Reductio Ad Absurdum: Eternal Copyright Is Crazy... But What About Today's Copyright Term?

from the where's-the-limit dept

A ton of folks have sent in Adrian Hon's brilliant satirical "modest proposal" for eternal copyright. If you haven't yet read it, you should. Here's a snippet:
But what, I ask, about your great-great-great-grandchildren? What do they get? How can our laws be so heartless as to deny them the benefit of your hard work in the name of some do-gooding concept as the "public good", simply because they were born a mere century and a half after the book was written? After all, when you wrote your book, it sprung from your mind fully-formed, without requiring any inspiration from other creative works – you owe nothing at all to the public. And what would the public do with your book, even if they had it? Most likely, they'd just make it worse.

No, it's clear that our current copyright law is inadequate and unfair. We must move to Eternal Copyright – a system where copyright never expires, and a world in which we no longer snatch food out of the mouths of our creators' descendants. With eternal copyright, the knowledge that our great-great-great-grandchildren and beyond will benefit financially from our efforts will no doubt spur us on to achieve greater creative heights than ever seen before.

However, to make it entirely fair, Eternal Copyright should be retroactively applied so that current generations may benefit from their ancestors' works rather than allowing strangers to rip your inheritance off. Indeed, by what right do Disney and the BBC get to adapt Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, and Sherlock without paying the descendants of Lewis Carroll, the Brothers Grimm, and Arthur Conan Doyle?

Of course, there will be some odd effects. For example, the entire Jewish race will do rather well from their eternal copyright in much of the Bible, and Shakespeare's next of kin will receive quite the windfall from the royalties in the thousands of performances and adaptations of his plays – money well earned, I think we can all agree.
Of course, it's easy to laugh at satire like this... until you remember that some make such arguments seriously. But, similarly, it seems worth recognizing that for most of us, copyright is already effectively eternal. Here in the US nothing has entered the public domain in quite some time and it's questionable if or when anything new will enter the public domain... as most people fully expect Disney to push for another copyright term extension as Mickey Mouse approaches the public domain yet again.

So if you laugh at this kind of satire, remember it's this kind of "satire" that we effectively live under today with the existing copyright regime. That is... until lawmakers finally come to their senses over the ridiculous length of copyright today.

Filed Under: copyright, eternal copyright, life plus, term


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2012 @ 9:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    No, what it means generally speaking is that without law the possessor would only be able to retain possession as long as he wields his mammoth tusk club more forcefully that a rival for possession of whatever is at risk of being taken away by force.

    With law societal norms rights are established, which under our system of laws is the right to have our courts come to the assistance of the rightful possessor (the "owner") and kick the interloper good and hard.

    One can certainly see how a rivalrous good is somehow more in line with general notions of property than a non-rivalrous good. However, the law is not so limited, because it has long been recognized that even non-rivalrous goods may be deserving of legal protection. Patents and copyrights are two examples that easily come to mind, but there are a host of others that are likewise non-physical, e.g., a stock certificate, a promissory note, etc. These are mere pieces of paper with little intrinsic value as paper, but otherwise quite valuable so long as the law provides support for what these papers represent.

    I mentioned it before, but I believe it bears repeating that one of the most difficult concepts to master in preparing for the practice of law it to try and grasp the entire notion of property as has developed over centuries of legal jurisprudence.

    BTW, I do appreciate your very thoughtful comments. Here it seems it is far too easy to simply dismiss what someone says merely because you happen to disagree. It is a pleasure to exchange positions is such a respectful manner, and for this I thank you.

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