But How Would Steinbeck Feel About The Public Domain?

from the questions,-questions... dept

Earlier this year, we wrote about a lawsuit involving John Steinbeck's heirs and their attempt to regain the copyright on his works. The specifics of the case were very, very much inside baseball, having to do with interpretations of certain changes to copyright law. The specifics aren't really worth bothering with here (though you can drill down if you want to know). The news this week was that the Supreme Court rejected the appeal by Steinbeck's heirs, meaning that the appeals court ruling stands and the heirs don't get the copyrights back. However, what struck me as most interesting was the statement those heirs released:
John Steinbeck's granddaughter, Blake Smyle said, "This is about family. My grandfather would be deeply saddened to know that his contributions are now in the hands of strangers."

Mr. Steinbeck vows to continue to seek proper delegation of his father's legacy and to press forward on behalf of the families of other authors similarly situated to his position.

"If artists and their families cannot protect their rights, then everyone will ultimately suffer."
Now... that all sounds good and righteous, but is completely misleading. After all, if copyright law hadn't been changed and copyright extended greatly, Steinbeck's works would be in the public domain by now (actually, quite some time ago). In fact, as far as Steinbeck knew, both at the time he wrote his works and at the time of his death in 1968, almost everything he wrote would be in the public domain by now (some of his later works would likely still be covered, but the vast majority would be public domain). So, I find it odd to have his heirs claiming that he'd be "deeply saddened to know that his contributions are now in the hands of strangers." After all, he would have expected exactly that. That also makes the final quote hard to square with reality as well. Steinbeck knew the deal he was making with the public domain when he wrote his works. In fact, most of his works shouldn't be protected at all any more. So how can his heirs claim that everyone will suffer if those works aren't protected?


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 11:27am

    Let me give this a little perspective. This case is not about Steinbeck's heirs versus the public domain. It is about who gets to keep the copyright until it eventually ends, i.e., his heirs or a book publishing company?

    In this case the appeals court said "publisher". In another case in another federal district the answer was the "heirs".

    By not agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court has left the matter still up in the air.

    BTW, the moral to the story in the Steinbeck case is if you are one of his kids/grandkids do not expect your stepmother to look out for anyone but herself.

     

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    The infamous Joe, May 19th, 2009 @ 11:28am

    Rights?

    The public had rights to unfettered access to the works in X number of years, which was increased to X+Y number of years.

    The public wants it's stolen rights back, and so do I.

     

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    Molly King, May 19th, 2009 @ 11:39am

    Re: Rights?

    The Infamous Joe wants rights"back" that he never created. Maybe if you spent less time on the blogs, you could create something yourself that you could then pass down to your heirs. If you had created the automobile, wouldn't you want to leave that legacy for your loved ones? What's the difference in the auto and a great book as far as the creation of such things?

    It sounds to me like Infamous Joe needs to go get an infamous job and stop feeding off of efforts of others. Sorry Joe. They aren't your rights to take. Living proof that bandits have no conscience.

    That step-mother must have been a real piece of work. Sounds to me like the very reason Congress created the protection.

     

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    Michael Brutsch, May 19th, 2009 @ 11:41am

    "So how can his heirs claim that everyone will suffer if those works aren't protected? "

    Because they, too, wish to live off of his works, and feel entitled to do so.

     

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    Samuel Clemens, May 19th, 2009 @ 11:44am

    Re: Re: Rights?

    I HAVE read this bill. At least I have read such portions as I could understand. Nobody but a practised legislator can read the bill and thoroughly understand it, and I am not a practised legislator.

    I am interested particularly and especially in the part of the bill which concerns my trade. I like that extension of copyright life to the author's life and fifty years afterward. I think that would satisfy any reasonable author, because it would take care of his children. Let the grand-children take care of themselves. That would take care of my daughters, and after that I am not particular. I shall then have long been out of this struggle, independent of it, indifferent to it.

    It isn't objectionable to me that all the trades and professions in the United States are protected by the bill. I like that. They are all important and worthy, and if we can take care of them under the Copyright law I should like to see it done. I should like to see oyster culture added, and anything else.

    I am aware that copyright must have a limit, because that is required by the Constitution of the United States, which sets aside the earlier Constitution, which we call the decalogue. The decalogue says you shall not take away from any man his profit. I don't like to be obliged to use the harsh term. What the decalogue really says is, "Thou shalt not steal," but I am trying to use more polite language.

    The laws of England and America do take it away, do select but one class, the people who create the literature of the land. They always talk handsomely about the literature of the land, always what a fine, great, monumental thing a great literature is, and in the midst of their enthusiasm they turn around and do what they can to discourage it.

    I know we must have a limit, but forty-two years is too much of a limit. I am quite unable to guess why there should be a limit at all to the possession of the product of a man's labor. There is no limit to real estate.

    Doctor Hale has suggested that a man might just as well, after discovering a coal-mine and working it forty-two years, have the Government step in and take it away.

    What is the excuse? It is that the author who produced that book has had the profit of it long enough, and therefore the Government takes a profit which does not belong to it and generously gives it to the 88,000,000 of people. But it doesn't do anything of the kind. It merely takes the author's property, takes his children's bread, and gives the publisher double profit. He goes on publishing the book and as many of his confederates as choose to go into the conspiracy do so, and they rear families in affluence.

