normal means. Remember, if there is no money in it, why bother? No TV station would want to run something that everyone can get freely without issue. There is no audience to collect and charge for ads as a result.

I’ll try and remember this the next time I’m in a bookstore and see a shelf full of the works of Shakespeare. Or the next time I hear a symphony playing the works of Mozart.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Of course that’s irrelevant to copyright versus public domain because mozart’s genre of music isn’t mainstream to begin with. And that includes stuff that’s still under copyright.

Also, you can find a tons of useage of public domain works in many modern media just as you can find lots copyrighted stuff that’s lost all cultural relevance..

pierce penniless says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

There’s this thing called live theatre. You can’t watch it on your TV or download it, so I can understand that you’ve never heard of it. The way it works is that the audience all go to a theater at a designated time and watch actors performing a drama right there in front of you!!!! It’s pretty sweet.

Also something cool is called a Symphony Hall I don’t know what Symphony means but I think it’s like making noise cuz what you do is go sit in a hall and everyone listens to an orchestra play LIVE REAL MUSIC!!!!

Oh ya usually you have to pay money but sometimes its free but its usually worth the money you shld check it out bro.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

There are hundreds if not thousands of recordings of Mozart made in the last 100 years, and they keep making new ones all the time. There are classical stations on radio and television, playing mostly public domain music including Mozart.

And Shakespeare is one of the most produced writers in the entertainment world – his plays and movies based on his plays are constantly being done – hundreds of productions every single year around the world.

Yeah, nobody wants it.

Cory of PC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Remember, if there is no money in it, why bother?

Every single time it is with money with you people… if this is about the money, then just say it! That way we could say “hey everyone! These guys only care about your money, not your personal needs, so please ignore them!” Ugh, I really hate that this is just about the money and nothing else.

… what happens to almost everything in the public domain: it gets ignored.

OK, let’s test that little theory. Why don’t you put yourself in the public domain and we’ll find out if people will ignore you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You mean the way greco roman stories were ignored when making clash of the titans?

The way disney ignored alladin, snow white and pocahontas?

The way the legend of mystical ninja and inuyasha ignore japanese mythology?

Or how world war two FPSes ignored world war two?

Or how bookstores have never ever sold pubic domain books or their dirivities?

Truth is, a lot of works would not have been made without pubic domain.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s the reason why 30+ year old episodes of MASH are still in distribution, because there is still value, still demand… unlike what might have been there 100 years ago for a book or a song.

Actually much stuff from 100 years ago plus is still current.

Shakespeare, Dickens, Mozart, Beethoven I could go on and on – so your contrast is quite wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Copyright does not exist for the purpose of expanding the “useful life” of someone’s copyprivilege. That would be unconstitutional.

Copyright is only constitutional because the constition grants this right of prior restraint on speech for the purpose of advancing the arts and sciences, not for the purpose of advancing deplorable rent seeking to infinity and beyond, all enabled by a state granted monopoly.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Or maybe the biggest thing driving this is the fear in a board room that someone else might somehow find a way to make a dollar from it.

These corporations who try to stifle every innovation because it might somehow steal from them, keep a tight grip on the content waiting for an innovation to help them make money from it again.

They fear every new technology and look for ways to control it, and ignore how it could actually be used to benefit them. Instead they keep rehashing the same old ideas over and over trying to pluck a few more dollars from it, or are the remakes of Judge Dredd, RoboCop, etc. not a clue that they no longer innovate and do not create new creative things.

Blair Witch – an idea born outside of the content cartels, lead to a flurry of shaky cam knock offs. They then applied the remake it till it won’t sell even direct to video market.

Saw – a series that lead to “torture porn” horror films. An innovative idea that even with the main villain dead somehow keeps churning out sequels of questionable quality.

It is very rare they put any money into a “new” idea, instead green lighting the remake of Total Recall. One wonders how many good ideas we lost out on, simply because they have the ability to hold onto an old idea forever and never have to find that new gem to polish. When one of these black swans hits them in the face, they acquire all of it cheaply simply because they control the entire system, and it was nearly impossible for things to be seen otherwise.

When an outsider makes something new, they acquire it and begin to choke it into a remake machine squeezing the golden goose until its pate.

