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For First Time in More Than 20 Years, Copyrighted Works Will Enter Public Domain (smithsonianmag.com)
814 points by ingve on Dec 19, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 264 comments

The sheer length of timespans involved in copyright make it very detached from the actual reality a lot of people grew up with.

A copyright of a few years would better reflect what has been going on in the daily life since 70's-80's. If you grew up then you would see films of only few years back on TV at which point you could tape them for yourself and your friends. Anything that was broadcast immediately became effectively free: there was always someone who had a copy you could borrow or copy yourself. This gave the industry a lot of time to milk revenues from the cinema and then home video until everyone had it from broadcasts.

With a few notable exceptions, I don't see content from five years back making a huge cashflow, not to mention ten years. Thus copyright could be a paid privilege.

You would get the copyright for the first year for free. Then it would cost more each year to maintain the copyright for one more year. Let's take a small percentage of the first year's total sales for a given piece, make it the cost of copyright for the next year and for the following year, add the same percentage to the previous cost of copyright.

We would therefore effectively be taxing the practise of hoarding content under copyright.

At the same time income from the content would fall so the markets would reach a point where it would cost too much to keep the copyright in effect. The content business could make their own decisions per each piece of content. They would extend copyright on the most popular films and music while let go of the ones that don't sell too well.

All this would benefit everyone and make the copyright monopoly vs people's rights closer to a balance.

> You would get the copyright for the first year for free. Then it would cost more each year to maintain the copyright for one more year.

I have a major problem with this. The problem is that if I purchase an item and it says 'Copyright (c) 1990' for instance, I would have no way of knowing when or if the copyright had expired. A fixed term would mean that I would know the date I could reproduce that work based on the work itself, which I held in my hand.

A fixed term seems to me the best of worlds. Probably something like 10 years would be enough.

My reasoning is that the vast majority of works would have exhausted their cashflow potential at that point. That a vanishing minority which had made lots of money would lose the opportunity to make vastly more is uninteresting to me. The work would still be fresh enough in the mind of society that a derivative work would be useful. If the work was successful then the creators name would still be fresh in the mind of society that they would have an inherent advantage when they created more. I personally don't see any reason why we should care that the grandchildren of a successful artist would not have a guaranteed income stream. My father is a civil engineer and has worked on infrastructure projects all over the world that will be used by millions for a hundred years or more and I will inherit what he leaves me in his will (yeah, he was paid for his time). I don't see any reason that the users of his bridge would be beholden to my descendants in 50 years time. My mother was a teacher and the thousands of children who passed through her classroom will grow up and live their lives and some will be successful and some will die in poverty and I don't have a single claim on any of their future income streams and thats the way it should be. I myself have created many works and I don't see that my claim on the future is in any way greater than my parents.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

I concur the fact that grandchildren or the wife's second husband, or corporate executives living off copyright long after a person died in old age is obscene. However 10 years is equally absurd in the opposite direction. A book can take 10 years to write, or 10 years to get published and more than 10 years to get popular. George R R Martin has been writing GoT books for 22 years and I'd hate to see him lose ownership of the characters and stories when he is still writing more in the series. That would be horrible. Asimov was writing Foundation novels for 50 years.

Transitioning a book to film or TV can easily take 10 years or more and I think is a reasonable source of income for an author. It would seem obscene to me that an author could write a book and then 10 years later see major motion pictures released for the same material earning studios hundreds of millions and they get nothing.

Most authors earn a small stipend from their work and rely on that income through retirement, so I think a term until death, or commensurate with a single lifetime to support immediate family such as a spouse is reasonable, but that's it.

I agree that 10 years is a little short, but I wouldn't call it absurd, certainly not comparable with the absurdity of 95 years. When you speak of GRR Martin "losing ownership" of his characters, ownership wouldn't simply pass to HBO, it would pass to everyone. So HBO would have exclusive rights over their specific adaptation of the story, but they wouldn't have exclusive rights to Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen as characters. A lot of us think that there would be a real social benefit to popular characters belonging to everyone, not just their creators. In any case, a 10 year copyright term would fundamentally change the dynamic

I think 30 years would be a reasonable medium. A writer who publishes a novel at age 20 could profit until she's 50. And most writers are active at older ages anyway, so this should be plenty of time. And certainly no movie or TV studio executive is actually thinking of profits 30 years down the road when they begin a project today.

He would not lose the rights to the characters. The characters in a series of literary works are eligible for trademark. He would just lose the right to prevent others from making exact copies of his older books. Derivative works with characters that are not important to the canon works would be allowed, but main characters would have to be licensed before publication, lest a C&D letter render the entire print run unsellable. A breakdown in license negotiations means running a search-and-replace on some character names.

Instead of writing about Jon Snow, you're writing about Dan Sleet, a suspiciously similar character.

In reality, this only matters for fan-fiction, multi-author universes like Star Wars or D&D Dragonlance, and cross-media adaptations. Most print-published authors have zero problems creating original characters. The problem is making them follow the plan for the plot.

10 years is short enough that no one would ever purchase rights to anything copyrighted, they would just wait it out. With 95 year copyright that doesn’t happen and creators would be paid.

So maybe the fixed term is 15 years, or 20. I don't see the benefit (to society) of having uncertain terms though.

That a book takes a number years to write is irrelevant. The copyright will be dated the year it is published, not when you thought of the idea. Guess what, if you publish a new edition? You can put a new date on that.. the fixed term copyright applies to the copy that you are reproducing, not anything else.

Anyway, GoT books started getting popular well before 10 years was up. George R R Martin got rich from the first few. If copyright on them had expired, well guess what.. he is still George R R Martin and he is still creating books which would be wildly popular and make him plenty of money he could invest for his retirement. That also means that he could have trademarked the characters and situations and retain exclusivity for the stories he created. He could licence those trademarks for huge amounts of money to film studios and get films made. George R R Martin would still be incredibly wealthy with a fixed-term copyright of 10 years.

J K Rowling would be incredibly wealthy as Harry Potter and all the sequels were incredibly popular pretty much as soon as they were written.

As you say though, most authors earn a small stipend from their work. I don't believe that they actually rely on that income through their retirement though. The vast majority of their small stipends dry up in short order. I used to work in the UK book publishing industry, 25 years ago. There were approx 30,000 publishers in the UK at that time, the vast majority of which had one or two titles to their name. That suggests to me that most of the books published were effectively self-published. The authors will have had to pay for the print run, and work another job anyway.

Originally copyright was for 14 years from publication, with an optional 14 year renewal. So variable terms aren't unheard-of — you just ask the copyright office if it's been renewed.

Coincidentally (or not) this term is very close to the estimated economically optimal copyright term.[1]

[1] https://rufuspollock.com/papers/optimal_copyright_term.pdf

You can't build a copyright system covering tens or hundreds of thousands of authors based principally on the situation of the most successful two or three of them in a generation.

Society has an interest in appropriately rewarding and incentivising creators of content. It's fair that creators should have ownership rights over their creations, within socially acceptable limits. Society has little interest in enabling freeloaders to profit off the creativity of others, whether those freeloaders are distant descendants and relatives, or contemporaries eager to appropriate other people's work.

I think the idea is any extension beyond the fixed term would require registration (as it does in existing copyright law). So you would always be able to determine if something is in copyright or not if you had the copyright date.

Part of the problem is derivative works. I don't think even Disney cares too much if people stream Steamboat Willy - but if MGM Studios wants to create a new Mickey Mouse film that could be a problem for them.

Still I have little sympathy - it's hard to argue that endless Twilight fan-fiction did the franchise any harm. And there's plenty of non-canon James Bond films that have no impact on the main franchise.

That's only a problem for Disney. The rest of the world gets to benefit from an explosion of creativity, and more available content.

I definitely support a short copyright period (say 10-20 years). Beyond that, as the original creators of the characters, any further 'official' content/stories created by them are likely to be popular if they are any good (and would be subject to their own copyright period). But if someone else takes on those characters and manages to produce great stories with them. Well fantastic, let's allow them to, and reward them for it.

Pretty sure that Disney will have trademarked Mickey Mouse and therefore a lack of copyright would be irrelevant anyway.

Also there are a lot of franchises where, arguably, fans do a much better job than heirs.

I am bitter that Zelazny's heirs killed Amber RPG, one of the best of the time.

A lot has to be said on Dune and LOTR heirs as well. And don't get me started on Tintin, currently managed by the surviving second husband of Hergé's wife...

The concept of "canon" does not have anything to do with copyright.

I can think of two: the Casino Royale with Woody Allen, and Never Say Never Again. Any others?

Those are properly licensed. They are not derivative works or "fan fiction" any more than the Broccoli produced installments.

Hilariously 50 shades of Gray started as Twilight fan-fiction.

The only counterpoint I can think of is that it seems unfair for copyright to lapse after a couple of years on a song and then have a movie studio pick it up and use it as a movie theme a few years later.

They could end up making a ton of money with it and not benefitting the artist at all.

Copyright law is not supposed to create fairness.

It is supposed to benefit society as a whole. If protection is too long, limited access to (and reuse of) existing work reduces the benefits of having a law. If protection is too short, some works may not get created due to the lack of incentives.

Someone attempted to calculate an optimal duration, and concluded it was about 15 years: https://rufuspollock.com/papers/optimal_copyright_term.pdf (Related article: https://medium.com/basic-income/the-zombification-of-intelle...)