    And they continue the enjoyment of those ill-gotten gains generation after generation forever, for they never die. In a few weeks or months or years I shall be out of it, I hope under a monument. I hope I shall not be entirely forgotten, and I shall subscribe to the monument myself. But I shall not be caring what happens if there are fifty years left of my copyright. My copyright produces annually a good deal more than I can use, but my children can use it. I can get along; I know a lot of trades. But that goes to my daughters, who can't get along as well as I can because I have carefully raised them as young ladies, who don't know anything and can't do anything. I hope Congress will extend to them the charity which they have failed to get from me.

    Why, if a man who is not even mad, but only strenuous - strenuous about race-suicide - should come to me and try to get me to use my large political and ecclesiastical influence to get a bill passed by this Congress limiting families to twenty-two children by one mother, I should try to calm him down. I should reason with him. I should say to him, "Leave it alone. Leave it alone and it will take care of itself. Only one couple a year in the United States can reach that limit. If they have reached that limit let them go right on. Let them have all the liberty they want. In restricting that family to twenty-two children you are merely conferring discomfort and unhappiness on one family per year in a nation of 88,000,000, which is not worth while."

    It is the very same with copyright. One author per year produces a book which can outlive the forty-two-year limit; that's all. This nation can't produce two authors a year that can do it; the thing is demonstrably impossible. All that the limited copyright can do is to take the bread out of the mouths of the children of that one author per year.

    I made an estimate some years ago, when I appeared before a committee of the House of Lords, that we had published in this country since the Declaration of Independence 220,000 books. They have all gone. They had all perished before they were ten years old. It is only one book in 1000 that can outlive the forty-two-year limit.

    Therefore why put a limit at all? You might as well limit the family to twenty-two children.

    If you recall the Americans in the nineteenth century who wrote books that lived forty-two years you will have to begin with Cooper; you can follow with Washington Irving, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edgar Allan Poe, and there you have to wait a long time. You come to Emerson, and you have to stand still and look further. You find Howells and T. B. Aldrich, and, then your numbers begin to run pretty thin, and you question if you can name twenty persons in the United States who in a whole century have written books that would live forty-two years. Why, you could take them all and put them on one bench there [pointing]. Add the wives and children and you could put the result on two or three more benches.

    One hundred persons- that is the little, insignificant crowd whose bread-and-butter is to be taken away for what purpose, for what profit to anybody? You turn these few books into the hands of the pirate and of the legitimate publisher, too, and they get the profit that should have gone to the wife and children.

    When I appeared before that committee of the House of Lords the chairman asked me what limit I would propose. I said, "Perpetuity." I could see some resentment in his manner, and he said the idea was illogical, for the reason that it has long ago been decided that there can be no such thing as property in ideas. I said there was property in ideas before Queen Anne's time; they had perpetual copyright. He said, "What is a book? A book is just built from base to roof on ideas, and there can be no property in it." I said I wished he could mention any kind of property on this planet that had a pecuniary value which was not derived from an idea or ideas. He said real estate.

    I put a supposititious case, a dozen Englishmen who travel through South Africa and camp out, and eleven of them see nothing at all; they are mentally blind. But there is one in the party who knows what this harbor means and what the lay of the land means. To him it means that some day a railway will go through here, and there on that harbor a great city will spring up.

    That is his idea. And he has another idea, which is to go and trade his last bottle of Scotch whiskey and his last horse-blanket to the principal chief of that region and buy a piece of land the size of Pennsylvania. That was the value of an idea that the day would come when the Cape to Cairo Railway would be built.

    Every improvement that is put upon the real estate is the result of an idea in somebody's head. The skyscraper is another idea; the railroad is another; the telephone and all those things are merely symbols which represent ideas. An andiron, a wash-tub, is the result of an idea that did not exist before.

    So if, as that gentleman said, a book does consist solely of ideas, that is the best argument in the world that it is property, and should not be under any limitation at all. We don't ask for that.

    Fifty years from now we shall ask for it.

    I hope the bill will pass without any deleterious amendments. I do seem to be extraordinarily interested in a whole lot of arts and things that I have got nothing to do with. It is a part of my generous, liberal nature; I can't help it.

    I feel the same sort of charity to everybody that was manifested by a gentleman who arrived at home at two o'clock in the morning from the club and was feeling so perfectly satisfied with life, so happy, and so comfortable, and there was his house weaving, weaving, weaving around. He watched his chance, and by and by when the steps got in his neighborhood he made a jump and climbed up and got on the portico.

    And the house went on weaving and weaving and weaving, but he watched the door, and when it came around his way he plunged through it. He got to the stairs, and when he went up on all fours the house was so unsteady that he could hardly make his way, but at last he got to the top and raised his foot and put it on the top step. But only the toe hitched on the step, and he rolled down and fetched up on the bottom step, with his arm around the newel-post, and he said: "God pity the poor sailors out at sea on a night like this."

     

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    The cenobyte, May 19th, 2009 @ 11:45am

    Where is my rights?

    Why is it always about 'artists'? Why is it that some people get to continue to be paid for the work they did and others have to produce more work each day in order to make more money. How is it that someone who paints is better than someone that builds fine cabinets or engineers networks? What makes any of these people think they should get paid for work more than once? I spent years putting together the servers, firewalls, routers, proxies, APS, etc here where I work. How come I have to come to work each day? Shouldn't this company pay me for all the work I already did?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 11:45am

    But but but...

    Think of the children!

     

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    Jake, May 19th, 2009 @ 11:55am

    Re: Rights?

    "...and stop feeding off of efforts of others."