Now with the internet, it is becoming clear you can create new things and they are trying to flourish as the old guard keep screaming only they can make money from content and anyone else must have stolen from them.

The public domain is a wasteland and the public is getting screwed out of their culture and the chance of anything new being added. It really is time for reform not another extension locking away culture until they can wring every last possible cent from it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Save our icons or suffer eternal damnation at the hands of swine!

Is the putative “harm” of works falling into the public domain at time of copyright expiration in any way relevant to that fact that copyright is granted at the sufferance of the public in exchange for a temporary (as in less than a single human lifespan?) monopoly? A monopoly granted (as in not owed) as an incentive to produce more works that can ultimately be returned to and benefit the public?

And how are the desires of a former copyright holder in any way relevant after that copyright expires, and monopoly control over a work by the copyright holder ends? (It has to expire at some point, no?) Expires, as in ownership reverts to the public, with and to whom the copyright holder has an implied contract to surrender control of the copyrighted work after some finite period of time within human ken. The same public who implicitly agreed to look the other way, regardless of the abusiveness and aberrant behavior of the copyright holder during his/her/its/their tenure.

It would seem that copyright holders would like to claim special dispensation that gives them de facto permanent ownership of cultural icons “for the good of the public,” at the public’s expense, for the purpose of protecting the purity of those icons from the soiled hands and prurient desires of their actual owners — the public.

Something is a wee bit wrong with this picture…

Anonymous Coward says:

A. If you’re going to use a strawman, make some attempt at it not being comical. No one thinks “bad things happen when works enter the public domain.” You might as well paint any random epithet on your forehead when you title articles like. It would be closer to the truth.

B. ‘Mickey Mouse’ is a trademark issue, not a copyright issue. People aren’t gnashing their teeth in anticipation of getting ‘Steamboat Willie’ for free…

C. You are, without question, a ginormous buffoon, and have become the best example of why copyright law should be enforced rather than left to the whims of zealots.

Thanks.

Beech says:

Re: Re:

A: If no one thinks that “bad things happen when works enter the public domain” why do the big media companies fight so damn hard to keep works from entering the public domain?

B: People don’t really care about Steamboat Willie anymore do they? So why keep it locked up? Does Disney think that they’re going to be able to re-release it on bluray or something? Why not let the public get at it? Why have copyright terms so long that the work is totally worthless when it reaches public domain? If people aren’t gnashing their teeth in anticipation of getting Steamboat Willie for free, they certainly aren’t gnashing their teeth in anticipation of the opportunity to pay for it…so why not let it enter the public domain?

c. Ad hom

you’re welcome

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

A. Citation.

B. Mickey Mouse isn’t a copyright issue.

Unless you were dropped on your head as a child (likely in your case), you know this already.

C. Ad hom?

This is ad hom: you’re a worthless, parasitic freetard. You dying in a fire can tangibly be proven to be to the benefit of society.

My pleasure.

Cory of PC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A. Mind giving us that citation?

B. Who care? If this is a copyright issue, it’s not like I’m interested in using Mickey for any of my projects once he does hit public domain… that is, if he gets into public domain. It’s also highly unlikely I’ll touch Steamboat Willie other than watching because I am busying with my own work and I have no interest in messing around with the short.

C. With connections to your last sentence in B, keep slinging those ad homs out. I’m sure you’re going to win this argument if you keeping bashing others with them.

Beech says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A: My citation is that pretty graph in the post. The one that shows all the times copyright has been extended. All those that roughly correspond to the expiration of Disney’s works.

B: Did i say Mickey Mouse is a copyright issue? I was talking about the short animated film “Steamboat Willie.” Nowhere did I say anything about the rat or him being in the public’s hands. I was talking about a particular film entering public domain and I have no idea why you would take it any other way, unless you were dropped on your head.

C: This is also an ad hom “Wah, wah. Mommy, someone on the internet disagrees with me. Help me spell big words like ‘parasitic’ so make me feel better.” Note how much that point furthers the debate. I guess the world is a better place now?

