Since When Has Copyright Become Life Plus 343 Years?

from the perpetual-copyright dept

If you follow copyright issues at all, you know that the length of copyright has been extended time and time again, mostly at the behest of entertainment industry interests who are fearful of their content falling into the public domain (even if they used public domain material to create their own content in the first place). However, copyrights do eventually expire, but it seems like fewer and fewer people recognize that. Jim writes in to point out the unfortunate example an IP lawyer discovered recently upon visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Despite the fact that the museum normally allows photographs (as long as there's no flash), it would not allow them in a display of artwork by Nicholas Poussin, who died in 1665. When questioned why the "no photography" rule was in place, he was told that it was because of the "copyright" on the artwork. While this is obviously a minor slip-up by a museum guard, it does show that people are becoming accustomed to the idea that copyright lasts forever, which is a serious problem. The more people understand copyright, and why limits on copyright are important, the more likely we are to start to shift the system away from the ridiculous levels it's reached.

Filed Under: copyright, metropolitan museum of art, nicholas poussin

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  1. identicon
    Reverend Joe, 14 Apr 2008 @ 6:43pm

    Re: ?

    > An artist can freely distribute his works. That is his right.

    True enough. In the US, at least, the 1st amendment grants that right -- though its important to note that even Freedom to Speak freely is limited in this country (some would say in increasingly detrimental ways) -- you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater is the classic example.

    > An artist may choose to charge for his work. In many cases it is because being an artist is his only job and he needs money to buy burgers. That is his right.

    Not strictly true. There is no "right to make money" enshrined in the Constitution. Also, and this may be arguing semantics, but many would argue that the exclusive monopoly to creator's discoveries is a matter of policy and therefore should not be called a "right". IOW, the constitution says creator's rights are OPTIONAL for Congress to implement, while it REQUIRES that persons be granted due process, not be subject to unreasonable search and seizure, etc. etc. You are right, however, in the sense that, under current law, you may be able to get the government to enforce your monopolistic control over certain types of creations (if you're rich enough and / or work at one of the *IAA's, the chances of getting something done improve greatly, of course).

    > I don't understand how the music industry can be considered a monopoly.

    Then, I'll explain to the best of my ability, though there are others here that may do a better job than I.

    Basically, its NOT the music INDUSTRY that is a monopoly, it is the copyright ITSELF.

    In a perfect free market, anyone can sell anything they choose, that they are able to create. For example, there is no copyright on facts. Lists of ingredients in a recipe are legally considered facts. You may create a recipe and put it in your copyrighted cookbook, and I can't copy that recipe, but I *CAN* use your recipe to create the same dish, and write down the list of ingredients I used, along with how *I* went about combining them to create the dish, in my own words. Additionally, titles are not copyrightable, so I can probably call my recipe exactly the same thing that you called yours.

    There is a truly free market for lists of ingredients, though cookBOOKS cannot be copied wholesale. As Mike often gives the example on this site, this is similar to the world of pizza-making or fashion. Designs of shoes or combinations of toppings on pizza are NOT afforded copyright protections, which is one of the reasons (IMHO, of course) the markets for pizza and fashion and shoes and recipes is so robust and thriving -- no one can step in and, backed by the power of government enforcement, force another to stop selling what they are selling. That's a free market.

    If there were a perfect free market for books, as soon as one was published, anyone who could copy it and was inclined to do so, would do so, and become competition for the original seller of the book -- this is considered by economists a perfectly efficient free market, as the original seller is not able to command a price any higher than what it costs to create a copy of a book (at least not in the long run, though there is typically a "first-mover" advantage to selling the books).

    When the government, however, steps in and says, "the law says you CAN'T sell a copy of that book, the author has an EXCLUSIVE right over ALL uses, including the making and selling of copies", that is, by definition, a government-enforced monopoly.

    We can argue at length over whether authors getting this kind of monopoly is a net benefit to society or not (as an aside, I, personally, am NOT for the abolishment of all copyrights, though I do think a valid case can be made for their abolishment), but the definitions of the words makes it a FACT that copyrights ARE a government-enforced monopoly, and NOT conducive to the efficient operation of free-market economics.

    > There are a lot of business models where a seller gets paid over and over again for a single effort. ... This model must exist when there is a large up front effort or cost.

    Again, the you got the 1st part right, but not the second part. Firstly, most of the models you mention involve copyright or patenting of some sort, but large-cost projects existed before these laws, so the second part of the argument is incorrect on its face. Secondly, what about the interstate system? We don't directly pay for it "over and over again". If you don't like the inclusion of that, because its a tax-funded system, then what about Ethernet, or HTML, or Google, or any number of another large, complicated systems that cost a lot to develop up front, but are free for all to use?

    > It may be difficult to separate the "art industries" from the artists. I would be very curious to know what the average artist feels about the current copyright laws.

    I know quite a few -- musical artists, anyway. Though this is changing somewhat (though slowly, but particularly among YOUNGER artists, who grew up with the Internet), they, by and large, have accepted the industry's party line with little questioning. To their own detriment, most would say. It is a sad fact that many of the people defending the current copyright system are those who have been most screwed-over by its workings. You'd think they'd want more change just on basic principle. You know, one of those, "if i'm not making money on it anyway why should some rich guy who screwed me on my contract" kind of deals.

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