    And Steinbeck's grandchildren shouldn't? Because if they get the copyright on his works, they have a large guaranteed income for the rest of their lives, for maybe one week's work a year negotiating film rights or whatever.

     

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    chris (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 11:57am

    Re: Re: Rights?

    The Infamous Joe wants rights"back" that he never created. Maybe if you spent less time on the blogs, you could create something yourself that you could then pass down to your heirs. If you had created the automobile, wouldn't you want to leave that legacy for your loved ones?

    i agree. i am not interested in working for a living and would rather live off of something my family did years ago. i don't really know how to do anything but ask my mom for money so extending copyright indefinitely will really help me to live without ever doing any actual work. people like joe are destroying our dreams molly!

    having copyrights last forever in the hands of publishing companies and record labels is just good business. corporations always do the right thing and always have the best interests of the artist in mind. they always want to share profits with families. this is especially true of very large, multinational corporations.

    you are not a nice person joe. you should listen to good people like molly who never post to blogs (except to tell people they shouldn't post to blogs... that's ok) and love this country and the artists and the children.

    the public domain was created by pirates for stealing! tell them molly!

     

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    Weird Harolds #2 Fan, May 19th, 2009 @ 11:58am

    Re: Re: Rights?

    Samuel Clement is right!

    Copyright should be eternal!

     

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    Mechwarrior, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:00pm

    So while almost everyone else has to work for most of their lives, these children can ride on the now-rotted coattails of distant ancestors, straight to their own graves.

    I feel very little sympathy for people looking for an explicit free ride.

     

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    Anonymous Poster, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:02pm

    Re: But but but...

    When I hear of how copyrights are being extended and altered to the point that nothing will be in the public domain for nearly two generations AFTER its creation, I do think of the children...and how their creativity vis-à-vis remixing and reusing others' works will be stifled by draconian copyright laws.

     

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    Mike (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 12:05pm

    Re:

    Let me give this a little perspective. This case is not about Steinbeck's heirs versus the public domain. It is about who gets to keep the copyright until it eventually ends, i.e., his heirs or a book publishing company?

    Right. I didn't say otherwise. In fact, I had all of those details in the original link.

    But that wasn't what this post was about.

     

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    AnonCow, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:17pm

    Steinbeck would be appalled that utterly useless and talentless family members several generations later would be making a living off his writing.

     

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    DJ, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Re: Rights?

    So, by your logic, Molly King, The Odyssey and Illiad should not be in the public domain either.

    The good news is that creativity and copyright laws are -- contrary to the popular opinion of those like you -- mutually EXCLUSIVE.

    Meaning that because copyrights DON'T last forever, there's still room to create new stuff. In other words, Steinbeck's heirs are the ones attempting to "feed off of efforts of others."

    Copyright laws were originated to protect the works of artists from plagiarism. They were NOT originated to allow the artist's children to profit from their works.

    IMHO, copyright contracts should be null and void upon the artist's death.

     

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  16.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Re: Rights?

    "The Infamous Joe wants rights"back" that he never created."

    And you want rights you never owned.

    "Maybe if you spent less time on the blogs, you could create something yourself that you could then pass down to your heirs."

    Translation: "You don't agree with me so you must be a lazy fuck who never created anything and will never have the capacity to do so."

    "If you had created the automobile, wouldn't you want to leave that legacy for your loved ones?"

    How did Ford do it? Oh yeah, he left them the company not some copyright. In fact he ignored the patent he had to help benefit the rest of the nation, including his children.

    "What's the difference in the auto and a great book as far as the creation of such things?"

    When you own a car company, you have to work to make money: that company dies, so douse your income stream. The company gets payed per car and not per drive. Every one can create an internal combustion engine yet no one can create a story about a guy named Harry who is a wizard.

    "Sorry Joe. They aren't your rights to take."

    They weren't your rights to have in the first place. Remember copyright didn't exist until recently.

    "Living proof that bandits have no conscience."

    Translation: "You don't agree with me, you must be a thief."

    My mom has saved people's lives (in fact she brought people back from the dead), she doesn't get payed every time they do.

     

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    DJ, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:38pm

    Is it a copy?

    Suspend disbelief for a moment. So, just for argument's sake, let's assume that I'm a painter. Let's also assume that I've somehow never even heard of the Mona Lisa, let alone seen a picture of it. Not talking legal ability to prove it, I'm talking in actuality.

    If I sit down and create a painting that is virtually identical to Da Vinci's work, is it a copy? Answer: No, it's my original work. Weird coincidences like that happen all the time.

    My point is that if another brilliant artist is out there creating what s/he truly believes is original work, how does said artist profit if copyright laws are in place for work created by another artist who is now dead?

    All that being said, there are some works that will never be copied by another true artist for several reasons, not the least of which being the obvious unoriginal copycat.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:39pm

    Re: Re:

    I don't know how far out of context those quotes are. The granddaughter could very well just be saying that she regrets that she can't copy works her grandfather wrote because the publisher still owns the rights.

    It's hard to interpret what the son in saying.

    If it was "heirs" vs. "public domain", they may have spoken differently. It's optimistic that they would gladly hand things over to the public domain, but it would be a different story.

     

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    DJ, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: Rights?

    Minor correction: it's Henry, not Harry. Moving on now.

     

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  20.  
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    Valkor, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Rights?

