Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Copyright doesn't need 95 years to get the job done (fullstackeconomics.com)
418 points by jseliger 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 376 comments



> Copyrights should be shorter

You're going up against a big lobby. To do that you first need a functioning democracy.

In a place where "the people" rule, copyright'd be optimized to ensure a rich commons for everyone to enjoy. That was the original idea behind intellectual property law, e.g. copyright. Now it's big biz holding our culture for ransom.


I really wouldn't be so sure about this. Recently, Matthew Yglesias said something on twitter about excessive copyright terms and you should have seen the responses from writers, their fanbases, and (more generally) people who have never really thought much about the issue.

There is a deep intuition in our culture that creators own their works completely and forever. "Copyrights are about incentives" may be literally true, historically, but that's definitely not how regular people view this issue. They're entirely on the side of the "big lobby" you describe and they think anybody who disagrees is trying to steal food from the mouths of artists.

Yglesias deletes his tweets, but if you search "yglesias copyright" on twitter you can find some of the blowback, which basically boils down to, "creators live off the rights to their works, so if you change copyright, you're taking money away from artists and that's illegitimate." Here's one such popular thread:

https://twitter.com/silviamg/status/1367291186164109312

"The people," it seems, are copyright maximalists.


Please repeat after me:

Twitter isn't real. Twitter isn't real. Twitter isn't real.

Twitter doesn't represent a valid pool of actual human thoughts and opinions, no matter how many accounts appear to be involved or how passionately they're smashing their keyboards.

Twitter is hot takes and outrage sprinkled with a little positivity now and then, but it's a tap into the most irrational and rapid fire mode of conversation. It's not reflecting real, considered opinions. Basing legislative or political opinions on Twitter trends is bonkers.

If someone's knowledge about a subject consists of their feelings and 280 characters, their opinion is worthless. The other 99%+ of people that either aren't on Twitter or choose not to tweet means that Twitter isn't real.

It doesn't mean that Twitter isn't useful or a valid source of data about Twitter users that tweet, it just means that in the context of public opinion in the real world, you're missing 99% or more of data relevant to the question.


>Twitter is hot takes and outrage sprinkled with a little positivity now and then, but it's a tap into the most irrational and rapid fire mode of conversation. It's not reflecting real, considered opinions. Basing legislative or political opinions on Twitter trends is bonkers.

Exactly, trying to use Twitter as a cross-section of the public is absolute insanity. Twitter isn't a good place for nuanced opinion at all, in fact the very nature of microblogging means it's the exact opposite of nuance. Twitter is great if you want to promote the kind of black-and-white thinking of the witch hunter or the Puritan moraliser and it's pretty much useless for anything else. Twitter is a net negative for society in my opinion, as a platform it actively makes the world a worse place to inhabit through its harmful influence on politics and journalism.

It's not a matter of liking the opinions on Twitter, it's how the platform delivers those opinions. There's very little worth saying on any of the issues of the day that can be compressed into 280 characters. This causes all kinds of problems from the trivial (people spelling like literal children) to the really worrying (the fast-paced nature of such a platform has awful consequences for journalism).


Yeah, I don't think so.

I used to think this, too, but I think it's wrong, just like, "this woke stuff is confined to college campuses; they'll have to drop it when they get out in the real world" was wrong.

It's wrong because politicians listen to twitter (we agree that they shouldn't, but they do). It's wrong because campuses and twitter set the national conversation in a disproportionate way. It's wrong because the people responding to the Yglesias tweet I was talking about were some of the most famous and prominent writers alive. They aren't a random sample of the population and that's the point. They have an outsized effect on public opinion (especially on elite public opinion). It's wrong because twitter doesn't have to reflect the wider consensus to be impactful. It's wrong because twitter leaks out and infects the framings that normal people adopt, even if they don't know where it all comes from. It's wrong because mainstream cultural figures (like, say, late night talkshow hosts) are unduly influenced by twitter. It's wrong because what you say on twitter does affect your real life. It's not some magical place that your boss or your wife or your dean can't visit. They can and they do and it sometimes matters.

It's just wrong.

If all "twitter isn't real life" means is, "no single tweet thread is a representative sample," then, sure; that's obvious.

But in all sorts of interesting ways that really matter twitter affects "real life." It has all kinds of serious impacts on the national conversation, whether you're aware of it or not.


> Now it’s big biz holding our culture for ransom.

I hope we’re not talking about big-biz created works like Star Wars or Marvel movies being the culture that’s ransomed. We the people do have the power to create our own culture and commit any/all works to the public domain. A few people do this, but since we don’t have basic income or even great healthcare for people who spend months or years writing music, books, code, etc., a lot of creators do need the economic incentive and protection in order to commit their time.


Sure! That's what "good copyright" is for. But at some point Pooh/Mickey/etc become part of the public domain. That currently takes longer that I think is necessary to pay the artists, and largely in place to pay shareholder dividends of the big corps owing the intellectual property (IP).