I would recommend reading James Boyle's 'The Public Domain'. It's available free from his site on a creative commons license[1]. He makes a great argument about the development of IP laws, similar to the points you have made.

[1] http://thepublicdomain.org/thepublicdomain1.pdf

15 years sounds fine.

I guess I was talking about just a couple.

If the hypothetical movie studio from your example could not have used the song because of copyright, they would not have used the song, leaving the artist just as bereft of benefits as before – there is no change for the artist either way. If the movie studio can pick the best song from all available non-copyrighted songs since there are a large number of them, the artist will still not benefit but the movie studio might make a better movie, benefiting them and thereby the economy and society as a whole, even if nothing changes for the artist.

But now we have movie studios who are (generally) paying for rights to use a song that was popular a few years ago, or they're paying for original soundtracks.

Reduce copyrights to just a few years and Hollywood, with all the parasites in it, would just lift songs like there's no tomorrow and further dodge paying a cent to the artists involved.

Perhaps, but we'd be free to use their content as we saw fit too. Overall, I think reduced copyright would benefit the smaller artists (who might not be able to afford to license prior art now).

I am OK with using this logic when it comes to individuals using media for non-profit purposes, but movie studios are out to make money. Saying "if it didn't exist they wouldn't have used it" is taking away from the final composed project that includes many artists and mediums.

So differentiate between copyright periods for personal use and commercial use.

Many countries used to have strong explicit exemptions for personal use, but even just making it shorter in time for personal use would make a huge difference.

Movies and TV use copyrighted music all the time - they just pay the copyright holder for licensing it.

Nonsense, they may well have paid a license fee. As frequently happens now.

No one goes to see a movie just because it features 1 song.

The use of licensed music is a critical component in many movies. Just consider Donnie Darko or Goodfellas.

well, I did see the movie "bohemian rapsody" mainly to hear the music...

I always questioned whether we should be paying artists for music at all. The fact is, song writers don’t make most of their money from recordings. It’s merchandise and concerts. This would solve most of the copy right issues because someone recorded it with a cell phone.

More than that, we’ve seen cases such as the Louis CK video release where he asked politely for people to pay and they did.

You don't have to pay artists for music if you don't listen to it.

It was a proposition of the pirate party that RMS supported: make copyright duration 5 years long. Grant longer copyright terms to people who choose to add freedoms to it: free to copy, free to modify, free for commercial use would each add 5 years.

From Creative Commons and Internet Archive, https://creativecommons.org/2018/12/05/join-us-for-a-grand-r...

> Join creative, legal, library, advocacy communities to celebrate the public domain growing again for the first time in decades, and come network with an amazing lineup of people and organizations who will help us welcome this new class of public domain works. Presenters include Larry Lessig, academic, political activist, and founder of Creative Commons, Corynne McSherry, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Cory Doctorow, science fiction author and co-editor of Boing Boing, Pam Samuelson, copyright scholar, Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons, Jamie Boyle, the man who literally wrote the book on the public domain, and many others.

I'm going to that event. Looking forward to it.

Here is what I see happening. Companies stop worrying about the copyright law. Why should they? With youtube they have effectively proved that they can shut down any video they like without any negative repercussions. And now that piracy is way down due to streaming services, what do they gain by maintaining their copyright?

We've extended copyright so long that there isn't even a reason to extend it further. And now, the mechanisms to enforce copyright are so biased towards large corporations that, even without infringing, they can make your life a living hell if you cross them.

Don't believe me? Look at just about any youtube content producer. Basically all of them have stories about their content being pulled because some mega corp hears them mention something that might be theirs.

> And now that piracy is way down due to streaming services, what do they gain by maintaining their copyright?

I think this is only temporary. The ongoing balkanization of streaming space makes piracy attractive once more. Sure, torrenting or even enduring a bootleg free streaming service isn't as convenient as Netflix or Hulu now in terms of watching (though I haven't used PopcornTime, maybe the experience is similar). But it also doesn't require you to juggle 12 paid subscriptions just to keep up with the movies you like.

Personally, I expect a resurgence of piracy in the coming years.

Netflix DVD subscription plans may also get more subscribers.

Are you saying that you believe corporations will continue to submit DMCA takedown notices on content that is newly found in the public domain, with no liability? It seems as if you are trying to look at the move of some copyrighted works into the public domain through the lens of the DMCA, without considering that a content creator who receives a DMCA takedown of works that are in the public domain has hard evidence to counter said notice, which isn't necessarily the case in the setting of "fair use".

No, I'm saying that, today, copyright holders are submitting DMCA take down notices on content that does not contain copyrighted material at all. Not even under the fair use clause.

There is hard evidence to counter those notices, but ultimately nobody ends up taking it to court because it is too expensive.

See: https://www.dailydot.com/upstream/youtube-copyright-claims-t...

Please note that in your linked article, the very end states:

"Last week, YouTube removed the claim from the flagger who said TheFatRat was using copyrighted material, and less than a day after Johnson filed a dispute on his video, the flagger released that claim. That means both YouTubers shouldn’t have to worry anymore about those specific videos.

Neither TheFatRat nor Johnson returned emails from the Daily Dot to see if they were satisfied with the outcome."

This implies that the content creators resolved their problems before getting traction on the published article. However, I will grant you the obvious point here that these content creators that were able to resolve their problems have a huge following, compared to the majority of content creators that don't have the same voice, so maybe this isn't the same for everyone. derefr who also commented below says that it should be the same for anyone who receives a DMCA takedown notice.

One prevalent issue is that even if on youtube the situation is solved easily (i.e. the counter claim is reviewed and everything put back in place in a timely manner) the channel will usualy have missed most of its monetization window. Especialy if the case goes viral and and everyone looks at some side loaded video in the meantime, almost nobody will go back to watch ads on the restored video.

In that sense just claiming ownership of a track will deter most other creators to make money from it, even if they can use it. Actualy I think during the time the copyright claim is upheld any ad money done at that point goes to the alegde owner and is not reversed even if the claim is debunked, but I might be wrong.

The problem is YouTube heavily prioritizes new content so if your video goes offline for a day you just lost the majority of the profit from it. Its also ridiculous how YouTube presumes guilt. Your video should stay online while a dispute is handled.

That's how the law works. If YouTube were to start leaving the videos up, the complainers would just start sending proper DMCA takedown notices, and YouTube would be forced to take it down promptly.

But then if the takedowns were incorrect, the people sending them would have proper liability.

AFAIK the only DMCA penalty is if you aren't authorized to represent copyright owner, not if your claim isn't valid.

Well naturally showing (rather than necessarily legally sound) it would be fraud and/or libel.

But I understand the USA legal system doesn't automatically award costs to an injured party, so in practice noone cab afford to challenge any large media corp.

You don’t need to “take it to court”; if the recipient of the DMCA complaint says to the host that they disagree with the DMCA takedown notice, the host is required by the DMCA to put the content back up (or, at least, return it to whatever state it would be in if the DMCA takedown notice didn’t happen), and it is then the responsibility of the complainant to take the other party to court.

Which the complainant will never do, in these cases where it’s obvious that it was just an overzealous algorithm flagging things it shouldn’t have—because actually pursuing damages for those situations are exactly the type of thing that make a judge issue contempt-of-court charges.

Who responds to the DMCA complaint if the content uploader is missing, for example if they have died?

It looks trivial to wipe out everything via a DMCA complaint. All you have to do is wait until the uploader is unable to respond. Given enough time, this happens to all human uploaders. Nothing is safe. This part of our cultural history can be wiped from existence.

Most YouTube copyright complaints are not actually DMCA complaints. The complainant is just asking YouTube nicely (whether that be manually, automated on their side, or automated on YouTube's side) and YouTube is complying of its own volition. 4J of their terms: "YouTube reserves the right to discontinue any aspect of the Service at any time."

I'm pretty sure that if YouTube did not "comply if its own volition" for these kinds of claims, they would be in violation of DMCA.

ContentID doesn't operate through DMCA notices. People often conflate the two, but in the case of ContentID there are no legally mandated remedies like there are with DMCA notices.

Yes, but YouTube is being absolutely overzealous for no legal reason. Rather, I think it serves the double purpose of keeping the government (and regulation) very far away, while pandering to big content producers at the same time.

Except that the DMCA troll just repeats the takedown notice. What should happen is that a lawyer making fraudulent DMCA notices should be held liable.

DMCA take down notices on 1923 content will be a thing you say?

I think I agree. The DMCA requires you to attest that you have "a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law." As far as I know, there is no successful caselaw of accusing a takedown sender of acting in bad faith—even when using automated systems like Content ID. (Lenz v. Universal Music Corp. is the closest but there wasn't any actual consequence for Universal, I think.)

The other problem is that the DMCA safe harbor provision does not (AIUI) prevent companies from being stricter than necessary, and things like Content ID filter posts even before the level of a DMCA action. If YouTube "forgets" to update Content ID to change < 1923 to < 1924, I believe there's no legal recourse for an uploader to force them to do so.

(IANAL and I haven't closely kept up with this so pleaee correct me if I'm wrong!)

Lenz v. Universal was ultimately settled under confidential terms. Since the preceding judgement in the 9th Circuit was largely favorable to Lenz, I’d guess those terms probably did include Universal paying at least some trivial amount.