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: The Significance of Mickey Mouse, Cost Reductions (to Beech, #23)

In the first place, as I have noted previously, Micky Mouse is simply a proxy for thousands of sound movies, produced at a time when Hollywood was at its creative peak.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090811/0123105835.shtml#c347

In the second place, the movie industry is about to go offshore in a big way. I have every confidence that they will choose a profit from reduced production costs in the here-and-now, rather than taking account of the ultimate effects in the distant and doubtful future. This profit will result from using new technology to move nearly all the production work to India, at Indian wages.

http://www.techdirt.com/blog/innovation/articles/20120210/03382117728/how-do-we-know-that-piracy-isnt-really-big-issue-because-media-companies-still-havent-needed-to-change-as-result-it.shtml#c517

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091210/0526447287.shtml#c599

Given the chance, the movie industry will behave like the manufacturers of clothing, and electronics, and housewares, and automobiles. They will treat their current workforce as expendable. The result will be that when the movie industry comes back for a copyright term extension, they won’t have any friends left. Organized labor will hate them– for cause. Los Angeles will hate them– for cause. California will hate them– for cause.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Too late – copyright law has already long been left to the whims of zealots; that’s why it keeps getting extended to “forever minus a day”.

But hey, since “forever minus a day” is “limited”, it doesn’t matter if it’s unconstitutional, right? Never mind the fact that infinity – 1 still equals infinity.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A. If you’re going to use a strawman, make some attempt at it not being comical. No one thinks “bad things happen when works enter the public domain.” You might as well paint any random epithet on your forehead when you title articles like. It would be closer to the truth.

And thus you prove you were not around the last time copyright extension was debated. Yes, many people claim that bad things happen when works enter the public domain — as detailed in the very report discussed here that you seem to ignore.

B. ‘Mickey Mouse’ is a trademark issue, not a copyright issue. People aren’t gnashing their teeth in anticipation of getting ‘Steamboat Willie’ for free…

It’s both, actually, but you’re clearly not one for facts. By the way, just this weekend I helped my son put stickers on a Mickey Mouse coloring book that his aunt bought him. Guess what? EVERY single sticker of Mickey had a copyright symbol on it. Every one.

C. You are, without question, a ginormous buffoon, and have become the best example of why copyright law should be enforced rather than left to the whims of zealots.

I’ve discovered, quite nicely, that the requests to speak to important policy makers seems to increase every time people make statements like this in my comments. The correlation is uncanny. I’ve now concluded that every time more people take what I have to take seriously, the maxmimalists feel a greater need to insist that no one cares what I have to say.

Keep dreaming.

Beech says:

I, for one,

I, for one, was thinking about making a cartoon about a talking cheese grater who regularly gets in fights with an inanimate wooden spoon. However, once I realized that IF my work got popular AND remained so for the next several decades after my death THAN just ANYONE could make a film of MY cheese grater and wooden spoon having sex, and even make money off it(!), I decided it just wasn’t worth it!

Michael says:

So, basically, companies like Disney promote the idea that their stranglehold over copyright be extended because the public is not to be trusted with public domain works. We’ll tarnish anything we touch. …Oh, but it’s A-OK when companies like Disney exploit the same for profit.

Personally, I’ve always found Mickey Mouse cartoons to be dull and insipid when compared to Warner Bros’ classic Looney Tunes. The latter is light-years more funny and entertaining.

Sure would be nice if Washington protected our Constitutional rights as zealously as they do copyright.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What data? Is there any data on works from the mid to late 20th century going into the public domain? Nope.

Actually there is data about things made by the US government going into the public domain – eg the 9/11 report.

It is you who is disregarding the facts here – not us.

Look at the studies in Boldrin and Levine’s book :”Against Intellectual Monopoly”

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Is there any data on works from the mid to late 20th century going into the public domain? Nope.

Well, there couldn’t be, since works from the mid to late 20th century aren’t eligible to enter the public domain.

However, when we examine works that could have entered the public domain, vs. works that actually did enter the public domain, we find that works that are in the public domain are better off than those that aren’t. (Citation: the study that you are replying to.)

So, you’re wrong, or perhaps lying. Not a terrible shocker either way.

Chad says:

what about...

