Entertainment Industry Lawyer: The Public Domain Goes Against Free Market Capitalism

from the say-what-now? dept

We've been doing a series of posts about the Copyright Office's hearings on copyright for pre-1972 recordings, where we already noted with some amusement how the RIAA is suddenly afraid of federal copyright law, preferring the ridiculously more draconian state copyright laws that avoid both the public domain and termination rights. On top of that, we've pointed out that the RIAA's representative flat out claimed that there's no value in the public domain.

From Copycense's tweets, there was one other attendee who seemed to be even more extreme: Ivan Hoffman. Frankly, I'd never heard of the guy before, but you can visit his masterful website here, which looks like it was designed in the early 1990s and never updated. However, I must warn you that in the mind of Ivan Hoffman, you may be violating his copyrights just visiting the site. That's because, at the bottom of the website, it states:
© Copyright 1992-2011 by Ivan Hoffman. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this site, including this home page and any of the separate pages, may be copied, retransmitted, reposted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written permission of the copyright proprietor. This site is the subject of registered copyrights.
A couple things on this. First, the statement borders on copyfraud (some might say it goes beyond the borders), in that copyright does not allow the rights he has claimed. You absolutely can copy portions of his website if you're using them (as I am here) in a manner consistent with fair use, or if the specific content copied is not actually subject to copyright (and one can make an argument as to whether or not the copyright statement above, itself, is actually subject to copyright). But, even more to the point, if you simply visit his website, you have "copied," "duplicated" and "otherwise used" his website without the express written permission. I'm sure someone could argue the retransmission and reposting too. After all, when you click on the link above (I hope that's not retransmitting or "otherwise using!") you are instructing your computer to make a local copy on your hard drive... all without his express written permission.

So, anyway, that gives you a sense of who we're dealing with here.

What did Hoffman have to say? Well, there were two separate points that seemed worth covering, which I've embedded below via Copycense's tweets, and assuming that Copycense's reporting is accurate (and I have no reason to believe otherwise), it makes you wonder why the Copyright Office would have someone like him speak at their hearings. Specifically, he appears to claim that there should be no public domain, that copyright should last forever, and the very idea of the public domain is anti-free market. The specific statements in Copycense's tweets:
Hoffman: We don't take houses or cars back, but we take back copyrights. Why?

Hoffman: All of this is contrary to free market capitalism
This is, of course, hogwash that anyone who actually understands either the history and intention of copyrights or basic economics would recognize makes no sense. On the reason for the public domain, there's a rather excellent book on the subject that Hoffman might want to read. But the shorthand reason should be clear to anyone who understands copyright: it was to "promote the progress of science," by which the purpose is to benefit the public by giving them access to more content. Arguing contrary to that is simply twisting copyright law away from its core purpose. Furthermore, the basic ingredients of culture and content are earlier works. If we locked up everything, we'd have a lot less content and culture, entirely contrary to the Constitutional reasons behind copyright law. That a copyright lawyer would argue otherwise, to the Copyright Office, no less, is stunning.

And don't get me started on the ridiculous suggestion that putting works into the public domain is "contrary to free market capitalism." Which sounds more like free market capitalism: a world in which there is no government monopolies and interference for people to create and build... or one in which there's a central authority granting monopolies and changing those terms at will?

I asked Copycense if he could clarify what Hoffman was saying, and if (maybe? please?) these statements were sarcastic. Copycense says he's positive they were not sarcastic, and thinks Hoffman just meant that changing the copyright terms on anyone violates the Constitution. In fact, in support of that position, Hoffman also provided this lovely nugget, apparently:
Hoffman: "I have a problem in abrogating contract rights that have been in place for 30, 40, 50 years"
He, of course, is talking about the idea of moving pre-1972 works away from their current status and over to existing federal copyright law. But... if he's so against abrogating contract rights, then, um, shouldn't he be hopping mad about all of the retroactive copyright extension out there? Shouldn't he note that the composition copyrights on all of those songs should be in the public domain? After all, the contract offered to the musicians, at the time those songs were written, was that they would be getting exclusivity on the work for 28 years, followed by another 28 years if they reregistered. In exchange for granting them this monopoly, the public would get the work at the end of that period of time. And yet... with the 1976 Copyright Act, the government totally "abrogated" the contractual rights of the public, and unilaterally extended the copyright. It's really quite incredible that one can claim, with a straight face, that lengthy copyright on old works through extension is fine, but a minor move to put certain works under copyright is somehow violating contract law.

So, it appears that he thinks copyright should last forever... and he's against changing the "contract" on copyright related terms... unless the change screws over the public and completely tramples the existing agreement they had.

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  1. icon
    nasch (profile), 4 Jun 2011 @ 1:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    All that means is you don't understand the difference between scarce and infinite goods.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rivalry_%28economics%29

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exclu dable

    Read up on those, and see how data is neither rivalrous nor excludable, and land is both. Then think about whether it makes sense to pretend the two are the same.

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