> YouTube "forgets" to update Content ID to change < 1923 to < 1924

This will not affect ContentID as even public domain content is identified.

You might have a point here, but you forgot about the other way around: If I, as a small company, produce copyrighted material, I can still sue or settle with the big corporation that used it.

Meanwhile in Canada, a bunch of stuff will be leaving the public domain thanks to the renegotiation of NAFTA synchronizing Canadian copyright to American. Yay?

I wonder what will happen to derivative works based on works that were public domain but then fell into copyright again?

[1] https://literary007.com/2016/08/23/licence-expired-the-unaut...

It will probably be something similar to the approach the UK undertook in the 90s when it had a very similar issue, with revived copyright. http://dictionaryofiplaw.blogspot.com/2013/10/revived-copyri...

Japan too. Copyright shall be abolished now or our generation's precious culture will be lost forever.

I don’t believe copyright should be abolished, I believe an Author of a creative piece of work should have the right to protect their work and exploit it for profit how they see fit. I also don’t believe that copyright destroys culture.

But I will agree that the time limit on such copyrights has gotten out of control and should be rained in. Disney had and exploited the benifits of copyrighted works entering the public domain. It’s only fair (IMO) they allow others to have such benefits available to themselves too.

If copyright lasted (say) a year or two - maybe. But even then, it's a terrible tool with huge social costs and limited upside. In any sane world, given the increased pace of information exchange and cultural change, copyright terms should have decreased over the years. That's not exactly what happened, now is it?

It's completely laughable to assume human culture would cease to develop in the absence of copyright; which is essentially it's stated aim. Evidence: the entirety of human history. The idea wasn't the brightest from the get go: this was lawmakers simply trying to be too clever.

But what bothers me most is the framing of "authors of a creative piece of work should have the right to protect their work"; when in fact it means "anybody or any organisation who made even rudimentary changes to almost any kind information can limit the rights of every other human on the planet". It's an absurdly blunt regulatory tool that's eminently vulnerable to regulatory capture, and oh hey; that actually happened many times over the centuries - and not just in terms of durations; it was expanded to corporations; penalties became more severe; exclusions were reduced; scope crept in the form of anti-circumvention measures; reach expanded by population growth and international cooperation.

Copyright and derivative laws in its modern form has to be up there as one of the worst forms of regulation, with huge economic and social costs, yet no good way out and no practical sunset clauses because of extremely entrenched habits and vested interests.

Copyright is there to help the creation of new works. Why should an author write a book or a studio produce a movie if literally everyone can freely copy it? (i.e. Book printers, DVD producers, Cinema's wouldn't have to pay the original producers). Producing creative work would be economically unviable.

That said, that's also its only justification, and current terms have long reached beyond that. There isn't a book that wasn't written in 1923 because it would be freely available in 2004, and if we shortened terms to 50 years it would have zero effect on the production of new works. Not a movie less will be made because its copyright expires in 2068 instead of 21xx.

That argument was blown out of the water when copyright started to be retroactively extended.

10 years would be enough. Every single movie, book, song created this year would still be here if its copyright would expire in 2028.

And it's really much worse than that. The aim should never be for maximum production of IP "at all costs" - it should be for maximum benefit at minimum cost.

So if an IP horizon of (say) 30 years started to make a tiny but measurable impact on the kind of IP produced - then that's a sign that 30 years is likely waaaay too long! because the benefits are virtually nil, yet the costs are huge - not just culturally, but even economically, due to lack of competition (being an exclusionary right and all).

Not to mention there's this straw-man that the alternative to copyright is assumed to implicitly be a complete free-for all. I mean you could think up at least a dozen alternatives - like region limited copyrights; mandatory limited-price licensing; copyrights only for human beings, not legal entities; continually rising registration costs; production subsidies; citation and consumption based subsidies; retrospective rewards based on popular vote or a council of experts, etc etc etc - and you could easily use many of those ideas simultaneously - potentially including a very short old-style copyright term.

Also, technology has advanced somewhat since copyright came to be. Numerical models that would have been heinously impractical hundreds of years ago may now be trivially practical; i.e. accounting for each and every consumer of a piece of art may now actually be practical.

TL;DR: If society wants to support creators even at the cost to others - an entirely reasonable aim - it's a fallacy to compare copyright-as-is-today to anarchy.

> copyright terms should have decreased over the years. That's not exactly what happened, now is it?

I agree they should decrease and even said so in my post.

> It's completely laughable to assume human culture would cease to develop in the absence of copyright.

I didn't say it would and I don't believe it would either, but personally I believe if we got rid of all copyright laws tomorrow it would do more harm to smaller creatives than it would to the large corporate media outlets.

> anybody or any organisation who made even rudimentary changes to almost any kind information can limit the rights of every other human on the planet

If that is the case then you can take the source material they made changes to and base your work off that. Lets take Snow White as an example. I believe Disney currently still have copyright on their adaptation of the 19th century fairly tale (as the "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" film came out in 1937). But as the original source material is in the public domain so you can take that original source material and adapt it for your own creation.

> it was expanded to corporations; penalties became more severe; exclusions were reduced; scope crept in the form of anti-circumvention measures; reach expanded by population growth and international cooperation.

These can be lowered (or expanded in the cause of exclusions) without having to remove the protection completely. I do believe the current system has flaws (I'm against the rules that prohibit users breaking DRM esp when it is for their own use, for being able to transcode media from one format to another for example). But as I said I am against removing all the protections outright.

> I believe Disney currently still have copyright on their adaptation of the 19th century fairly tale (as the "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" film came out in 1937). But as the original source material is in the public domain so you can take that original source material and adapt it for your own creation.

This is technically true, but in practice the effort necessary to avoid infringing on Disney's parts of things has a really clear chilling effect on derivative use of the original public domain work.

Really only other large corporations with deep pockets for ip lawyers can afford to even risk it.

Ignoring that was just an example of adapting the source material. There have been many adaptations of Snow White which have not been produced by Disney which have seen 0 legal issues from Disney.

I don't believe that copyright destroys culture, but I definitely believe that it limits it. Increased copyright policing in Japan could have an effect on a lot of dōjin circles, where a lot of derivative artwork occurs. I find dōjin artwork to be quite enjoyable, as it reminds me a lot of the Star War EU or mod communities for some video games that I play.

Culture and sciences have survived and flourished for centuries by doing the exact opposite.

Imagine Einstein or the organization he worked for copywriting and then charging money for every single use.

Money is only one aspect of copyright. Not able to work freely is the real problem which actually kills the culture. Nothing flourished under fear of getting sued.

>I believe an Author of a creative piece of work should have the right to protect their work and exploit it for profit how they see fit.

Only if it's completely original. In other words, in no case at all.

It's not only what is classically seen as creative work (visual art, music, movies, writing) that would be affected. Any non-physical product is affected: CAD files, chip layouts, code etc.

Honestly, it already happened. Books from before copyright became effectively infinite are widely available. Recent books are widely available. Anything in between (1930-1980) is a gulf of missing books.


I like reading old pulpy science fiction. They are typically out of print, and will never have a reprint. I'll find a reference online, but won't be able to find a copy. There might be a plot summary, or a listing of which out-of-print magazines initially carried the story, but no copies.

As another example (and please somebody prove me wrong), I cannot find the 1954 movie "So This is Paris", starring Tony Curtis. No copies available anywhere on amazon, ebay, or searching through internet sites. There was a short clip of one of the songs on Youtube a few years ago, but it was taken down for copyright infringement. I simply cannot find it anywhere.

Thanks for this link. It explains what just happened to me last night -- I went to Amazon looking for Heinlein's "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" for an xmas present for my son. It's simply not available anywhere new.

No, because a lot of artists can only earn enough to survive because of copyright law. A new songwriter can only get their royalties because of copyright law, otherwise you can bet the big studios would just lift the songs and record them however they liked.

Copyright is a valuable tool to protect creators, but it does need to be measured properly because in its current form it becomes more about protecting giant international beasts like Disney (who hardly need it with all the new stuff they're producing, surely). The term lengths are ridiculous. I don't really know what they should be, but I'm pretty sure you could make a reasonable stab at it by looking at some statistics about how revenue drops off from works as they age.

How, then, do you propose I pay the rent when I write books for a living? Stories, not non-fiction stuff with a short lifespan.

Japan extended the copyright term from 50 to 70 years after the author's death[1].

So this change would only help someone pay for rent if you, in this example, had written a book in 1968, had a child at the same time and then promptly died.

That child would now be 50 and somehow hadn't managed to do anything worthwhile with their life to pay their own rent, but had been living on the proceeds of your book published in 1968. Now they'll be able to extend that into their 70s.

And that's in the very best case. This could also be a written in 1918 by someone that was 20, died in 1968, and whose copyright would only now just be expiring.

1. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/12/10/national/japan-...

That's an argument for why copyright terms should be shorter, not for why they should be abolished entirely.

I suppose book authors could use the same model as musical performers, in that the record company takes the lion's share from the recordings, and the band has to sell live performance tickets and tour merchandise.

You write the book to build the fan-base, and draw your living expenses from signings, convention panels, t-shirts, collector's edition packages, etc. It sounds like a perfectly awful model for promoting the arts, of course.

Perhaps a gallery model? Write just one copy of a book, sell it for thousands of dollars, and let the one that buys it decide whether to unleash it on the world or not. It'd be like that Wu Tang Clan record that Shkreli bought.

