Copyright Sci-Fi: What Will Lifelong Copyright Terms Mean When People Live Way Longer?

from the satire-time dept

Correction: I initially mistook the name of Paul Di Filippo's regular column for the title of the story itself. Post has been updated with the correct title.

As copyright issues have been propelled into the mainstream conversation, they have become an increasingly juicy target for lampooning by authors and artists. Satire is a clumsy tool for explaining an unknown concept, but an ideal way to skewer one that people are already talking about. Reader aethercowboy points us to a new creative construction of copyright found in the latest issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, in the form of a short story by author Paul Di Filippo for his regular column Plumage from Pegasus.

In What Immortal Hand or Eye Could Frame Thy Dreadful Copyright?, Di Filippo muses about the effects of "life plus 70 years" copyright terms in a future where medical science allows people to live much, much longer (not an unrealistic notion). The story is no masterpiece—rather a quick scene geared at sci-fi wonks, heavily indulging in the pulp technique of tossing out references to unexplained futuristic details and relying on the reader's knowledge of science fiction tropes to fill in the gaps. It's like a less elegant version of Kurt Vonnegut's Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, with copyrights in place of beds. But Plumage from Pegasus is fun because it takes a central concept we talk about a lot—that copyright law is out of sync with technological realities—and pushes it to an exaggerated extreme in the way that only sci-fi can. Overall, of course, it's just neat to see the copyright discussion turn up in yet another cultural corner.

I'll leave you with the beginning of the story—you can read the whole (short) thing on the F&SF website.

Today was my father's five-hundredth birthday, and also the day that I had determined to murder him.

But before you think too poorly of me, let me inform you that my father was Arden Pence.

Yes, that Arden Pence! Creator and sole owner of what had once been one of the most beloved entertainment franchises in the inhabited Solar System: Rajah Robot and Poxy Toff, Oort Cloud Explorers. A multi-platform, full-sensory, optionally immersive fictional construct that had generated trillions in profits, but which, for the past two centuries, had not manifested a single new idea, instead gradually frittering away all its goodwill and prestige in an endless series of self-imitation and recycling, until now the series was practically a byword for staleness and decrepitude.

I was Arden Pence's sole heir, his son, Kilmer. Although a youthful two-hundred-and-sixty-five years old, I was not getting any younger, and my well of patience had steadily evaporated to undetectable amounts. For two hundred years I had been biding my time, watching in frustration as my father's intellectual property, the delight of my own childhood, dwindled and became a source of predictable mild amusement for the public, all the while waiting for some mortal accident—a quench in the nearest zero-point capacitor, a hail of rogue strangelets from an exploding spaceship—to strike my progenitor and legally deliver the franchise into my hands.

Filed Under: paul di filippo, satire, science fiction

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  1. icon
    aethercowboy (profile), 7 Jun 2012 @ 5:32am

    Some Notes:

    Di Filippo's regular column in FSF is called "Plumage from Pegasus" in which he satirizes "current events" with a somewhat humorous sci-fi twist. This particular article's title is "What Immortal Hand or Eye Could Frame Thy Dreadful Copyright?".

    Also, in a 1953 issue of the same magazine, Donald F. Reines contributed his satire "The Shape of Copyright to Come" (sometimes called "Interplanetary Copyright"). It was originally published in the Information Bulletin of the Library of Congress that year, but I can't seem to find a link. It's well worth reading copyright satire if you can get your eyes on it.

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