    Mark Twain's satire should be required reading. Thanks for including the whole piece, and not just the out-of-context satirical part.

    http://homepages.law.asu.edu/~dkarjala/OpposingCopyrightExtension/commentary/MacaulaySpeech es.html

    See also Thomas Babington Macaulay and his analysis of the problems of conitnually extended copyright almost 160 years ago.

     

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  21.  
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    batch, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:44pm

    Copyright makes the world stagnant.

     

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    Molly King, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:50pm

    The smartest kid in the room.:

    Methinks Anonymous Coward is the smartest kid in the room. I think the point being that while the titles are under copyright protection, should the children and grandchildren benefit or should the children of the third wife benefit?

    The copyright law has always protected the blood heirs. It appears that this time, the evil step-mother managed to outwit Congress.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Rights?

    Henry the Wizard?

     

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  24.  
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    The infamous Joe, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Re: Rights?

    I'm going to ignore all the personal attacks on me, since you don't know me, so your attacks carry no weight.

    However, I'll gladly correct your misconceptions:

    The Infamous Joe wants rights"back" that he never created.

    The "rights" I was talking about was not another name for "Steinbeck's works". I was speaking about the very basics of why the government (in their eternal wisdom!) decided to allow a temporary monopoly on the works an artists creates. The government said that the incentive of exclusive rights to your creation for X number of years was a fair trade because after that it would go to the betterment of mankind. A contract was made. The public gives up X number of years to compensate for your time and effort. What you do with it is up to you, but after X number of years, it belongs to everyone.

    Fast foward: The media corporations trout out some well known artists and get the contract altered to X+Y. The public, who was the other side of the contract, got no say in the matter. When this happened, the public (which includes you and me and even the artists) had rights taken away. I want them back.

    Furthermore, in situations where a contract is changed without both parties consent, the contract is no longer valid. I treat copyrighted works as such. Judge me as you will.

     

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    Comboman, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:57pm

    What a shame.

    If creativity is genetic, just think of the tragedy of allowing people with John Steinbeck's genes to live off copyrights from his work instead of needing to create literary masterpieces of their own. How many great novels have gone unwritten because of copyright extension?

     

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 12:59pm

    Copyright

    Copyright is for the weak, stupid, and lazy people who think they can get away with a tiny bit of work and feed off of it for the rest of their lives.
    The true artists don't care about copyright because their want their work out there to be heard, read, seen by the masses.
    If you desire copyright so much and want control, its really simple to have control. Never release your crap to the public. Then you have complete control. Otherwise shut the hell up and adapt the times.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 1:02pm

    Re: Where is my rights?

    Exactly. And to the point that heirs should inherit copyrights and extend them eternally, your and my heirs will not be paid for work we did today. If an artist wants to leave an inheritance to his heirs, he should save money like the rest of us do. If his works are so great, then they should make enough money during their time for him to set aside for his heirs in the same way any other working person has to set aside money. Perpetual copyright is nothing but welfare.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 1:04pm

    Why on earth should an artist's family expect to be paid in perpetuity after his death. I don't expect my job to keep paying my children and grandchildren (not that i have any yet, but hypothetically speaking) after I die or retire. Why should an artist's family have some special privilege?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 1:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: Rights?

    If you have so much to say, start your own blog.

     

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    Tgeigs, May 19th, 2009 @ 1:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: Rights?

    You wouldn't dry hump a piece of splintery balsa wood, so don't infringe!

     

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    Derek Kerton (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 1:22pm

    Granpa's Pocket Change

    "This is about family. My grandfather would be deeply saddened to know that his contributions are now in the hands of strangers."

    Is it about family? Are we talking about granpa's dusty, old, private diary, or his ashes in an urn? Or are we talking about something Granpa published to the public of the world, in the hopes thant many, many people would read and enjoy it? Seems it has little to do with his family, and much to do with everyone else.

    Your granpa WANTED his work in the hands of strangers. It was called a "book" back then, and authors that published them tended to be happier when the books ended up in the hands of strangers, the more the better.

    With respect to what you want, young lady, it's called welfare. Please feel free to pop into your state's office and apply.

    It's not about "family". It's about society. Progress. The sharing of ideas and stories. It's about recognizing the value of copyright AND the value of the commons.

    And if Steinbeck himself could speak, and tell us he is upset that his family don't get to own the perpetual rights to his work, then tough @#$. He was rewarded, they were rewarded aplenty. Get a job.

     

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    Molly King, May 19th, 2009 @ 1:52pm

    Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    Wow. This is definitely the wrong blog. This seems to be the anti-copyright blog. If you don't want to pay the artists for their work, then try living in a world without art and literature. If the artists cannot support themselves, then they will find a regular job like you shmoes.

    I'm guessing that you think that music and literature should be free on the web? What pray tell gives you the right to the hard work of others?

    And why should they not have the right to reap the benefit of their work and share it with their families?

    Go back to school and leave those people alone.

     

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    WarOtter (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 1:56pm

    Well..

    Since he would be 107 years old now... I have a feeling he wouldn't feel much about it anyway. He would probably garble something, poop his pants, then drool with a grin on his face.

     

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    joe, May 19th, 2009 @ 2:52pm

    Re: The smartest kid in the room.:

    would you think differently if you knew john steinbeck specifically disinherited his two sons?