I find myself generally agreeing with most articles here, but it seems to me that this article ignores the strongest argument in favor of copyrights: the very inherent right/good principle of it. I think it is right that trademarks be allowed to be owned indefinitely when they continue to be put to commercial use. I realize the law treats copyrights differently, but as you all know, just because something is “the law” doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly stupid. The 75 year rule is nothing more than an arbitrary line in the sand that is drawn SOLELY based on how the line drawing person FEELS about copyrights. Do they FEEL a composer deserves to be compensated for their lifetime? Ok, make it public domain when the composer dies. Do they FEEL a composer’s children should be able to benefit from the copyright? Ok, make it public domain 40 years after the composer dies. Grandchildren? Ok, 75 years. This is all stupid arbitrary crap, and trying to suggest that the line be moved to 65, 55, 85 or 95 sounds to me like a bunch of children arguing about which movie they want to watch. It’s stupid, and no matter how much you argue, nobody can ever prove that their line is correct – they can only prove that they have something in common with chimpanzees in that they are willing to express their will. What if the very idea of having a line is wrong to begin with? What if it’s not wrong to allow a family (or publishing company) to retain copyright indifinitely? Suddenly when I make that argument, it is YOU people who will have to start resorting to peripheral excuse arguments much like the ones in this article. And these excuse arguments would be no more relevant to me than the ones in this article are to you. I don’t work for a publishing company, I just think that there are deeper philosophical implications at work when it comes to peoples’ opinions on this matter, and these philosophical opinions matter far more (and are much harder to prove!) than the peripheral stuff.

My point isn’t to say you’re wrong, my point is to say that you are deluding yourselves if you think you’ve proven you’re right. Abortion is no different: at what point is the fetus “alive”? Some define it to be at conception, others define it to be at birth. Are both of those extremes wrong? They feel wrong to me, but the key word here is FEEL. Admit it, all this article represents is a bunch of feelings dressed up in empty rationalization…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: what about...

Copyright has never been about “inherent right/good principles”, until such language was co-opted by people like you to disguise its real purpose.
Copyright is censorship. Whether or not people think that censorship is good or even acceptable is irrelevant to that fact; copyright explicitly defines a class of expressions which are not permitted (namely, those which someone else has already expressed over about the past century).
And lest you think someone originally intended copyright to be all sunshine and roses, let’s recall that Mary I came up with it in its original form, as a way to both acknowledge the ineffectiveness of prior printing bans in France and also allow her censors to stifle any non-Catholic publications. Every case for its reintroduction or extension since then has increasingly used “the poor starving authors” or other such baseless appeals to reframe the issue into one which people would support.

I also must take issue when you state that people’s philosophical opinions on the matter are more important than facts. People may once have successfully trusted their feelings in a galaxy far, far away, but here on Earth I expect people to make decisions based on things like evidence, and I expect it even more so of them when they are involved in policy decisions, and I expect it even more of them when those decisions are about potential extensions to the pervasive and destructive legislation that is copyright and patent law.

Keroberos (profile) says:

Re: what about...

…but it seems to me that this article ignores the strongest argument in favor of copyrights: the very inherent right/good principle of it.

No, there is no inherent right/good principle of copyright because the only way you can ever solely own an idea is to not express it. Once you express an idea–be it literature, a movie/play, music or anything, it is now owned by all the people who experienced it (once you give/show something to me–it is mine). Copyright was created to allow the creative people in society to have some limited control over their expression in order to try and make a living off of it and continue creating–this is the important bit, and the one that people get confused over. Copyright in the US was not created so you could profit from your work–it was created so you had a financial incentive to create more. Perpetual copyright would dampen that creativity–why work hard to create more when you can profit off of what you created before.

Why should a creators family profit after the creators death? They had nothing to do with the creation. My family won’t get to collect a paycheck from my place of employment after I die–so why should they?

Chad says:

Re: Re: what about...