Acquire a patron? Allow a rich fan to pay all your living expenses, and in return you put their name in the acknowledgements. Or crowdfund it, and expand the acknowledgements to more pages than the story.

There are a lot of possible models. The underlying problem is that most people just don't value art enough to pay for it in 2018. There are barely even enough people that value skilled labor enough to pay for it. If art were valued more highly, artists wouldn't even need to figure out how to be paid, because middlemen would be scrambling over each other to skim off some of the cash flowing from audience to artist.

> The underlying problem is that most people just don't value art enough to pay for it in 2018.

In other words, the problem is that "art" is vastly overproduced. Which is only natural when it's being subsidized so heavily via copyright: everyone wants their chance at that rare bestseller which will see them set for life.

Honestly, we need to question not only whether copyright is a reasonable way to promote the production of art, but also whether there is even a need for such promotion in the first place. There is already more artwork in existence than any one person could properly appreciate in their lifetime, and no technical reason why it can't be perfectly preserved and made available to everyone at minimal cost.

If copyright at life+70 years oversupplies the art market, crashing the equilibrium price to nearly zero....

Is the solution too obvious? Cut the term of copyright protection by 5 years every year, then start halving the remaining term after hitting five, until the shovelware "art" becomes trivially manageable. If it still comes in heaping, steaming piles all the way down to one week, then clearly copyright was unnecessary.

This is seriously the worst part of this whole bad news cycle we're on. We need to elect people with strong moral fiber and then hold those elected accountable. There are good people in politics!

It's not just needing to have strong moral fiber, but also be willing to sacrifice whatever other parties in a negotiation offered for you lengthen the copyright period.

Wait, things can be taken out of the public domain? What the fuck?

Don't think of it as taking things out of the public domain. They "fixed the glitch".

Huh! I hadn’t heard about this.

In theory, there’s still time to stop it from happening. Although USMCA was signed, it hasn’t been ratified by the US and, due to objections from newly elected Democratic House majority, probably won’t be ratified in its current form. Unfortunately, I don’t think those objections include anything about copyright, so in lieu of some massive public lobbying campaign, any revised version they agree to probably won’t change that part.

On the other hand, there’s a substantial chance that Democrats and Republicans fail to reach a deal on revisions, nothing gets signed, and Trump’s threat to unilaterally terminate NAFTA gets put to the test (both politically and, potentially, in court). I guess we’ll see.

The House doesn't ratify treaties. The Senate does.

See my reply to a sibling of your post:


> On the other hand, there’s a substantial chance that Democrats and Republicans fail to reach a deal on revisions

There's zero chance the Democrats and Republicans fail to ratify the new USMCA. Neither party particularly wanted to dump NAFTA in the first place, it was almost entirely a Trump push to renegotiate it. USMCA is very slightly better for the US and North America, so it's better than the deal they all supported before that. It's a small group of Democrats posturing with their new control of the house. They understand the cost of letting the trade pact drop and they have no interest in owning that mistake.

What you say is largely accurate, but it's worth noting that the president's ability to unilaterally terminate NATFA is a subject of debate. [1] [2] The short version is that Trump probably does have the authority to formally withdraw, but doing so without Congress's approval would leave the NAFTA Implementation Act in place, making it into a sort of zombie agreement. Certainly Congress will want to avoid things getting that far, and so the new agreement will probably pass. But as today's news demonstrates, negotiations in the Trump era tend to be... unpredictable.

[1] https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/26/16505508/...

[2] https://piie.com/blogs/trade-investment-policy-watch/can-tru...

> Although USMCA was signed, it hasn’t been ratified by the US and, due to objections from newly elected Democratic House majority, probably won’t be ratified in its current form.

The House party structure doesn't apply.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that the President has the “Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.” Ratification is thereby approved or rejected by the Senate.

To quote Wikipedia:

> As of 2013, the majority of United States free trade agreements were implemented as congressional-executive agreements. Unlike treaties, such agreements require a majority of the House and Senate to pass. Under trade promotion authority (TPA), established by the Trade Act of 1974 and renewed by the Trade Act of 2002, Congress authorizes the President to negotiate "free trade agreements ... if they are approved by both houses in a bill enacted into public law and other statutory conditions are met.

In the case of the USMCA, the Trump administration is seeking approval under "fast-track authority", which he has under the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015. (This authority was originally set to expire in 2018 but was successfully extended to 2021.) [2]

The effect of fast-track authority is that when "implementing legislation" for a trade agreement is considered by Congress, no amendments can be proposed, debate time is limited, and (as a result of time being limited) the bill cannot be filibustered in the Senate. This makes it much easier to pass.

However, the process only applies to legislation, i.e. to the congressional part of congressional-executive agreements. Passing an agreement as a true treaty would still have to follow the normal Constitutional procedure requiring a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which is generally considered more difficult than getting a bare majority of both houses. I'd say that applies even in the current political situation, because the Republicans will only have 53 seats in the Senate; a two-thirds majority is 67 votes, so they would need 14 out of 47 Democrats (30%) to vote yes, assuming all Republicans voted yes. In contrast, in the House the Republicans will have 200 seats, and would require 18 out of 235 Democrats (8%). On the other hand, the House rate would face an opposing majority leader, and the House can also vote to withdraw fast track authority. [3]

In any case, regardless of what the administration could theoretically do, it's currently trying to pass the USMCA as a congressional-executive agreement, which means the change in House party structure certainly is significant.

By the way, even if a true treaty is passed, in theory the House can refuse to provide funds to implement it, which is arguably[4] allowed under the Constitution. But admittedly that's very unlikely to happen unless they really hate the treaty, which wouldn't be the case with the USMCA.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_track_(trade)#TPP_and_201...

[2] https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=5b4c71fc-b979...

[3] https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43491.pdf (page 27)

[4] https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CPRT-106SPRT66922/html/C...

If you already got a copy of a work while it was public domain, does your copy become copyrighted when this happens? What if you made a derivative work while it was still public domain? Are you liable of copyright infringement?

Generally speaking, under common law, laws aren't applied retroactively. Any copy made while it was legal should be fine. You wouldn't be able to make new copies, however.

> You wouldn't be able to make new copies, however.

Good thing I filled my 1TB hard drive with thousands of identical copies of this work that used to be in the public domain...

As long as they stay on that hard drive, no problem. You would have to copy it to get it off, however, and that would be a violation.

You can move it. Transferring digital goods is possible.

I'm guessing that, like most legal things, the answer is "nobody knows until some precedent is set in court." :/

Finally. This is probably one of the more significant events of the decade. The culture that's locked up behind copyright could have a major societal impact down the line.

> The culture that's locked up behind copyright could have a major societal impact down the line.

This stuff is almost 100 years old. It was written for a society very different from our own.

The beauty of the public domain is that it enables people to update that stuff for the modern era. That it can now be widely disseminated is the first step.

Look at King Arthur. A thousand year old legend that’s getting another variant next month - The Kid Who Would Be King.

> This stuff is almost 100 years old. It was written for a society very different from our own.

Different, yet still the same in many important ways. If this means great things like Harold Lloyd's seminal comedy Safety Last! will now be freely available, we've all won something...

I don't see how that's relevant.

I wonder if we will see another extension since Mickey is getting close to the chopping block again.

Disney has prepared for this moment. They have registered trademarks for every aspect of mickey mouse (e.g. the name, his silhouette, etc). So, yes the original B&W steamboat willie video will enter the public domain, but mickey mouse as a brand will continue forever as trademarks do not expire.

I don't understand why this wasn't the original strategy. Surely even in 1998, Steamboat Willie itself wasn't making much money. Trademarking Mickey makes much more sense.

It was.

The idea that the only reason the US extended the copyright term was because of Disney and Mickey Mouse is one of those clever, edutainment, Ted Talks kind of factoids. It is fun to write about and bring up in threads like this, but in reality, IP(including copyright) had become the predominate strategy of US economic policy in regards to globalization. That isn't to say Disney was not one of many companies fighting hard to extend copyright. Especially due to Micheal Eisner's Disney strategy[1] which, at the time, utilized much of Disney's historical catalog. Most media companies(and US policy makers) are likely more focused on extending IP protections globally at this point. Which is probably one of the reasons we are not seeing a fight about this now.

It is actually interesting now that I think about things like this. I wonder if this is a product of the "Google Knowledge" era. Where quick and clever explanations spread do to their ability to rank higher in a search engine query or social media share.

[1] http://www.pophistorydig.com/topics/disneys-movie-vault1984-...

Excerpts from the cited article:

"In this case, however, some external forces helped expedite the decision, as in Italy, the film was soon to move into the public domain, which meant it would be fair game for pirates and widespread copying. Snow White was released on VHS in 1994, and would break all records for Disney’s animated classics, selling nearly 50 million copies worldwide. It was the last of the early Disney animated films released for home video. Disney was also able to extend the copyright for Snow White."

"The enormous market Disney discovered in selling older films, underscored the “huge potential upside” in stepping up production of new ones. – Michael Eisner"

You're spot on, Steamboat Willie is of virtually no commercial value now - honestly very little that Disney made prior to 1938 has commercial value or had it 1998.