     

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    Tgeigs, May 19th, 2009 @ 3:00pm

    Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change (A seriously angry rant)

    Ok, I absolutely LOVE it when people on the other side of the fence use horrid logic:

    "This seems to be the anti-copyright blog. If you don't want to pay the artists for their work, then try living in a world without art and literature"

    Okay, so starting off, disagreeing with the current law of copyright doesn't necessarily make you anti-copyright. In fact, the current version of copyright law is far different than its original form. Secondly, who in the hell ever said anything about not paying the artists? I think what most people talk about on this site is not paying the coke sniffing DISTRIBUTORS who are no longer needed but want to cry like little girls that had their ice cream taken away. So either address the community on the grounds of the discussion or else go outside and play hide and go fuck yourself.

    "If the artists cannot support themselves, then they will find a regular job like you shmoes"

    Exhibit A of the disconnect that exists between most of the "artistic" community and...well, everyone else. People w/regular jobs are shmoes? Well ladi fucking da, you elitist cock sucker. These are the comments that make me think we should go with compulsary 2 years in the armed forces in this country. Most people don't need it, but there is a great number of people that would learn the benefit of SERVING as opposed simply living up on their high horse. Humility is a lost stature, and we should get it back.

    "I'm guessing that you think that music and literature should be free on the web? What pray tell gives you the right to the hard work of others?"

    I can't speak for EVERYONE, but I think that words like "should" are besides the point. Music and literature ARE free on the web, end of story. You can either bitch about it and legislate in ways that tramps on the innocent rights of others, or you could go completely insane and actually make money off the other aspects of your art that AREN'T free on the web. Ass.

    "And why should they not have the right to reap the benefit of their work and share it with their families?"

    They already do. That benefit simply doesn't last forever and your family benefits from the money you give/save to/for them upon payment for your rendered services. I'll give you an example. Michael Crichton made a fair amount of his money on his books that were released in the internet age. He also made money from lectures, public speaking engagements, movie deals, licensing for toys, etc. etc. He can take all that money and give it to his family. What he SHOULDN'T be able to do is to transfer his creative rights to people who didn't create. How the hell does that not make sense to EVERYONE?

    "Go back to school and leave those people alone"

    No. I went to school, now I do something simply amazing: I WORK FOR A FUCKING LIVING, something that Britney Spears in all of her "artistic" glory should try, rather than have surrogates bitch about IP Law extensions and the like.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    joe, May 19th, 2009 @ 3:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Rights?

    copyrights are not new. they started in the 13th century.

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    molly King, May 19th, 2009 @ 3:12pm

    Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room.:

    What I think wouldn't matter. Copyright law still intended to and does protect the rights of the blood heirs.

    And just as an aside, John Steinbeck didn't disinherit his sons. They were named in his will and were in second position behind the third wife according to all of the court records.

    You can find his will online if you so desire.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    Jason, May 19th, 2009 @ 3:15pm

    Re: Is it a copy?

    Everything is a copy. The very notion that art has any meaning at all is built upon and completely inseparable from the age-old pairing of repetition and variation. Without repetition there is no basis - zero, nada, nothing - for the brain to interpret any meaning.

    The original aspects of a work fade into white noise without the absolutely necessary conventional groundwork laid by repetition. (Incidentally, I unabashedly stole this idea from Robert Alter, cf. The Art of Biblical Narrative, but the white noise concept was my own little spin - well I sorta stole that from TV and radio).

     

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  39.  
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    Mike (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 3:20pm

    Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    Wow. This is definitely the wrong blog

    "Wrong?" Wrong how?

    This seems to be the anti-copyright blog.

    You must be new here.

    If you don't want to pay the artists for their work, then try living in a world without art and literature.

    Ok, you're definitely new here. You are making a logical fallacy that the only way to compensate creators is through the use of copyright. We've spent many years demonstrating how that's simply not true. In fact, copyright is often used to limit others from creating art and literature.

    If the artists cannot support themselves, then they will find a regular job like you shmoes.

    Again, you falsely assume that copyright is the only way to compensate. It's not.

    I'm guessing that you think that music and literature should be free on the web? What pray tell gives you the right to the hard work of others?

    Again, you're new here, so we can forgive this statement, but since we've discussed this at least a thousand times, I'd suggest searching through the archives a bit before repeating the same debunked statements over and over again.

    As for whether music and literature "should" be free, it has nothing to do with should. We're talking about from the perspective of the content creator how they can be better off by leveraging the natural economics of content, and that often means making it free.

    But, that doesn't mean we support the idea of copying content from those who are not so enlightened yet. Believe it or not, you can support the idea that content creators would be better off giving away their works for free without supporting the idea that others should just copy those works.

    And, no one is asking for "the right to the hard work of others." The work is yours to keep and do what you want with. What we're saying is that the cost of making a *copy* is zero, and thus it makes sense for the price in the long run to be zero -- and to use that to your advantage to make more money elsewhere.

    And why should they not have the right to reap the benefit of their work and share it with their families?

    Again, this is the same fallacy. They have every right to reap the benefit of their work, by *putting in place a smart business model* and earning the money.

    Go back to school and leave those people alone.

    Ah, when you end on an insult, it doesn't make your argument compelling. It just make us realize that you've never thought through these issues, and it threatens you to actually do so.

     

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  40.  
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    Mike (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 3:22pm

    Re: The smartest kid in the room.:

    The copyright law has always protected the blood heirs. It appears that this time, the evil step-mother managed to outwit Congress.

    This is actually not true at all. Original copyright law was not intended to benefit the heirs at all.

    I recognize you're new here, but we recently discussed some research on this very topic:

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090406/1536084410.shtml

    Consider it homework, since you keep telling us to "go back to school."