It in then my artistic freedom to equate IP with culture and consider the really long expiry times "holding ransom".


The issue is companies are going to keep reusing stale properties for decades. That’s the issue, creating new works is what keeps things vibrant not rehashing what was popular 40+ years ago.

StarWars is 45 years old, Star Trek is 56 years old, and Iron Man is 59 freaking years old at this point. We don’t need to rehash stale stories, but nobody is going to innovate when a ready cash cow is there for the milking.


> We don’t need to rehash stale stories, but nobody is going to innovate when a ready cash cow is there for the milking.

If the original Iron Man was in the public domain, would they stop making new Marvel movies? Why, because the movies are currently driving demand for issues of Tales of Suspense #39 or Iron Man #1, and wouldn't be worth it without that?

Many of the classic Disney movies are based on stories that were in the public domain at the time of their original publication.

They keep rehashing old stories because they're lazy or are marketing to fans of the franchise, not because the original is or isn't in the public domain.


Would they stop making new Marvel movies? Largely yes as presumably someone would have already made todays Marvel movies 30 years ago. They tried rehashing the Spider Man origin story several times and people got bored because they had already seen it. I am not saying nobody would do movie adoptions, just that they would be made closer to the original content.

Consider every Shakespeare movie is in the public domain and sure every few years someone remakes Hamlet, but it isn’t a new major movie every year like clockwork. And nobody would be trying to stretch the Hobbit across three Movies to maximize profit.


Licensing isn't the thing that prevents big budget productions from happening. If they wanted to make a bunch of big budget Marvel movies in 1992, nothing was stopping them. They'd have just paid for the rights back then, the same as they do now.

What copyright expiration would get you that you don't have now is tons and tons and tons of fan fiction and small budget productions. A few of which would have been good and most of which would have been both terrible and ignored. Like every school play being Shakespeare, but now it's Spider Man.

And heretical crossovers. Deadpool vs. the Joker and things like that.

But Tangled, Frozen, Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, all the Peter Pan movies, they're based on public domain stories and they're still making major films out of them on a regular basis. The Snow Queen is one public domain fairy tale, Frozen is three movies.


Your examples of public domain movies take a rather flexible view of the source material.

Frozen is a long way from The Snow Queen. A queen had powers over ice there where trolls and someone was saved by a kiss, but in the Snow Queen it was a guy saved by the kiss and the trolls where evil etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone at Disney read it, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Peter Pan, Little Mermaid, etc adaptations at least share some basic elements of the story though their at most fanfics and really that’s all I am advocating.

Nobody is going to pay for the rights to the Hitman video game franchise and create The Professional. Because if you mutate the story that much you’re legally in the clear.


Imagine though a world where copyright is at most twenty years under special cases, ten years by default...

» Nobody is going to pay for the rights to the Hitman video game franchise and create The Professional. Because if you mutate the story that much you’re legally in the clear.

We would see new movies using footage from existing twenty year old movies maybe even a different cut of not so old movies.

I think age of five years for patents and twenty years for copyright is the maximum I can support.


Considering they are still making Sherlock Holmes movies and series... Yes they would still be making marvel movies, if they were popular. Other people might also be making them as well.


Using the character’s name is not simply remaking The Hound of the Baskervilles over and over. The recent TV series is both set in the modern day and has 154 episodes, that’s mostly reskinning a detective show not copying decades old scripts.

I don’t mind the idea of The Hulk fighting Godzilla or whatever, I get annoyed when the major blockbusters are rehashing old scripts.


That won't change. The movie studios are currently not capable of good writing.

Even when they follows some book, the moment the movie abandons books quality of writing takes nosedive. (See Game of Thrones, Witcher for prominent examples).

The studios just don't know how to write.


Plenty of good movies get made. It’s the compromises they need to make when aiming for blockbuster billion dollar revenue movies appealing to everyone globally which results in movies that suck.

A little pandering to the Chinese censors and nothing really offensive to anyone else etc.


I think copyrights are too long. But, devil’s advocate, I haven’t heard a super convincing argument as to why something I make should ever revert to public domain, especially while I’m alive. Why shouldn’t I have the right to take my work to my grave and never have someone else profit from it? (Not saying I advocate this; I don’t. I’m just asking for a more clear argument as to why the public should be able to co-opt some IP and call it “culture” just because it got popular and/or profitable.)


>But, devil’s advocate, I haven’t heard a super convincing argument as to why something I make should ever revert to public domain, especially while I’m alive.

Because you've got it backwards, you have no inherent right to any intellectual property you create, it's a legal fiction. Before copyright was a thing, freely copying and remixing the ideas and stories of others was the default. Once an idea is out there, you have no moral right to tell others they cannot share it.

Copyright is an attempt to give an incentive to people to come up with more good ideas and stories and music, but the default is that they belong to everyone.


