Thank Disney for the artificial and immoral expansion of “copyright”:
Current US law extends copyright for 70 years after the date of the author’s death, and corporate “works-for-hire” are copyrighted for 95 years after publication. But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years – an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years. Under those laws, works published in 1957 would enter the public domain on January 1, 2014, where they would be “free as the air to common use.” (Mouse over any of the links below to see gorgeous cover art from 1957.) Under current copyright law, we’ll have to wait until 2053.1 And no published works will enter our public domain until 2019. The laws in Canada and the EU are different – thousands of works are entering their public domains on January 1.
What books and plays would be entering the public domain if we had the pre-1978 copyright laws? You might recognize some of the titles below.
Samuel Beckett, Endgame (“Fin de partie”, the original French version)
Jack Kerouac, On the Road (completed 1951, published 1957)
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Margret Rey and H.A. Rey, Curious George Gets a Medal
Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat
Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley, The Untouchables
Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays
Walter Lord, Day of Infamy
Studs Terkel, Giants of Jazz
Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, The Three Faces of Eve
Ian Fleming, From Russia, with Love
Ann Weldy (as Ann Bannon), Odd Girl Out
A.E. Van Vogt, Empire of the Atom
These works will instead enter the public domain in 2053… unless Disney finagles another extension. The fact is that there is no such thing as “copyright”, it is nothing more than a government-imposed intrusion on real property rights. No one need have any qualms about copying digital goods – including my own music and ebooks – because it is cannot possibly be considered stealing if you leave the original owner in the full possession of his property.
I’m not opposed to a limited copyright in order to encourage innovation. But the original term of 28 years was more than sufficient. What we have now is unjust, immoral, and the result of corpocratic government.
Jeffrey Tucker explains how IP reduces the store of human knowledge:
Last week, I had to haggle with an authors’ consortium in Britain concerning a 1946 text. The author had no children and he died before the copyright on the book expired. Someone swept in a renewed the thing, thereby taking it off the market. It hasn’t been in print for some 40 years. A paralegal helped me discover the owner, which turns out to be some scam operation that preys on people who want to reprint books. I asked to distribute the thing online. The consortium never seem to have heard of the internet. They wanted a fee for $1 per book with a contract that lasted 2 years and a limit on our sales. None of this works for us. So we said no. As a result, the book, which is not that mission critical, goes back to its eternal resting place, all because of “intellectual property” which is just so obviously a hoax and a violation of human rights.
This is only one of dozens of cases I’ve dealt with. And there are actually millions of books in this condition, effectively burned and destroyed by IP law.
The amount of human knowledge that is being lost to future generations thanks to IP law is really disturbing. Since scientage, or “the body of scientific knowledge” is one of the tripartite aspects of science, science fetishists who habitually fulminate about an incipient “new Dark Ages” should really spend a lot less time worrying that illiterate and innumerate children run the risk of not having TE(p)NS talked over their ignorant heads and a lot more about the disappearance of information that was published in the past. Lest you think there is nothing valuable to be learned from keeping the words of dead authors alive, consider the cost of this temporary loss of this insignificant tidbit of scientage.
Gene Quinn, a defender of patent law and IP, lays down an impressive challenge:
I challenge anyone to a debate on this topic anywhere, at any time, to be moderated by a mutually agreed panel or moderator. I know as well as everyone here that I will never be taken up on that offer. I wonder why? If I am so stupid and irresponsible and ignorant then someone take me up and prove to the world I am as such. Of course there will be no takers because in a true debate none of the nay-sayers stand any chance and would be exposed for what they truly are. Nevertheless, the challenge is made. I am sure the silence will be deafening. Or wait, even better… the response will be “there is no point in debating you because you are .” We all know that is what they are going to say, and rational people will understand that to be nothing more than cowardice.
Really? In order to disabuse Mr. Quinn of his belief in the cowardice of IP opponents, I sent him an email inviting him to a debate on the matter in Europe next spring. It will be interesting to see if he genuinely meant what he wrote or if it was mere rhetorical bluster. Being the holder of some IP myself, I’m far from a militant on the issue and am quite willing to be convinced if Mr. Quinn can present a compelling case, but at present I am deeply, deeply skeptical of the economic benefit of intellectual property protections by government.
Stephen Kinsella of the Mises Institute also didn’t hesitate to dispel Mr. Quinn’s doubts about the willingness of IP skeptics to take him on. Kinsella is far more versed on the subject than I am, but since I have more actual experience creating IP than he does, I expect our approaches would vary greatly.
UPDATE – The gentleman is well up for the challenge. We’ve exchanged email and if we can manage to coordinate things next spring in the venue I have in mind, will debate the issue then. I’ll be sure to arrange that either a transcript or a video will be made available.