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
    Rekrul, 15 Apr 2008 @ 12:06pm

    I concede that copyrights should be limited in length.

    I think that the writers of the constitution were very wise in the terminology securing for limited times.

    It seems as if our argument is over the length of this limited time. I agree that eternal copyrights were never intended.


    Yes, that's the main problem. There are many works (movies, music, TV shows, games) that should be public domain by now, but aren't.

    As an example, I have a video of a single-episode, horror TV show that was aired in 1978. It's fairly obscure but there are enough people who remember it that it's a fairly common "What was that show..." question among people who like that genre. For many years it was assumed to be lost to all but the network, who seem to be content to lot it rot in their vault unless someone is willing to offer them ridiculous amounts of money. A few years ago, someone on the net discovered that a relative had taped it on one of the first VCRs available at the time and that the tape was still in fairly watchable condition. They encoded a copy to mpeg format and covertly offered it up to people who were looking for this rare show. As a result I now a copy of it to enjoy and (illegally) pass on to others. If copyrights were still limited to 28 years, I could openly offer this show, or even put it on a web site for others to enjoy. As it is, it will remain under copyright until the original network copies rot away to nothing.

    Another problem with copyrights today is that the content owners want too much control. They don't want people obtaining their copyrighted work for free, or distributing copies to others. Fair enough. However they also want to have control over what you can do with those works.

    As an author, would you try to prevent a person from reading your work to a non-profit gathering of people? The music industry would consider that a public performance and demand a license fee for such things. As would the movie industry.

    Would you get upset if someone used a scanner and a text to speech program to record one of your books to an MP3 player so that they could listen to it on the way to work? The music industry isn't happy about people doing this and the movie industry actively tries to prevent this kind of thing by not allowing people to circumvent the DRM on DVDs, even if it's for personal use.

    Do you try to prevent your books from being sold in other countries unless you negotiate a specific publishing deal in those countries? The movie industry does, through the use of region codes.

    When you write a book, do you put a limit on how many people can "use" a single copy of it? Software companies do exactly this by writing EULs that say the software can only be used on a single computer unless you pay for additional copies.

    Once someone has bought a copy of one of your books, do you try to prevent them from selling that book to anyone else? Microsoft tried to do exactly that with copies of Windows. The music industry also does this with digital downloads. If digital copies are no different than real goods, shouldn't people be allowed to re-sell them, provided that they don't keep any copies?

    Does the publisher of your books add DRM in order to prevent copying, but which also inconveniences honest users, such as using black ink on maroon paper? DVDs, Blu-Ray discs and software all come with DRM that often inconveniences honest users. The Macrovision on DVDs prevents the player from being hooked up through a VCR (my TV only has one set of A/V inputs, so hooking it up through the VCR is the only option unless I'm willing to spend more money) and the CSS prevents people from legally transferring the movie onto a portable player. The DRM on Blu-Ray discs can prevent you from hooking up older TVs that don't conform to the proper DRM standards. The DRM on software can prevent you from making a backup copy and even keep the program from working on some systems.

    These are the kinds of things that make so many people oppose the current copyright climate.

    For the record, I think the idea of copyright is generally a good thing, it's just been tipped way too much in favor of the content industry at the expense of society in general and individuals in particular.

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