I understand your arguments, but what I don’t understand is why, for example, Dover (or CD Sheet Music) should be able to take old Schirmer’s, Peters and other editions of sheet music that Shirmer’s, Peters, etc. are still using today, photocopy them, bind them, and sell them in an “edition” of their own. This isn’t innovation. This is the Chinese way of “steal and profit from the work of others.” This isn’t a hypothetical or theoretical argument. This is what happens, and it’s happening on a massive scale today. This doesn’t protect innovation, it stifles it. And while there are certainly new “fresh” editions of the Beethoven Sonatas being released, there is less and less incentive for anyone to purchase them since all these other great editions are now free. Beethoven’s original manuscript? Fine, make it public domain. THAT I can understand. Most people don’t want to read Beethoven’s handwriting. Shakespeare’s plays? Fine, make his original manuscripts public domain. But don’t make certain editions STILL SOLD by the publishing company who created the editions arbitrarily expire so that leech publishing companies can profit off of work they never did. Let the market decide when it’s time for an edition to expire: people will stop buying one edition when another edition comes out that is better.

It’s unfair that publishing companies (unlike composers) don’t die and yet their copyrights still die as if these publishing companies had human lifespans. It seems to me the 75-year rule should be for when the publishing company has ceased to exist for 75 years rather than the composer dying 75 years ago.

Public domain is killing sheet music publishing companies. What is the incentive for publishing companies to publish new works when public domain is causing so much to now be in public domain? Even some contemporary works of Stravinsky and Prokofiev are now public domain. This forces publishing companies to look more and more at current composers, which in effect lowers the quality bar for what gets published, which in effect makes performers purchase the music less and less (because of the lesser quality).

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: what about...

I understand your arguments, but what I don’t understand is why, for example, Dover (or CD Sheet Music) should be able to take old Schirmer’s, Peters and other editions of sheet music that Shirmer’s, Peters, etc. are still using today, photocopy them, bind them, and sell them in an “edition” of their own. This isn’t innovation.

Yes, it is innovation. If Shirmer wants to publish an edition of, say, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, they must make their edition better than Dover’s. In other words, they must innovate.

This is exactly how innovation happens in a free market. It is driven by competion, not monopolies.

In fact, monopolies stifle innovation. It allows the monopolist – the copyright holder, in this case – to quash or block innovation that it doesn’t like.

It’s unfair that publishing companies (unlike composers) don’t die and yet their copyrights still die as if these publishing companies had human lifespans. It seems to me the 75-year rule should be for when the publishing company has ceased to exist for 75 years rather than the composer dying 75 years ago.

This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

Copyright is not some kind of innate property right. It is there to serve the public good. The public benefits by the widespread distribution and use of newer works. Copyright exists to incentivize these public benefits. That is why it is “fair.”

What you are arguing for is essentially perpetual copyright. There are not many people – including most artists and publishers – who would believe this is a moral position. You are arguing that publishers should hold a copyright on the works for as long as they are culturally beneficial. You are arguing for the privatization of public culture. This is not “fair” to anyone except those particular publishers.

It is unfair to think that publishers have the right to this monopoly in the first place. It is unfair that they get to turn shared culture into private property.

It is even unfair under some Lockean “sweat of the brow” argument. It isn’t the publishers who put in the labor required to create those works. It is the artists. Extending that monopoly to benefit publishers – even after it has ended for artists – doesn’t make any kind of sense at all, no matter how you look at it.

Even some contemporary works of Stravinsky and Prokofiev are now public domain.

No. They used to be in the public domain (and always were). They are not any longer. They were retroactively pulled out of the public domain.

In reality, no previously-copyrighted work has entered the public domain in our lifetimes, and none will until 2019 (assuming no more extensions are passed).

Ed C. says:

Re: what about...

Give one GOOD reason why we should have to keep paying Shakespeare’s and Homer’s estate to reprint their works. The problem is, you can’t. Doing so does them no good, they’re dead. And why should their heirs get compensation for something they had no part in creating? To keep paying those leeches for nothing is purely a tax on society with no purpose.

Sorry, but no, copyright is an abridgement of the property rights of the public. If I own a copy of Shakespeare’s work, there nothing in property law which states that I couldn’t use my copy to make new copies or derivative works, just as the owner of the original copies could use theirs to do the same. It’s only copyright that states that someone else can have the right to copy, but not me. The tradeoff between my property rights and the opportunely of the copyright owner to receive compensation was agreed upon. As part of the agreement, the trade was only to be temporary, that the abridgement of my property rights would end at a specified point. The deal was made, and it has been repeatedly broken.

