In William Patry's book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars
, there's an excellent chart that highlights the fact that many content creators who have copyright available to them clearly don't value that copyright very much. The chart looks at the rates of copyright renewals in 1958 and 1959. As you hopefully know, back then, you had to register your work to have it covered by copyright, and you had to renew it to keep that copyright. Yet a huge percentage of content creators simply chose not to renew
their copyrights, because they knew there was little or no value in the copyright itself. Depending on the type of product, the lack of renewals paints a pretty stark picture: only 7% of books had the copyright renewed. Only 11% of periodicals. Only 4% of "works of art." Music was only 35%. In fact, the only type of work that had a renewal rate higher than 50% was movies, which came in at 74%.
If looked at with a common sense filter, it seems obvious that this suggests that the content creator clearly is no longer getting any benefit out of the copyright at that stage, and thus reverting the work to the public domain makes the most sense. So it was quite disappointing when we changed our laws in 1976 to the point that people didn't even have to register their copyrights in the first place, and never had to review, but that they automatically
get a copyright for a ridiculously long amount of time (much longer than was available in 1959). Now, you can
still register, and there are significant benefits to copyright holders for doing so, so many people still do.
So it's interesting to see Tunecore ask the musicians who use its service whether or not they register their copyrights
, with only 56% saying they absolutely do (found via Hypebot
, who incorrectly suggests that the others don't get a copyright at all):
What's fascinating here, of course, is this means that there are 44% of the musicians on Tunecore who don't really see the need to have a registered copyright, and yet they still end up with a copyright which they're unlikely to ever use or enforce. That suggests a system way out of whack with the stated purpose of copyright law. This is content that can and should be available to make the public domain more fruitful and to enable new creative works -- and yet it gets locked up anyway, even though the very people copyright law is supposed to protect clearly don't value what copyright gives them. So why do we still automatically give them copyrights, thereby harming the public domain, while adding little to no benefit to the content creators themselves?