Copyright As Emphysema: Bad To Begin With And Only Gets Worse

from the now-there's-a-quote dept

An anonymous reader points me to the comment section of a recent Doc Searls post discussing problems with the copyright system. The post itself is interesting (though covering ground familiar to those around here), but the comment in question has this rather unique analogy from Searls comparing copyright to emphysema:
I won't speak for Bill Patry, but I'm beginning to see copyright (and patents, at least for software and business methods) as emphysema of the marketplace: something that is bad to begin with and only gets worse.
To support that point, he then asks an interesting question:
Can either of you name a single legislative or regulatory instance (in any country) when the concept of copyright has been challenged successfully -- or the scope of its restrictions (in time or any other dimension) has ever been reduced? I can't, but I'm not a lawyer.
It's a good question. I left a comment pointing to the only one I could think of off the top of my head: which was the US's decision that federal gov't documents could not be covered by copyright. That, of course, is a tiny tiny minor push back on copyright, and many other countries haven't even gone that far, preferring to use "crown copyright" to allow governments to claim copyright on documents. In thinking about it a bit more there are two other possible points -- though both are again pretty minor. First is the fact that the 1976 Copyright Act codified "fair use." Before that it existed in common law, but was not directly in the law. However, considering that we basically gave up nearly the entire public domain on modern works, that Act was hardly a step towards less copyright. In fact, it was the single largest step towards copyright expansion in the US's history.

The only other (again tiny) pushback on expansionist copyright law was not from the legislature, but the recent court ruling (pushing back on a legislative expansion) that found a certain classification of works that were temporarily in the public domain couldn't be pulled back under a copyright regime. That case is going to be in appeals for years, and it applies to such a small class of works, it's barely worth mentioning at all.

But, of course, as we were recently discussing, the expansion of copyright has been quite massive during the entire history of the US. But, again, like Searls, I'm not a lawyer (or a historian), so perhaps we can get some others more knowledgeable on the subject to weigh in on Searls' question: what examples are there of legislatures actually decreasing the scope of copyright restrictions?

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2009 @ 4:30pm

    Re:

    Would the world suddenly be a better place if you could make legal copies of Steamboat Willie?

    Maybe it will, maybe it won't.

    As long as Disney keeps using Congress to extend copyrights further and further (I think the next expansion is scheduled for 2023 or thereabouts), we'll never know, will we?

    Would the world be a better place if Shakespeare's heirs still held the copyright on Romeo and Juliet?


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