I've wondered myself, and from reading the commentary on Ars (https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/01/hollywood-says-i...) and elsewhere, the answer seems to be something like: in 1998 they could do so easily, and why take the risk of letting Steamboat Willie slip? They could, so they did. In ~2015-2018, it wasn't looking nearly so easy (and there was now Big Tech opposition to reckon with), so the calculus changed.

The whole "Mickey Mouse is why we have the DMCA" thing is overstated to the point where I'm tempted to call it an urban legend. There were a lot of forces aligned in the 90s to extend copyright. Disney was one of them, but it was a lot more than just Mickey.

It was more about laying the groundwork for an intellectual property driven global economy, in which the U.S.'s major export would be IP. Keep in mind in the 90s, that's where people thought the world was going; we were deindustrializing and there was a (false) sense that everyone in the first world was going to become a "knowledge worker" while all the unpleasant jobs could be offshored. (But, somehow, the countries we were offshoring to were never going to develop IP industries of their own; it always seemed to be a one-way circuit.)

I've said this before, and I'll say it again: the DMCA does more to protect the little guy than it does to protect big companies.

If you're a big company, and you find that someone is infringing on your copyright, you've always just been able to throw lawyers at the problem until it goes away, DMCA or no. Individuals, especially those who aren't rich, don't have that option. Until the DMCA, individuals had basically no recourse for copyright infringement that didn't involve paying for a lawyer they couldn't afford.

Here's something that came up recently that involved a group I'm part of. On Facebook, I'm part of a private women-only group for a particular fandom. Some members of the group are also mods and admins of one of the largest (mixed-gender) Facebook groups for that fandom, and there are a handful of toxic banned people who really have it out for them. One of them runs a meme page. So, one day, one of the members of the women's group, who's also the lead admin of the larger group, posts pictures of a cosplay photoshoot she had done at a con to the group. The photographer, by the way, was the admin of the women's group. Turns out that one of these toxic banned assholes had a mole in the women's group, and he posted her pictures all over the meme page along with a bunch of sexually harassing comments and insults about her weight.

Thanks to the DMCA, that problem went away fast. The photographer, who was livid that people would use her photos to harass her friend like this, filed DMCA complaints on every photo the meme page posted. Facebook took them down in about an hour. Toxic asshole posts them again, another DMCA complaint, another swift takedown. I'm assuming, by the way, that this got the meme page guy a 24-hour ban from Facebook, because that's usually what happens on a second offense. 24 hours later, the whole meme page went down... I'm guessing the owner took it down right after he got back from his ban.

> The whole "Mickey Mouse is why we have the DMCA" thing is overstated to the point where I'm tempted to call it an urban legend.

I always thought it's more like: Disney are just greedy assholes with the Mickey Mouse thing; MAFIAA is the reason we have (and have to have) DMCA.

Steamboat Willie is of virtually no commercial value now - honestly very little that Disney made prior to 1938 has commercial value or had it 1998.

Notably 'Snow White and the seven dwarfs' was released in 1937[0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Walt_Disney_Pictures_f...

I thought it was 38! Whoops!

I've heard an argument it's more about Winnie-the-Pooh.

There's definitely a market for books, cartoons and merchandise directly adapted from Milne's original book, especially if they're cheaper than Disney's material.

They wouldn't lose much revenue from Steamboat Willie entering the public domain. But 20+ years of content entering the public domain could've caused a couple of percent of revenue to be lost annually by now. That's a chance they'd rather have nipped in the bud, and subsequently did.

This is why more merchandise is coming out with pie-eyed Mickey's. Making sure the trademark is rock solid.

The surprise for me was learning that Disney is almost as worried about Winnie the Pooh as they are about Mickey. He’s nearly the same age and they sell a ton of merch.

The Pooh character from Milne's first book is arguably more marketable than Steamboat Willie.

Another studio could easily do a Pooh reboot with a new animation style and compete with Disney. I'd argue Mickey is more valuable as an icon than a character. And he's so associated with Walt Disney I'm not sure another company would ever be taken seriously making new Mickey material.

People know Pooh,Piglet,Eeyore, etc. as personality types. Not sure that's true for Mickey, Minney and friends.

Yup. Mickey == Disney, it's pretty much a brand symbol. Nobody is going to touch that.

Winnie the Pooh... I didn't know until now that it's even associated with Disney in any way. I grew up reading & watching it as a kid, and even this year I saw Christopher Robin in the cinema (I must have mentally tuned out Disney logo at the beginning). Point being, it's a franchise now, and it still sells like hot cakes, to adults. All the adult friends I know have a sentiment to Winnie the Pooh, and are - or are going to - show it to their kids.

Not surprised Disney would want to protect that.

I would expect them to be more worried about Winnie the Pooh given the impact of China and Xi's sheer irrational hatred and sweeping bans over the one image comparing the two.

It's also complicated by the fact that Pooh is unambiguously in copyright in Europe until 2027.

Superman and Batman too are old enough to enter the PD, or at least the old comic books are.

Disney have Marvel now, which is printing money. I don't think they've done anything Mickey-related in a long while, they might actually let him enter the public domain. There would probably still be many restrictions on his use, his iconic shape is probably some form of trademark as well.

Many Marvel characters go back into the 30s too. The most popular ones are indeed "silver age" - Spider-Man, F4, X-Men, Avengers, etc, which is 60s so Marvel is safe there, but Marvel has a lot of characters from "golden age" from the 30s/early 40s - for example the original Captain America is 1941, Namor the Submariner is from the 30s, original Human Torch similarly.

But it's true most of modern Marvel IP is from 60s, and also it's hard to make an interpretations of the characters not based on the modern interpretations, and Marvel has trademarked everything from head to toes, including all the character designs and names (and even the term "super hero"), so... yeah who knows

> I don't think they've done anything Mickey-related in a long while...

They recently produced a number of shorts (like 3 seasons worth) starring Mickey, there are a few shows out starring him on the toddler focused market, they're building a keystone attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios around Mickey, they use him extensively in the parks still in new ways, etc.

He is still in very heavy use throughout the company, but I don't think Steamboat Willie entering the public domain will damage that. :)

This year was actually Mickey's "90th birthday" and Disney did a massive amount of promotion and advertising.


> I don't think they've done anything Mickey-related in a long while

Check out Disney Junior.

There's like 3 or 4 different unique TV shows on-air daily that all feature Mickey Mouse in one form or another. (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Micky and the Roadster Racers, Minnie's Bow-Toons, Tsum Tsum, Mouskersize, probably a few more.).

And that's just the shows -- there's brand new Mickey merch in toy stores all across America today. (There's even a Steamboat Willie plush toy in Target stores nationwide right now, if it hasn't already sold out - https://www.target.com/p/disney-mickey-mouse-90th-special-ed... )

We aren't in the target demographic for this stuff, so it's easy to forget about it. But Disney heavily promotes Mickey to the very young kids.

> I don't think they've done anything Mickey-related in a long while


Mickey and the related characters aren't all that popular in the US anymore but their likeness is immensely popular abroad in Asia. Stuffed animals and games of the original characters do really well there.

There's the "Get A Horse!" short and Kingdom Hearts 3, along with the kiddie shows the others mentioned. Mickey is still the linchpin of Disney's brand.

The entertainment industry has backed down from seeking copyright extensions.

They recently successfully lobbied for for life + 70 in TPP, and includes a similar provision in the USMCA (the successor to NAFTA) to compel Canada to bring its copyright term up to life + 70 also. The aim is to establish a new global norm of life + 70 / 95 years for corporate works, as opposed the Berne minimum of 50 years.

There’s still plenty of room to ratchet. Mexico, the other USMCA signatory, has life + 100 years.

(Disclosure: I work on this at EFF)

I wonder what effect the huge SOPA/PIPA outcry had on this change in position?

Citation needed.

The political environment and visibility around copyright issues has evolved, and there are other legal avenues that can be pursued by Disney.


> Will Congress do the same thing again this year? To find out, we talked to groups on both sides of the nation's copyright debate—to digital rights advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge and to industry groups like the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. To our surprise, there seemed to be universal agreement that another copyright extension was unlikely to be on the agenda this year. "We are not aware of any such efforts, and it's not something we are pursuing," an RIAA spokesman told us when we asked about legislation to retroactively extend copyright terms. "While copyright term has been a longstanding topic of conversation in policy circles, we are not aware of any legislative proposals to address the issue," the MPAA told us.


> we expect that Disney will try to use another body of law to suppress creativity and commerce involving Mickey Mouse, whether or not "Steamboat Willie" and "Plane Crazy" are in the public domain: trademark law. If you sell something Mickeyish—including its public domain cartoons—Disney might ask a court to stop you because people who buy the cartoons from you may think they're buying from Disney.

Maybe Mickey is not popular anymore, and Disney is moving on to newer IPs.

"walterbell, HackeNews - Dec 2018"

This definitely will have a great impact. In high school, there was a school directive that basically adds extra hoops to jump through if a literature teacher wants to assign as a reading some work published in or after 1923. The motivation was that the school was worried that poorer students might not be able to afford those works since they have to buy them. In the end almost everything I was told to read in the high school literature class was published before 1923.

For those who can wait, there's copyright expiration. For everyone else, there's LibGen. ;-)

That’s awesome. My dad taught English at a community college where they gouged students for a $125 “mercury reader”, which was a collection of public domain and licensed books in one big book.

Really?? So there were no libraries either at your school or in town?

I dunno when I was in highschool we read things from lots of different time periods, including things after 1923, and there was no mention of copyright worries in the slightest.

