The Economist On Why Copyright Needs To Return To Its Roots
from the monopoly-money dept
An article in The Economist from earlier this month highlights what many Techdirt readers know well: the current state vs the historical intent of copyright brought forward by The Statute Of Anne.
When Queen Anne gave her assent on April 10th the following year—300 years ago this week—to “An act for the encouragement of learning” they were less enthused. Parliament had given them rights, but it had set a time limit on them: 21 years for books already in print and 14 years for new ones, with an additional 14 years if the author was still alive when the first term ran out.
Thinking about the times, one could see how such a system might encourage the creation of more works of art. An artist is given a limited time on which they have a monopoly on the production of copies of their works, a limited time for exclusively monetizing their works via those copies. After 14, 21 or possibly 28 years, the author had better have another work available to copyright if they decide to continue living off the proceeds of their works.
But today's rules give no such incentive. An artist that creates a popular work is almost guaranteed of being able to derive income from that single success well into their afterlife. Not only is the artist not incentivized to continue their creation, some of their descendant generations can rest on their laurels, allowing lawyers to gather income for them -- often from well-intentioned future artists who actually are trying to create new work from the existing.
The Economist goes on to highlight:
Copyright was originally the grant of a temporary government-supported monopoly on copying a work, not a property right.
Surely there will be copyright supporters who will cringe at such a statement. They believe that copyright is "intellectual property", and therefore their arguments often confuse the requirements for laws that support copyright with those that support physical properties.
At the moment, the terms of trade favour publishers too much. A return to the 28-year copyrights of the Statute of Anne would be in many ways arbitrary, but not unreasonable. [...]. The value society places on creativity means that fair use needs to be expanded and inadvertent infringement should be minimally penalised. None of this should get in the way of the enforcement of copyright, which remains a vital tool in the encouragement of learning. But tools are not ends in themselves.
Encouragement of learning, inadvertent infringement, societal values. These are all crucial with the original intent of the establishment of copyright. Yet over time the publishing industry and others have shifted the focus, and thus the legal system, away from the benefits that society gains from access to these works towards a radically limited system focusing on maximizing control (in the hopes of maximizing profits).
A few hours, weeks or even years of work turn into a lifetime (plus) guarantee of exclusivity. Where is the social value in that? How does this current system encourage learning? Though it is great to see a popular media outlet like The Economist talking about a reduction in current copyright terms, it would be even more fantastic to see them tackle the alternatives to copyright systems.