     

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  41.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 3:23pm

    Re: Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room.:

    What I think wouldn't matter. Copyright law still intended to and does protect the rights of the blood heirs.

    Again, this is incorrect as I pointed out in my last comment. Please stop repeating it as if it was fact.

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    Jason, May 19th, 2009 @ 3:28pm

    Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    "What pray tell gives you the right to the hard work of others?"

    Nature.

    It was the artificial imposition of copyrights that took my natural rights away.

    Copyrights, incidentally, were created in 15th century England for the benefit of publishers and to the exclusion of authors. This was for the purpose of state censorship, not protecting the artist.

    It was not until generations later when the "rights" passed to the creators via the Statute of Anne. By this time the publishing industry was well entrenched and self-publishing made little sense. After all, it was more economical to let publishers to the printing and distributing, just be sure to pay up on the royalties.

    The whole thing has always been rooted in a elitist, statist, classist oppression of the masses who SHOULD have and naturally DO have the right to copy and reproduce whatever the hell they want.

     

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  43.  
    identicon
    The infamous Joe, May 19th, 2009 @ 3:35pm

    Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    then they will find a regular job like you shmoes.

    Nice talk from someone who says "I love manual labor, I've worked in a kitchen and a factory, I've been a camp counselor."

    Maybe it's time for a revision, eh?

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    RD, May 19th, 2009 @ 4:18pm

    Wow....FAIL!

    "Wow. This is definitely the wrong blog. This seems to be the anti-copyright blog. If you don't want to pay the artists for their work, then try living in a world without art and literature. If the artists cannot support themselves, then they will find a regular job like you shmoes."

    Wow, I cant begin to find all the wrong in that statement. How you can be so completely and utterly wrong about copyright and creators/artists is amazing.

    Look skippy, copyright DOES NOT GUARANTEE that either a) creative works will or wont be created AT ALL or b) that anyone will pay money for said creations. Copyright isnt a guarantee to profit and its not an enabler of creative works AT ALL.

    People have created artistic works since the dawn of time. This will not change if copyright goes away. Your statement that art and literature will disappear from the world without it is absurd and a complete falsehood.

    If copyright went away, people CAN STILL TRY TO MAKE MONEY with their creations. There is nothing about the absence copyright that prevents this, just like there is nothing in copyright that guarantees profit. Like anything in this world, if you make something people want, you can TRY to get them to pay for it. Its not an entitlement like you want it to be.

    If they cant support themselves with it, they will do it as a hobby. Or live shows. Or comission work (like a fine art painting, only one exists, and people get thousands for them, if they are good enough). But art WILL be made.

     

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  45.  
    identicon
    Jason, May 19th, 2009 @ 4:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    Errata - 1500s -> 16th century

     

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  46.  
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    chris (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 5:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Rights?

    Minor correction: it's Henry, not Harry. Moving on now.

    he was referring to harry potter. unless you are infact talking about henry potter, the erotic fanfic. but i never read those things. they are for losers.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    joe, May 19th, 2009 @ 7:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room.:

    each son received a modest $50,000 but no copyright interest. they only succeeded to any copyright interest by virtue of the renewal interest under the copyright law.

     

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  48.  
    identicon
    Derek Kerton, May 20th, 2009 @ 11:02am

    Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    Well, Molly, you've been def jam slammed by a few others above here. They've dropped some creative arguments against your POV. Mike has, in fact, built quite an archive of arguments on this site...all available for free.

    But you replied to my comment, so I thought I deserved a shot. You said, "This seems to be the anti-copyright blog". Well, in fact, there are some here that ARE totally anti-copyright, but I don't think they're the majority. Even so, they can make a logical case (unlike your case of "what about the children"). Most of us, however, are only against the BASTARDIZED version of copyright we have today. It has been extended, expanded, and inherited well beyond reason.

    The only reason society should allow anyone to retain monopoly control on something they are trying to push into the market and distribute as widely as they can, is that it offers reward and incentive to create. Thus, society should make a guess at the minimum length of that undesired monopoly that would result in a flood of creativity and reasonable rewards for the creators. I would think 5 years would be a good guess. You would surely disagree. However, anyone with any sense of logic would agree that the death of the creator should probably be the upper limit of the negotiation.

    I didn't write "no more copyright", I wrote "It's about recognizing the value of copyright AND the value of the commons." There is great value in works falling into the public domain. They will get wider distribution, spawn spinoff creative works, result in production to other media (film, TV, music), and be accessible to people without the means of paying the monopoly price. Further, future artist can create without fear of treading on some topic that has been "claimed" by a prior artist. There is value in public domain, and it is this value that must be traded-off with copyright. You seem to ignore the extremely relevant reality of this trade-off, and thus it is YOU that should go to school prior to engaging in a discussion with us schmoes.

    Lastly, copyright as infinitum actually provides a disincentive to create. The author of a smash best-seller (or pop hit) need never work again. They have lost the incentive to create. Also, their heirs (in your world view) would have no incentive - neither to create, nor to work.

    Molly. Think a few steps into the future. If you want to engage in policy debates, you need to get beyond your emotional arguments, and think dispassionately of the direct and indirect effects of policy. The goal of good policy (created by society) is to maximize the net social benefit, NOT the rewards to the Steinbecks.