What library has 25+ copies of any book lying around, for an entire class to check out, for at least a month?

School libraries working to support an established curriculum? This was totally normal in my high school - the texts that would be studied by a particular grade were stable for several years at a time, so they would acquire enough copies for 2 classes (60 students).

Well every book I did a report on in highschool was either provided by the school or taken out from the library. If it was a book the entire class was expected to do, we would be provided copies. If we got to choose it was up to us to get them. I was poor and couldn't buy books for school. The library always worked for me. I did alright.

I feel it should be permissible to extend copyright indefinitely, so long as there is an extension fee, increased for each year of registration, without upper limit. Maybe first 35 years (~1 generation) free.

At year 36 you pay $100 to extend. By year 70 you're paying several million to extend. By year 90 you better hope that The Mouse is worth the twenty two billion dollars you owe.

That's what it was like in the 19th century. If I recall correctly copyright law was established because of book publishers and the initial legislation had a default of 14 years before works passed into the public domain. After the 14 years publishers could extend the term by paying for it but each extension was only a couple of years. This unfortunately drastically changed during the second half of the last century when Congress was lobbied extensively.

I recommend reading Lawrence Lessig's book "Free Culture" which came out at the height of the file sharing craze in the 2000s. It explains perfectly how we ended up here and why it doesn't have to be this way.

Not a terrible idea, although it obviously penalises individual authors vs big business. I would argue that it should only apply to businesses and inheritors, so that an author could still behest his IP as a worthy inheritance. However, I fear it would result, in practice, in another immediate bonus extension for existing IP (i.e. the Mouse would continue to be owned by Disney for free until 2060). After all, it wouldn't be fair to tell a company they have to find an extra $22b per year from next January.

I think the point of the escalating fees is that it tells them to 'fuck off' once it gets to a ridiculous point and it traps them in their own rhetoric. "Our IP is valuable they say." But they won't pay by hundreds of millions let alone billions for their old stuff...

> I would argue that it should only apply to businesses and inheritors, so that an author could still behest his IP as a worthy inheritance.

I see that I didn't write clearly what I meant to write, which was 35 years after the original copyright-holder's death.

> After all, it wouldn't be fair to tell a company they have to find an extra $22b per year from next January.

Copyright laws have already been changed with retroactive effect, so it's not as though any troublesome precedent would be set in that area.

Yeah, the only way it remotely works in theory is if the fee is some percentage of the revenue you earned off the IP in the last year.

Practically it's an unenforceable nightmare that is so prone to "Hollywood accounting" type gimmicks that doesn't work at all.

Don't make it a percentage of revenue, just make it an exponentially increasing amount, and the copyright holder will bail out when it's no longer profitable for them.

I don't think making it a % works. If that % is less than 100, then you never have any incentive not to pay it.

Revenue != Profit. There are costs associated with making money off of the IP. You'd stop when those costs and the cost of renewing are greater than the revenue taken in.

Not a percentage. A dollar amount, increasing faster than inflation.

This still presupposes that the concept of copyright is justifiable...and it's not. People generated creative works for all of human history, long before the concept of copyright, and they did so by building upon the commons. Copyright is theft from the commons, stealing from us all and robbing us of works that may have been. All because some people profit from Imaginary Property (which often infringes upon your actual physical property rights...).

Noos on Dec 20, 2018 [flagged]

Cool, let's do the same for programmers then. everyone here no longer is allowed to copyright or trademark software or hardware. If you want to develop it, you work for free, and you can flip burgers or something to pay for it. Because you know, intellectual property is bad and all.

You see how stupid this is?

You've gone a bit far.

Function of hardware/software isn't covered by copyright anyway, unless you have a patent then people can recreate your hardware as long as they don't copy artistic features (non-functional box design, artwork, etc.).

Trademark serves a very important function for buyers/users in providing attribution of origin. Indeed IMO it should be strengthened to protect buyers -- anything with registered trademarks should have origin details publicly accessible so that the specific factory and third-parties involved are also flagged for buyers and not just the company that put a badge on it.

That said, I support copyright strongly, but the period should be more like 10 years unregistered + 10 more with registration.

Copyright is not a natural right but it's granted by the public; long terms don't give a fair deal.

Slightly aside of this: DRM is antithetical to copyright, works that can't enter the public domain should be denied protection; they break the contract with the public.

I'd wager that barely anyone here actually sells software.

I've never worked for a company that did.

Trade secrets are a different matter.

I realise my situation is not universal, but for me personally nothing much would change if copyright was abolished. All the software that I make public is open source and I make money by making software, not by selling licenses.

Any consequence for me would have to be indirect.

That system is open to adjustment through legislation, which means corporations and their lawyers will bribe politicians to benefit themselves and rapaciously loot the commons, just as they have in almost every other facet of society.

This is an example of the Nirvana Fallacy: it's not perfect, so it's worthless.

The argument is only ever between better or worse, not perfection and nothingness.

I quite like this scheme too.

One benefit you haven't mentioned. All in copyright works are centralised into one register so you can actually tell if something is copyrighted or not.

I'd go for an initially shorter period though. 10 years freely extendable for another 10 years? I suspect the majority of copyrighted works wouldn't even take up the extension. And allows people to do interesting things with that book that no one read that much sooner, for example.

what is the benefit to the public of this system? basically none. the value /lost/ to the public by protecting things that are still popular (nobody will pay to protect unpopular works...) easily exceeds $100.

So this sounds like a really uncompelling idea.

So, Mickey Mouse curve is finally starting to crumble? Current copyright term is insane, it should be significantly rolled back.

How long for awesome video games to enter public domain? If only companies would open source games more often after about a decade when the game will likely sell in insane bundles on Steam.

Pong was released at the end of 1972, so let's say 1973 minimum. That's 50 years from now. In practice, the "awesomeness" we remember wasn't really there before the '80s, so it's more like 60 years.

Poor, starving Nintendo and their substantial revenue stream from Super Mario Brothers 1 might be three generations from now Disney when it comes to copyright extension.

There are different reasons that get out forward for copyrights, but the main one is generally money, incentivizing and compensating creative works. That reason can't credibly (imo) support these long timespans.

Few works produce revenue 50 or 100 years after publication. But even assuming a work dies, once you discount for time, revenue in 100 years is basically worth nothing now. Reducing or increasing copyright length by a decade would have almost no effect on working authors and can't financially incentivize their work.

Agreed: the ridiculously long copyright we've got now can't financially incentivize authors' work. Therefore, something else is motivating arbitrarily long copyrights. What is that motivation?

I would suggest just plain control freakery. Even in USA, control over employees and resources, even to the detriment of the corporation, seems to be prized.

I would guess that the main financial motive for ever-increasing copyright terms is strictly anti-competitive, in the sense that the studios are attempting to avoid competing with their own back-catalogs. There is more decent entertainment out there already than any one person could properly appreciate in their lifetime; the only way the studios can ensure a market for their more recent works is by banning all the older ones.

It might be that in order to have a coherent discussion about this we need to separate the concept of copyright into two areas.

One is the right to exclusive distribution of the original work. The other is the right to make derivative works from that work. In both cases the commercial/non-commercial distinction may also make sense, but I think these are the gross categories. Let's call these two new rights "cloneright" and "adaptright"

Since we lump them together, these two things get mixed up.

Cloneright addresses concerns about the ongoing availability of a work (or translating the work to a different format) causing problems -- old video games, old films, old music, out-of-print books, things like that being lost or hard to obtain because making electronic versions of them is not possible without the approval of the copyright holder. It seems reasonable that this should lapse on a relatively short time horizon.

Adaptright is a different matter, and is harder to quantify. I don't think it would be acceptable for other authors to write sequels to an author's books, or studios to adapt them without the original author's permission, for a longer timeframe than cloneright makes sense for. Saying that the lifetime of the adaptright is tied to the author's lifetime makes sense here. It can take a long time for a book to be adapted into a movie, and it makes sense to have the original author to have some say in that (unless they choose to forfeit that right).

It might make sense to break this further down by commercial/non-commercial usage, or even by type of copyrighted work (relatively few songs, for example, are successfully adapted to movies or books, so adaptright might have to mean something else there) but I think this is a better framing of the copyright discussion than lumping the two gross categories together.

In my eyes, copyright should be limited to 50 years after the first publication or the death of the author. This would still allow for proper commercial use of the works by the author, yet put realistic limits on how long a copyright holder can block access to copyrighted work. Because beyond direct usage of the copyrighted work, it always creates a risk for genuine new creators that their creations are percieved as infringing on some random copyrighted piece.

For figures like Mickey, which are actively used, rather trademark law applies. While the early cartoons might expire in copyright, that only gives the public the right to use those cartoons, not to create random "Mickey Mouse" products. That is a reasonable differentiation in my eyes.

Why 50?

To my way of thinking, copyright should be set to the minimum required to induce/allow creators to create. I can't think of any creative medium/industry that would look more than 10 years out (except maybe Disney with their Marvel and Star wars factories, but I think that supports my point).

Copyright is a government granted monopoly. We have pretty beefy laws regarding virtually every other kind of monopoly because its generally against the public interest. The only reason to offer the monopoly in this case is to encourage content creation. So the period of monopoly should be no longer than necessary.

10 years might be good enough for software, maybe movies and TV, but 50 is certainly a lot more appropriate for a book.