And if you don’t like arbitrary lines, then try one that’s based on the purpose of copyright itself, the balance between the compensation of the copyright owners and the property rights of everyone else. Empirical studies have placed that line at less than twenty years.

Jamie Dale (user link) says:

Re: what about...

Feelings are important.

Laws are required for copyright. No laws are required for public domain. Occam’s Razor would suggest public domain over indefinite copyright.

The ostensible copyright issue is profit, but copyrights represent a larger issue: a restriction on consciousness expansion.

Abortion is murder, at any stage, period. Murders happen and are sometimes deemed necessary, but they’re still murders.

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem with long term copyright is not so much the original works, as the coverage of derivative works. It is all too easy to take an existing story and rework names, locations, period of history etc. and publish it as an original work. It is much more difficult to build on an existing work, with original ideas, especially if the original has distinctive features; like Larry Nivens Ringworld.
Creating a derivative is a reasonable way to develop story telling abilities, where a new story set in a fictional world is told. this approach also has an increased chance of finding an audience, who can then give feedback. A good derivative using an existing fictional world is harder than retelling an existing story. Finding an audience and gaining feedback is the most difficult part of learning story telling.
If badly done it the work is largely ignored and has no impact on sale of the original. If well done, it is likely to increase sales of the original, if it is still available.

A strict no derivatives law is a disadvantage for people with disabilities. Derivatives intended to allow access for people with disabilities should be allowed as an exception to copyright law, especially as their production is rarely commercially viable.

Long copyrights benefit companies by allowing them to keep works out of circulation to reduce competition with new works. Also I suspect that for many works, descendants of the creators cannot be located, allowing the company to keep the royalties.

Increasing computer power, and sophisticated algorithms increase the ability to detect ‘derivative’ works. Could this become a means of keeping the old business models going, by the publishers being able to clear the right for a derivative work.

Marcus says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Sep 29th, 2012 @ 11:32am

“It is much more difficult to build on an existing work, with original ideas, especially if the original has distinctive features; like Larry Nivens Ringworld.”

Good example, considering that Freeman Dyson’s paper postulating Dyson Spheres/Rings appeared in 1960 and Ringworld was published in 1970. I wonder- did Dyson copywrite his paper and subsequently consider suing Niven? I highly doubt it. Ringworld was a validation and homage to Dyson’s theory.

Discuss. =)

Kevin (profile) says:

Complicated by lawyers

Solutions most problems are relatively simple, until lawyers enter the debate.
Here is my simple solution the the Micky Mouse argument.
Micky goes into the public domain with restrictions. Restrictions are that the character can only be used for it’s original purpose and intention and may not be used for any other reason. That is Micky can only be used in family friendly cartoons and made available for free on the public domain.
Kills all arguments.

Kevin (profile) says:

Simple Solutions

Solutions most problems are relatively simple, until lawyers enter the debate.
Here is my simple solution the the Micky Mouse argument.
Micky goes into the public domain with restrictions. Restrictions are that the character can only be used for it’s original purpose and intention and may not be used for any other reason. That is Micky can only be used in family friendly cartoons and made available for free on the public domain.
Kills all arguments.

Rich Tietjens (profile) says:

The entire point of copyright extension

The point of copyright extension is to prevent the “rightsholders” from having to pay for new works – that is, copyright extension exists for the sole purpose of preventing the commercial success of creative works that have not yet been created.

Copyright extension is, in essence, the legal banning of automobiles that are not horse-drawn, in order to perpetuate the sale of buggy-whips.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Could be that the particular artwork of mickey has a valid copyright but not mickey himself.

Like how if I make a movie using greek mythology(public domain) the end result is (C) me.

It’s funny how a fuckton of video games and hollywood movies use public domain content for their movies while the companies behind them try to downplay the importance of public domain.

Chad says:

what about...

This is a backwards argument. Having no copyright at all is what would destroy new creation. If I could will my own works to my great grandchildren, I would have more incentive to create new stuff, not less. Allowing copyrights to expire after some arbitrary time does not encourage people to create new art – it just encourages them to explore old art.

Chad says:

what about...

