Most people are not paying much attention to copyright and intellectual property (IP) rights issues. This is demonstrably true because virtually all of the IP-related laws passed in the last decade, including most notably the DMCA and the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, have greatly enlarged the rights of corporate IP holders at the expense of the freedoms of individuals. And very few people are complaining.
Let’s talk about copyrights. When the Framers wrote the Constitution, they provided that creators of ideas should have exclusive rights to those ideas for a limited time, to encourage the advancement of the sciences and “useful Arts.”
The key word here is “limited,” and the concept is that there is a balance between the value of the idea belonging to the public domain and the incentive to produce new works. If the limited period is too short, there’s no incentive to produce new works, but if the holder retains the rights too long, or for an unlimited time, the public is deprived of other advancements that would come if the idea belonged to all.
Which brings us to the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, which extended for the eleventh time the duration of copyright for a particular work, by an additional 20 years.
The Act was funded by the entertainment industry, to the tune of more than $6 million in campaign contributions to Congress.
The problem with the Act is that it’s basically just a gift from Congress to Disney, in return for cold hard re-election cash. There is no public good that comes of it.
You can read a more eloquent and rigorous examination of the issue in The Mouse that Ate the Public Domain, an article that should have you writing your congressional representatives.
Except, well, most people don’t care, because they don’t see the harm. At some point, all the little things add up and we’ll realize what we’ve lost, and wonder, how did we let this happen?