I know of one case where a guy wrote a book -- a gardening book -- which was quite popular for its territory and niche. Then the author died. Fortunately for his widow the copyright protects her now primary source of income. But for copyright existing beyond the author's life she'd be destitute. Books are a writer's pension plan.

Pensions should be a writers pension plan.

Replace the Author with someone with a normal job. Do their widows have some right to ongoing payment based on their partners work?

It just seems bizarre reasoning to me, that doesn't seem to be applied elsewhere. And it doesn't even work that well. The Paul McCartneys of the world are rolling in more money than they and their relatives will ever need. Mean while there are actual creators that need paying jobs to continue doing their creating.

Why does one creators widow/child/grand/great grand child have more of a right to a living than another actual creator?

If we want a paternalistic system where we look after creators, then fine, do it fairly. If you want a somewhat free market where we attempt to maximise value for all parties then fine do it fairly.

Edit to add: Copyright should allow/encourage creators to create. I'm not saying writers should have to churn out pulp fiction to make ends meet. I also don't think there should be an expectation that you can retire after one gardening book. The writer that retires after one book is a loss to society.

As a resonable compromise. Between 0 and the current 95 years, it is at a good middle. Also resonates well with the natural life spans. If your are creating works between 20 and 40, you have them under copyright for most of your life. The protection span should be long enough, that individual creators are not disincentivized to not publish creations early.

Lets (broadly) split creators into 2 groups. Individuals and companies.

Individuals tend to produce smaller works because theres only one of them, concentrate on less capital intensive forms of creation, and I would contend tend to create regardless of copyright. Therefore the focus should be on allowing them enough money to create. Does 50 years allow them to do that? The majority of a works financial success in general comes in the first few years. I don't think the long tail of income dripping in is going to meaningfully allow them to carry on creating, and the cost to society isn't worth it either.

Companies are more likely to work on larger, more capital intensive works. And are less likely to be intrinsically motivated to create. Creation is about what money they can make. Therefore the focus should be on arranging it, so that it is worth their time to create new works. Companies do not think long term in general. 10 years out is about the maximum. They aren't going to make investment decisions based on year 11. It will be based on years 1 - 10.

Will that film not get filmed because copyright is only 10 years? Will that book not get written?

I don't think those decisions will change, whether copyright is 10 years or 100 years. The only difference is society loses derivative works. What about that high successful fan fiction writer that never was? Or that director that (never) got their start remixing films? The status quo isn't some Neutral where nobody loses out. Subsidies we give to current and past creators have to be paid by some one.

Another thought just crossed my mind: if the copyright period would be a mere 10 years, then the Linux kernel up to 2.6.24 would be out of protection and close-sourced forks would be possible. So 10 years would defeat a lot of software licenses.

Why would that be a bad thing?

The only real difference I can think it would make is that set top box that you cant modify anyway no longer has a link to a 10 year out of date kernel.

That's a pretty fair compromise.

Off Topic Question. So can Public Domain be consider an open source license now? Previously I read there were lots of argument about it being now applicable to software.

In the US, if you put your software in the public domain it is in the public domain. It is not a license. With a license, you are retaining your copyright. You're just allowing someone to use it in ways not ordinarily allowed by copyright. If something is in the public domain, you do not have a copyright. You can't even issue a license because you have no legal claim over the work.

In many other countries, it is not possible to voluntarily put works in the public domain. In those countries, you need to have a license. This is where something like CC0 is useful. CC0 has not been approved by the OSI as an open source license, but that's not really an issue. However, CC0 does not contain a patent grant and so it's probably not the best choice for software if you are looking for an open source license.

> However, CC0 does not contain a patent grant and so it's probably not the best choice for software if you are looking for an open source license.

Patent license scares are greatly overblown and really only a realistic danger in case of corporate code. People tend to have the decency to point out that the algorithms contained in the code are patented. A license containing a patent grant might actually be dangerous because it creates a false sense of security for the receipient, thinking they have a valid title, only to find out later that corporation X actually had a patent on this algorithm.

Additionally, if you're sitting in a European jurisdiction, a patent license is completely pointless. Because software patents don't exist there. There's literally nothing that could possibly be licensed.

That's great if all the people who might use your code are in Europe, but for those in places like Canada, Japan, etc, they can't use your code without exposing themselves to risk. It's great if you say, "I won't sue you", but best to put it in the license ;-)

Can you point us to a definitive method of putting software into the public domain? I had a look around a couple of years ago, and I couldn't find such a method. I'd love to see one, however.

The problem is that it is literally not possible to put anything in the public domain except by waiting tens of years in many countries. CC0 is the license that offers the closest equivalent effect, but its still a license. There's not really any way to fix that except to lobby governments to make an international treaty to allow placing of artefacts into the public domain. I can't really see that ever happening, though.

If I were in the US, I think I would place the code in the public domain and then also offer a CC0 license to anybody not in the US. In that case, personally, I would offer a separate patent grant just to ensure that people can use my code without worry.

For me, I would only do that if I'm trying to make a statement about copyright itself. There are lots of good permissive software licenses around and I think it's much easier to simply pick one of them. However, I can think of a few people who specifically want to unshackle themselves from copyright and this is the closest way I know how to do it. It's a definite shame that you can't do it fully on the international stage.

I live in the USA. I'd like to put my software (https://github.com/bediger4000) in the public domain. What actions do I need to take to do this? I mean, pre-1976 you just didn't put a copyright notice on it. That was enough, it defaulted into public domain. Post-1976, it defaults to copyrighted, notice or not. What otherworldly ritual do I need to perform, or notice to put on my code, to ensure it's in the public domain? I presume it's not as easy as just telling a few people, "all that's in the public domain".

> I live in the USA. I'd like to put my software (https://github.com/bediger4000) in the public domain. What actions do I need to take to do this? [...] I presume it's not as easy as just telling a few people, "all that's in the public domain".

Well, it indeed isn't that easy. You'd have to provide some kind of fallback clause, which allows people to choose CC0 or some very liberal license (ISC, MIT) at their discretion – CC0 isn't OSI-approved and ISC/MIT has an attribution requirement, so there's once more a choice needed.

People could just believe you and use the software despite having no valid permission from the copyright holder if they're willing to take that risk and just act as if the code was in the public domain.

> I mean, pre-1976 you just didn't put a copyright notice on it. That was enough, it defaulted into public domain. Post-1976, it defaults to copyrighted, notice or not. What otherworldly ritual do I need to perform, or notice to put on my code, to ensure it's in the public domain?

You still need to perform an otherworldly ritual even if you have pre-1976 code. This is because even if you've failed to acquire copyright in the U.S., you still have completely valid copyright in states where copyright was already automatic at the time and where international private law refers to the law of the state for which IP protection is sought.

Yes, beefhash is correct (posting underneath to emphasise it :-)) Just one quick clarification if it's not obvious. If you don't care about other people and just want to put your code in the public domain the US (and you are in the US), a statement to that effect is enough. However, people outside the US will not be able to safely use your code. Someday if you change your mind, you can sue them. So if you care about those people you need to choose an appropriate license to offer them.

There is a good example of this that came up recently. Jason Rohrer wrote the game One Hour One Life and put it in the public domain. An unrelated group wanted to offer the game on mobile and in other markets (notably Japan). They specifically asked for his permission to do that. He agreed. As far as I know, that's enough. So it doesn't have to be complicated -- it's just a PITA for others to keep asking for permission if you don't give them a license up front.

No. There are two main ways for a work to lose copyright and enter the public domain: if its (very long) copyright term expires, or if the copyright holder dedicates it to the public domain. However, the latter may not actually be possible under the copyright law of some jurisdictions, which is why people recommend using a permissive license instead; that applies to code as well as to anything else that can be copyrighted. Nothing is changing with respect to that; indeed, there’s no new law at all. All that’s happening now is that the copyright terms of a bunch of old works, which were retroactively extended in 1998 from 75 to 95 years, are finally starting to expire.

What math and electronics textbooks where published in 1923?

Who cares about copyright, i consume all my content from archive.org

archive.org kind of has to care.

*First time in more than 20 years in the US.

Why doesn’t this happen every year?

Copyright length has been increased several times over the past century, so before any copyrights can expire, they get extended. "Oddly enough", each time, the extensions "coincidentally" tend to happen right before the Mickey Mouse copyright expires.

The only copyright extensions that affected Micky Mouse were the 1998 Act mentioned in the article, and the 1976 Act.

AFAIK, there have been several legislation changes (often at the behest of Disney) to extend copyright protection length. It was often done retroactively through several years of content. So many years of material were extended through this specific year instead of works expiring for a particular limit for work (e.g. 75 years).

It will from now on going forward, unless congress extends the copyright length again. 20 years ago congress retroactively extended copyright for 20 years.

Sonny Bono happened.

This is explained in the SP.

We’re coming for you Mickey Mouse

> At midnight on New Year's Eve

Don't count your mouse ears before they hatch, there's still time for Disney to step in and demand we support the poor artists by extending copyright terms.

I thought the whole reason for the extensions was not Mickey Mouse (he is covered under trademarks anyway), but Winnie the Pooh. Unlike Steamboat Willy Winnie is still making billions every year for Disney [0].

0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winnie-the-Pooh

Disney didnt obtain full rights to Winnie the Pooh until 2001. They have been lobbying about copyright extensions since 1990.