I’ll tell you why the creator’s family should profit after the creator’s death: because if they don’t, someone else will, and it will make even less sense for some random leech of society (such as Dover Publications or such as CD Sheet Music) to start selling the fruits of other companies. You think Dover and CD Sheet Music are encouraging new artistic creation? That idea is nothing short of absurd. The expiration of copyrights facilitates copying of old works more than it encourages people to create new ones. Furthermore, I am an artist. Like all artists, I create because I want to. I would continue creating whether copyrights existed or not. I deserve to profit from old works whether I create new ones or not. Copyrights, regardless of their origin, are necessary because they are simply right. It is wrong for some jerk to take my work and sell it for their own profit when they aren’t actually adding anything of their own to the work, and *that* is what public domain does.

Chad says:

what about...

You seriously think Dover and CD Sheet Music are encouraging new artistic creation by diverting money that would have been spent on real publishing companies who actually ARE doing the innovating and giving it instead to a music photocopying company? That is one of the most insane arguments I’ve ever heard. Copyright expiration in this case is a welfare system that redistributes income earned by Schirmer to companies like Dover who sit on their a**es and just profit from what everyone else did for them. Dover isn’t a music company, they’re a photocopy company.

Not only that, but taking copyright away from a company just because you want them to innovate more is artificial and unnecessary. In a free market, consumers decide if the old edition is still worthy of purchasing or if they should move on to a newly-innovated edition. THAT is true innovation. If no companies bother to innovate by creating yet another edition of the Beethoven Sonatas (oh come on, do we really need another freaking edition of these over-published works??? Peters is all we will EVER need…), then obviously the innovation isn’t necessary / there’s no more room to innovate. Sheet music isn?t like smart phones and operating systems, so save your innovation lecture for discussions about technology. You can?t just tell publishing companies, ?Ok, go and innovate on Beethoven?s work? the same way Microsoft innovates on Windows (maybe that?s a bad example when one considers the Windows 8 downgrade, but hopefully you get the point).

You have not convinced me that it is more right for Dover to profit from Schirmer’s work of 150 years ago than it is for Schirmer to benefit from their work 150 years ago. This is illogical, and it is immoral. Any innovation encouraged by this scenario is SEVERELY overshadowed by the sheer unfairness of the leech/welfare effect.

Chad says:

what about...

Maybe so or maybe not, but my argument has nothing to do with destroying or encouraging creativity. It’s about the inherent fairness of allowing someone who created something to profit from it (expecting everyone to behave in the utopian mindset that people on the starship Enterprise have is ridiciulous), and also the inherent unfairness of taking a copyrighted work out of copyright when the copyrightor was still putting the work to use. Your own argument that people create without expectation of profit also works to the disadvantage of the philosophy on this website: it implies that new works will continue to be created even if copyrights are kept indefinitely, so it the idea that we must remove copyrights to encourage new artistic creation is load of crap.

Karl (profile) says:

what about...

I was away from this thread for a while, thus the late reply.

You seriously think Dover and CD Sheet Music are encouraging new artistic creation by diverting money that would have been spent on real publishing companies who actually ARE doing the innovating and giving it instead to a music photocopying company?

First of all: since we’re talking about works in the public domain, the “real” publishing companies are not “encouraging new artistic creation” any more than Dover is.

And they certainly wouldn’t be “encouraging new artistic creation” if they were allowed to have a copyright on works after the artists’ copyright expires, which is exactly what you are suggesting. At that point, neither Dover nor Schirmer are paying the artists a dime, so how could Schirmer even possibly “encourage new artistic creation” any more than Dover?

What is being encouraged is increased distribution to the public, which is another reason the public grants copyrights to authors.

Also keep in mind that being put into the public domain also means that others are allowed to build upon those works. In this way, the public domain directly increases artistic production.

Second of all: it’s pure bunkum to say that Dover is “diverting money” from the “real” publishing companies. It’s like saying a pizza shop that sells a slice for $2.50 is “diverting money” from a pizza shop across the street that sells a slice for $3.50. By that definition, the “real” publishers are “diverting money” from Dover.