     

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  49.  
    identicon
    Brian, May 20th, 2009 @ 11:08am

    Re: Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room

    The plaintiff's reply states that the sons received $50,000 apiece from Steinbeck's will. When they contested that amount, Steinbeck's widow gave them a share of the royalties, despite Steinbeck's wishes. They've been getting that money for the past forty years. In exchange for an interest in the copyrights, the sons agreed to let the widow control the termination rights. The younger son died and the remaining son sued because he now wants to break the agreement. Read The Other Side of Eden by John Steinbeck IV, where he talks about strife over money in the family. It's a mess.

     

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  50.  
    identicon
    Molly King, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room

    Problem is The Other Side of Eden was written by the bitter ex-wife. Not the best resource in the room, as a matter of fact, total dreck. If you want the truth, read "In Touch" the one that the younger son wrote without having his ex-wife edit the story after he died.

    The agreement ended upon the Widow's death. The older son appears to be trying to protect the father's wishes since he and his brother were in second position.

     

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  51.  
    identicon
    Molly King, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    You are just wrong. There is never a proper debate for copyright theft. If you create it, then you own it. Many countries have unlimited copyright. Maybe that's what North America should consider. If it is created by your intellect then it is yours. You may pass it along as you wish, but it is yours forever.

    Now wouldn't drive the creative process. If people couldn't steal music, photographs, literature, etc., then they might have to think a little harder to create something original. Now that would be fun to see!

     

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  52.  
    identicon
    Tgeigs, May 20th, 2009 @ 2:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    Sigh...

    "You are just wrong. There is never a proper debate for copyright theft"

    I couldn't agree more. Find me the LEGAL definition of "copyright theft" and I'll be happy to debate it. It doesn't exist. Infringement ain't theft, and if you keep insisting that it is, then you don't have a fundemental understanding of the legal issue you're discussing.

    "Many countries have unlimited copyright. Maybe that's what North America should consider"

    Okay, I don't really have to list a bunch of things that many countries have that we wouldn't want here, do I? Dammit, American values don't apply everywhere and everywhere's values don't apply to America. We have our own values.

    "If it is created by your intellect then it is yours. You may pass it along as you wish, but it is yours forever."

    There are so many questions that arise about the definitions of the words you're using, I don't know where to begin. But the bottom line is that, even if you believe copyright is "yours forever", YOU don't LAST forever. Where did you get the idea that Copyright can be continously passed on to whoever the original author wishes? In America, I believe there is a term length of somewhere in the ballpark of 70 years post artist's death. I assume a will could be used to transfer in writing the rights upon death, but that isn't a new copyright term, it's the same one. So the term is still 70 years after ARTIST'S death, end of story.

    "Now wouldn't drive the creative process"

    Um, that isn't a sentence. Hopefully your chosen art isn't writing.

    "If people couldn't steal music, photographs, literature, etc., then they might have to think a little harder to create something original. Now that would be fun to see!"

    So you're contending that the people INFRINGING on music, photographs, literature, etc. would be CREATING new works themselves if they couldn't do so? What in the sweet hell are you talking about? If that were the case, then people wouldn't have been PAYING for your art before digital downloading came about, they would have just CREATED their own.....so where's the incentive to copyright? Coherence is an outstanding quality in good writing...I suggest gaining some.

    Ass.

     

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  53.  
    identicon
    TGIF, May 20th, 2009 @ 4:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    Incoherant ass, indeed. Molly King writes:

    "If it is created by your intellect then it is yours. You may pass it along as you wish, but it is yours forever."

    Then why are you defending the son's position? According to you, Steinbeck had a right to "pass it along" to his wife. He didn't instruct her to leave "it" to his sons when she died. Either he didn't care, didn't think that far ahead or didn't want them to have "it". She left "it" to her heirs. Duuuuuuh.

     

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  54.  
    identicon
    Zorro, May 20th, 2009 @ 5:30pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room

    MollyKing, how come you know so much about the family? Are you related? Your incessant angry, illogical support of the son's side is suspicious. Also, it's not cool to post libelous comments on this site.

     

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  55.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), May 20th, 2009 @ 10:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    You are just wrong. There is never a proper debate for copyright theft.

    Copyright "theft" would be actually taking the copyright away from someone (not the content) such that they no longer hold the copyright. I think you're actually referring to copyright infringement.

    Many countries have unlimited copyright

    Name one.

    If it is created by your intellect then it is yours. You may pass it along as you wish, but it is yours forever.

    Someone needs a serious history lesson (as well as a lesson in the law). Creation does not beget ownership, and never has. Ownership of the materials may beget ownership of the end product, but creation has never meant ownership.

    And for creative ideas, ownership is a very strange concept indeed. I assume at some point, you went to school. By your reasoning, you stole the ideas from your teachers.

    The purpose of "ownership" and property rights is quite straightforward: it's to manage the efficient allocation of scarce resources. When you have something that can be infinitely copied at no cost, there need not be a question of efficient allocation, because anyone who wants a copy can have one -- at no cost. So the idea of property rights, and hence of "ownership" doesn't make sense for ideas.

    Now wouldn't drive the creative process. If people couldn't steal music, photographs, literature, etc., then they might have to think a little harder to create something original. Now that would be fun to see!

    And here you are showing a profound ignorance of the creative process.

    A good book to read might be The Public Domain by James Boyle. Chapter 6 is particularly telling. Look, he gives it away for free online:

    http://yupnet.org/boyle/archives/130

    And, historically, evidence has shown that a lack of copyright does not, as you suggest, harm the creative process. It just changes what the business models are.