That is not what wiki has to say on the matter (the Winnie part, not the Disney lobbying). This is why I included the reference because I have heard this explanation before.

They've got until 2024 before Steamboat Willie enters the public domain. Until then we're just going to be getting the years from 1922 to 1928.

I wish that Congress would just say "Everything before Steamboat Willie is public domain, everything else has copyright in perpetuity". Just give us everything they can afford to lose while still getting paid.

How about instead we say "everything is death of the artist + 20 years, except for Disney, who will pay the government $50mm a year to keep that deal in place" and then if people want to fight a Disney battle, no one else has to care.

I am quite okay with making a disney exception because a few years after it was made people might suddenly gain some common sense and say "no that's stupid"

I don't understand why life+20 years is a thing though, even life seems excessive.

Let an artist profit for twelve years off their work and then release it for free use. The vast majority of money will have already been made and the innovation of their work will have worn off.

Because artists have family, and if that brilliant writer wrote a book a year before they died of cancer or old age or a stupid accident, I'm okay with his family getting the proceeds. The world can wait a decade or two. A generation or two, different matter.

Also, and here's the dark part: if it's just 20 years, rather than "life" or "life plus X", people WILL start getting assassinated just to get their copyright to expire faster.

> Also, and here's the dark part: if it's just 20 years, rather than "life" or "life plus X", people WILL start getting assassinated just to get their copyright to expire faster.

Nah, the assasination would happen if it's `min(life, 20 years)` or `life + 20 years`; there's no reason to hire hitmen if it's simply `20 years`, regardless of whether or not the author is alive.

I do admit, though, that after I wrote that I considered that we'd probably start seeing a lot of movies 21 years after their books were published.

At least in the USA, the legal justification is to promote progress in science and useful arts, not to give someone/some entity a monopoly on use an idea. If someone writes a great book and then up and dies (John Kennedy Toole, "A Confederacy of Dunces") I'm not sure that giving any entity a copyright promotes any kind of progress in science or useful arts. Toole can't write another book.

Yes, this is legalistic, but just giving some entity ownership over representations of anthropomorphized rodents doesn't really make a lot of sense either.

If I die suddenly do I have some right to demand that my employer/customer pays my family some amount of money. You are probably right that that's the intent but if so make it a fixed 20 years.

Your second paragraph seems to be saying the opposite of what you want it to?

The reason why we let copy written works remain that way is because then the profits of the artists work will always get eaten up by bigger companies. This is especially true in the digital age. Instead of artists profiting, corporations from netflix to amazon to spotify would profit instead of actual artists, and at least for big brand characters, Chinese toy companies would be able to undercut those who spent the capital building the brand around a given character.

So much of the American economy and brand is cultural exports, and this would absolutely destroy a huge chunk of that.

There's some precedent for this-- I think the UK has a specific cutout providing a perpetual copyright for a few specific works that were willed to charities.

12 years copyright, 20 years moral rights sound good to me.

3½ years of copyright (with royalties, transferable once) plus renewals every six months up to 21 years with moral rights along with copyright term and up to lifelong after copyright expiration (no monopolies, non-transferable authorship, attribution only) would be the solution.

This will satisfy all the industry and academics, bar Disney.

Why exactly do artists need copyright for 20 years after they are dead, again?

... why exactly do they need copyright, again?

IIRC, the idea is to help the (dependents of the) Kurt Cobains of the world: artists who die young and still have loved ones who can now depend on the revenue from the copyrighted works for at least 20 years. But IANAL, so I could be way off.

Why should children of artists get more help than say, builders, or doctors, or anyone?

Builders and doctors have regular salaries (or at least are paid in full upon completion of the work they do). The value of a creative work is in the income stream it creates over time. If you need the money now, you can recoup that by selling the rights. But it's hard to sell rights to an income stream that could disappear tomorrow if you were hit by a bus.

I'm pretty sure about 90% of professional creatives (artists, animators... programmers fall under almost all the criteria, too) are paid a salary as well. They work for DC, Disney, Amazon, etc. Tons working in either direct ad agencies or in the marketing departments of all kinds of business. All on a payroll.

Yeah, but they aren't who we're talking about here. That's called "work for hire" and it doesn't fall under an author's-life-plus-X-years rule. It has a fixed term.

Can you imagine the chaos if, every time someone died, everything they did for every company they worked for immediately fell into the public domain?


You're not wrong, but the same can be said of all inherited wealth.

I agree. We as a society should have this discussion, no one wants their children to live in poverty and people, while they live, transfer their value to their children - so someone who dies early has missed the opportunity to do the same to their children. But, the fact that the Waltons exist is just stupid.

To cover that scenario you could grant copyright to the creator/artist for "life or 20 years whichever is greater".

Why not simply "20 years"?

I don't think Courtney Love is the best strongman for this argument.

Because they have family. 20 years, so you and your dependents can enjoy the fruits of your labour, even if you died of cancer, or old age, or you got hit by a bus 2 weeks after publishing your best work yet at 32. Don't have a will? Then sure, have the copyright expire. But if you have family, and they're in your will, they are most certainly entitled to those fruits until the copyright expires, just like how they can get any other business non-copyright-workers can set up. 20 years seems perfectly fair for that.

And if that means you "leave a legacy" for 20 years, that your family can cash out on: no different from someone leaving their company or their land titles to their kids. Except that company or land will stick around a lot longer.

>no different from someone leaving their company or their land titles to their kids

So...feudalism. How about we not perpetuate inequality.

If you create a $100M business you can give it to your kids. They can own it forever.

I think is quite fair to say X years after death but only for family. Saying only while they're alive isn't quite fair.

Except when you give a business to your kids, they need to run it or pay someone to run it for them and still manage that. With copyrights that make money, your kids would not need to run anything, just collect the money. For one you need to work, for the other not nearly as much. That doesn't sound too fair to me.

The rightsholders still have to be proactive about marketing to maintain the popularity of the work and hire lawyers for enforcement. There's a lot of copyrighted work from the late 20th century on YouTube where apparently nobody is doing the work on either front because the videos have been up for years and have like 900 views. But I guess if something suddenly became a cult hit, it could be worthwhile to sue whoever instigated/profited from it.

Unfortunately the rightsholders tend to be publishing companies, not the kids, so the kids would still only get pennies on the dollar in royalties, if that. And technology is gradually making it easier for publishers to enforce their "rights" on even the stupidest, least popular works.

You have to reprint the thing so you can sell new copies of it. Or persuade a publisher that it's worth them going through the hassle and expense of reprinting it. Or hassle with getting it into newfangled distribution services so you can sell electronic copies of it.

Trust me, this is work, I am an independent artist who has a thing that's out of print that she now regularly gets people asking her to reprint, and I am so damn burnt out from my last Kickstarter that I'm ignoring this ever-growing mass of people eager to give me money.

To promote the progress of science and useful arts.

Estates are things. I'm sure a fair number of artists have been encouraged to publish towards the end of their life to support their children or causes they believe in.

Actually, since copyright is life + x years, an artist that wishes to leave his descendants with a source of income off of his works is better off creating a work and leaving it to them to slightly tweak and then publish as "by FAMOUS_ARTIST and his second cousin's daughter".

That way, copyright will last for the life of the involved descendant as well.

So I'm doubtful if anyone would publish anything just for the same of supplying for their children. It's just not the best way to achieve the goal.

Some artists die tragically early and leave behind families to support

Why are we okay with letting society and social safety nets off the hook of providing for these families.

What if someone barely making a living dies tragically early? If it's too bad for their family, why does that artist's family get a free ride - how did they contribute to what the artist created.

In addition to the other replies, I suppose it also removes some of the incentive for foul play if I want to use a copyrighted work and don't want to wait for a natural death.

The likes of Stan Lee should be able to pass their rights to their children, like you would a land deed. I think that's fair. Their grandchildren and/or businesses, probably not.

Why? If Stan Lee accumulated some wealth, he can pass that along.

Many artists get recognition only after they pass, e.g. Philip K. Dick.

Part of the problem with US copyright (and maybe Berne convention copyright) is that there's no good way to determine if something is copyrighted or not. "Death of the artist + N years" means you have to find the artist, find out when they died. Both parts can be difficult, see the "Happy Birthday To You" thing from a few years ago.

USA copyright was ridiculous before joining the Berne convention in 1976 (or thereabouts), but at least if something didn't have a copyright notice on it, it wasn't copyrighted. If it did have a notice, you could figure out when it expired. Now you basically have to go to court to decide for sure.

I like the sentiment, but it's unconstitutional under the equal protections clause of the 14th amendment.

There is a certain irony in saying that something is unconstitutional due to an amendment. The original constitution had to be amended in the first place, let's not pretend it's now somehow fixed forever and we can't possibly amend it any further as society changes over the centuries.

They can't say things are copyright in perpetuity. It would validate Article 1 Section 8 Chapter 8 on the US Constitution

Then just say for the next 999 years, or something like that.

Perpertual copyright is unconstitutional in the US and continental Europe due to multiple grounds.

It truly is the time of year

to change the rules without the ear

of the full gamut of distracted proles

working through their seasonal roles

What is the point of the public domain?

Say the Capitalists with malicious disdain

And politics has become, post-Obama

Another TV show of scripted drama

So expect the announcement

with breath well-baited

For the Disney law

to be further weighted

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