Third of all: Dover editions may not have many bells and whistles, but anyone who has ever owned one of their copies of (say) the collected works of Shakespeare would hardly call them a “photocopying company.” If they are, then the “real” publishers are “photocopying companies” as well. They don’t do anything different than Dover, at least with regards to works not under the authors’ copyrights.

In a free market, consumers decide if the old edition is still worthy of purchasing or if they should move on to a newly-innovated edition.

And that is exactly what they do when they buy a Dover score, instead of Schirmer’s. Or when they buy a nice, new, leather-bound edition of Shakespeare’s works instead of the old paperback Dover version.

But when it comes to works still under copyright, consumers have no choice. Copyright is a monopoly on a specific work. With regards to that work, copyright holders are not price takers, but price makers. Price is determined neither by consumer demand, nor by marginal cost; it is fixed by the copyright holder. It is exactly the opposite of what happens under perfect competition.

You have not convinced me that it is more right for Dover to profit from Schirmer’s work of 150 years ago than it is for Schirmer to benefit from their work 150 years ago.

And you have not convinced my that it is right for anyone to continue to profit off of something, 150 years after they have ceased to do any work on it whatsoever.

But, hey, why stop at 150 years? Why not 1500? Why not make it eternal?

Sure, the economy would nosedive, learning would be quashed, and human progress would grind to a halt. But hey, that’s only “right,” right?

gnudist says:

what about...

If you look at how art is created you’d see that a lot of movies(including many considered classics) were created with public domain content.

See: disney’s stuff, clash of the titans, inuyasha, legend of the msytical ninja, passion of the christ, various shows based on greek mythology, the indian religion aspects of sita sings the blues ect.

So the idea that removing copyrights can spawn new works is very much a proven one.

And there’s no amount of hard work that makes having a monopoly fair

gnudist says:

what about...

Oh, and since you can’t copyright historical events you can count those amoung the public domain plotlines that content industry has benefitted from with all the movies, games and books that uses them as building blocks.

Or the real animals(whose “designs” can’t be copyrighted) used as the basis for fictional ones(the pokemon come to mind)

You only have to do a little research to see how art has it’s roots in the public domain.

gnudist says:

what about...

Oh, and since you can’t copyright historical events you can count those amoung the public domain plotlines that content industry has benefitted from with all the movies, games and books that uses them as building blocks.

Or the real animals(whose “designs” can’t be copyrighted) used as the basis for fictional ones(the pokemon come to mind)

You only have to do a little research to see how art has it’s roots in the public domain.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

what about...

It’s about the inherent fairness of allowing someone who created something to profit from it (expecting everyone to behave in the utopian mindset that people on the starship Enterprise have is ridiciulous), and also the inherent unfairness of taking a copyrighted work out of copyright when the copyrightor was still putting the work to use.

You falsely suggest that those profiting from it are doing so “unfairly.” If they’re helping to bring the work to market in a way that the market appreciates, then what is the issue?

I’m at a loss as to how that’s possibly unfair.

Anonymous Coward says:

There's another (bad) argument: sabotage!

I don’t think that the argument is rational because it’s backward. Copyright since the 20th century has been backward! New works should have to compete with old works. Old works should have to compete with new works. Why would any particular works deserve an advantage? If an author (such as The Walt Disney Company) is so insecure about whether they can be/stay popular that they resort to sabotaging the public domain to reduce it’s visibility, then that author shouldn’t expect to make a profit and the government shouldn’t be supporting Disney’s cultural brainwashing efforts. An author who has already made a work doesn’t deserve a law to make the author stay popular for more than 15 years just for making that work. An author doesn’t deserve a law to force their unrealistic expectations of profit into reality. Copyright is supposed to encourage the spread and development of ideas for the benefit of the public. The longer a copyright term persists, the more benefit the public would get out of being able to use that work freely.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lifetime plus X years? Lifetime? 15 years is enough.

If you can’t make a work profitable after having 15 years of exclusive rights to profit of the work, then you’ve had long enough. Your expectations of further profit are unrealistic and you don’t deserve a law to let you be the only one to benefit from something you did more than 15 years ago. You don’t affirmatively lose anything when someone else improves or modifies your work, for profit or otherwise. The public does lose something when the law protects artificial scarcity for artificial scarcity’s sake.

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