    Another worthwhile read is by two well-respected economists who explored the history and evidence on copyright, and recently came out with the book *Against Intellectual Monopoly* You can start with Chapter 2 (also available for free online):

    http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/papers/imbookfinal02.pdf

     

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  56.  
    identicon
    librariantech, May 21st, 2009 @ 6:10am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room

    Molly, I follow copyright discussions because of my library profession. I must say that your logic escapes me. One point - no one mentioned the co-author of "The Other Side of Eden", Nancy Steinbeck. The son and grand daughter, on the other hand, sound bitter and delusional to me. There are people on this blog who are quite knowledgeable. You think about what they are saying.

     

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  57.  
    identicon
    Michael, May 21st, 2009 @ 7:27am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room

    I have only given a cursory review to this issue but it looks like the junior Steinbeck's issue is with his step-mother and daddy's will, not any copyright law. If John Steinbeck wanted his son to have control over his copyrights it would have been easy for him to have insured this. Junior got the rug pulled out from him by the new wife. Happens all the time, especially on shows like Dynasty. This is a family matter, not one for the Supreme Court.

     

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  58.  
    identicon
    molly King, May 22nd, 2009 @ 10:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    Is there anyone here, other than the smartest kid in the room, that can put together a sentence without resorting to profanity? It shows such a lack of education, insight and thoughtfulness.

    Steinbeck had his sons in second position to the wife with certain caveats that the step-mother failed to meet as a term of the inheritance. It looks as if she chose to ignore the terms of the will. What a nasty girl.

    I'm not supporting anyone, but it does sound like the sons got royally ripped off. Besides, this was about terminations and copyright law. If the law said they had rights and the step-mother kept them from gaining their rights, then therein lies the rub.

     

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  59.  
    identicon
    Molly King, May 22nd, 2009 @ 10:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room

    I don't get your point? I've read everything I can find on Steinbeck and I heard the son's ex-wife lecture once. It was the longest hour of my life and sadly, an hour of my life that I'll never get back.

    I have been practicing copyright law for the last seven years and I'm shocked at what the widow managed to do. Copyright terminations require a majority to terminate, yet the step-mother managed to accomplish her goals with only a 50% ownership. This was the third case requesting cert on this very issue so there does seem to be confusion in the two courts that are most likely to deal with copyright. It is my understanding that Justice Breyer recused himself and that is what was fatal to the Steinbeck children.

    It will ultimately be decided. It is just a shame that the children of one of the world's greatest authors lost so much. Or as the grand-daughter said, the rights now rest in the hands of strangers.

     

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  60.  
    identicon
    Molly King, May 22nd, 2009 @ 10:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room

    Dynasty? Yikes! I really am wasting my time here.

    Good luck and Good Bye.

     

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  61.  
    identicon
    eric, Jun 4th, 2009 @ 5:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Granpa's Pocket Change

    you are way wrong. read steinbeck's will.

     

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  62.  
    identicon
    joe, Jun 4th, 2009 @ 5:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Rights?

    infamous, you ain't no lawyer.

     

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  63.  
    identicon
    joe, Jun 4th, 2009 @ 5:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room

    infamous, you ain't no lawyer.

     

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  64.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2010 @ 10:22pm

    So... Who owns the copyright? Is that still being decided upon? Or is Penguin still holding onto it?

     

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  65.  
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    CharmingApollo (profile), Aug 10th, 2010 @ 6:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The smartest kid in the room

    Really, after reading everything written down here, I felt I had to weigh in with a middle ground.

    I can't help but hugely disagree with the concept that people should hold a copyright for all works for "perpetuity".

    Imagine, if you will, a world where every work of art possessed an eternal copyright, which can be passed from generation to generation. A society where the distant descendants of Shakespeare, Beethoven and da Vinci have become billionaires off the works of their forebears, spending their time unproductively for the rest of society as they have been brought up knowing they have no need to work. Where there is a perpetual legal battle over who owns the rights to first written copy of the Bible, Torah and Koran. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating slightly, but you get the idea.

    In such a society, all creativity would be stifled rather than fostered, as artists would be unable to use the influence of great writers of the past in their works. Great books like 'Wide Sargasso Sea' (based on Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre') or 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' (a play based on 'Hamlet') would never be written, as this would require paying exorbitant amounts of money to the author's great(x30)-grandchildren.

    In fact, these descendents would not be required to give permission for such works to be published. Look at the issues currently raised by Stephen Joyce, the grandson of James Joyce who frequently prevents both academics and artists from quoting pieces of his grandfather's work.

    In the same way that the copyright for inventing cars, planes, microwaves and every other piece of technology must be dropped eventually, to allow further scientific progress, artists cannot expect (and I could hardly imagine would want) to maintain their copyright in perpetuity.

    On the other hand, I disagree with Derek Kerton's assertion that 5 years would be a suitable length of copyright. I certainly think that an artist should be allowed to maintain copyright throughout their life and benefit from the fruit of their labours. I would probably also say that their descendants should hold the rights for a ten or twenty years after the writer's death, if only to allow them control during the period immediately following their parent's/spouse's death. I will admit to being undecided on this point.

    Further, it must be taken into account, that any popular author who would be affected by this issue of copyright has already made CASH off the sales of their books. For example, if J.K. Rowling's children did not get the copyright of her books after she died, they would still have huge amounts of money from the proceeds gained during the author's life. The same applies for pretty much all authors on a smaller scale.

    Anyway, I should conclude my ramblings now! I just felt that had to be said.

     

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