I feel like this is arguing word semantics without attempting to answer the question. I was talking about within a society that already has copyright. Let me ask it another way: assuming that we have a copyright system, why should my copyrights ever expire? Why should our system not protect my ability to make money on my work, and allow me to choose who inherits the income stream and becomes the future owner of the work? Money and property can be inherited and doesn’t revert to public ownership, why should IP? (Again, note I’m asking for discussion’s sake and for clarity, not suggesting my personal beliefs or advocating a specific policy.)

I feel like “default is that they belong to everyone” is a framing that doesn’t quite make sense, it’s mis-using the word “belong”. The less loaded way to phrase what you’re saying is that without copyright, there’s nothing preventing someone from copying my work, not that it’s somehow inherently everyone’s property (which is literally to say that it’s no-one’s property.)


I am not sure why the copyright system existing already or not changes the argument.

However, to answer your question, the reason is right in the linked article… the first order benefit of allowing everyone to copy everything freely makes the world a better place… if everyone can download and read a great book for free, everyone gets a free book and no extra resources are used… that is a lot of utility created.

Of course, the worry is the that the second order effect will be fewer people create works because they can’t support themselves if everyone can just copy their work.

So we create copyright to mitigate that second order effect, but we still want to maximize the first order benefit of as many people getting access as possible… so the best way to do that is to set the copyright term as short as possible so that people are incentivized to create as much work as possible, but still get the benefit of free copying as soon as we can.

As the author points out, no one is going to decide not to create a work just because they know they won’t be able to profit from it in 70 years… if people are still going to want it in 70 years, that means it will be very popular and certainly financially still worth creating even if you can only profit for say, 20 years.

So the tl;dr… we want copyrights to expire because we aren’t incentivizing more creation by having copyrights not expire. Basically, the ideal would be to tune the length to keep being shorter until we see a drop off in output of creative works.


> allowing everyone to copy everything freely makes the world a better place

Yes, this is the actual reason that copyrights aren’t infinite. It just seems hand-wavy, full of assumptions, and rather vague as a justification from the creator’s point of view.

What I’m hoping for is the kind of clarity and specificity behind “makes the world a better place” that could actually be used to guide thinking about how long copyrights should last. Right now, the article and this entire comment section feels more like an argument over personal opinions and assumptions, and lacking enough evidence, enough historical understanding of copyright, and enough philosophical rigor to justify a specific number of years.

BTW, I completely disagree with the article’s framing of “first order” and “second order”. They are reversed, as a persuasive tactic, but incorrectly so. The first order effect is the money and content value that changes hands as part of the transaction on offer by a creator. Letting the public at large benefit from free copies is both an economic and a temporal second order effect that doesn’t have tangible value, and comes with some economic harm that requires balancing.


> BTW, I completely disagree with the article’s framing of “first order” and “second order”. They are reversed, as a persuasive tactic, but incorrectly so.

The article is not speaking about the first order benefit of the work being created originally… it is talking about from the perspective of piracy… piracy advocates always make the argument “well the creator doesn’t lose any money when I download the movie, and I get to watch a movie… I win and no one loses, how can that be bad?”

The article is trying to point out that the counterpoint to that is that yes, for the particular work you are downloading that might be true (no one loses and you gain), the second order effect of piracy might be a reduction in creative works being produced.

So what is first order vs second depends on what you are talking about… the creation of the work or the copying. I think it is useful to frame it this way because piracy advocates always start their argument from the work already existing.


I am talking about the 1st/2nd order effects of the work being created, which I feel like has to be the assumption if we’re going to talk about making the world a better place. Assuming the work is already created and starting from the question of piracy kind-of undermines the idea of making the world a better place, doesn’t it?

I mentioned somewhere else, but Copyright Law already specifically rejects the claim that copying without permission is not hurting the creator. That claim doesn’t hold water when the pirate is enjoying the value of the work, and is ignoring the costs of it’s creation including time. Piracy advocates need to address the history and philosophy of copyright that’s already been debated and decided if the argument is to be taken seriously.

Short of piracy, I’m still left wondering how to decide copyright terms.


I'll give it a go:

It's a bit like a startup. That is: creating the thing isn't the only part - getting people to want it, i.e., finding a market for your product, is intrinsical.

Case in point: Van Gogh. He only became greatly appreciated after his death.

What does that mean for copyright? In this line of reasoning, copyright during life of the creator is reasonable. A work may become a cultural touchstone for ever (Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, Bach/Mozart/Beethoven), for one or two generations (Elvis Presley/Cliff Richards[1]), or maybe it becomes simply widely known without being considered an indispensable part of culture (Venga Boys - Boom Boom Boom). During life of the creator, the creator's efforts should be protected and she/he should be allowed time to get her/his creation ingrained in general consciousness. Post-life, the heirs could be allowed some time to reap what was sown - e.g. 10 years, extendible once for 10 years for payment.

As the OP, I'm not saying this is my view on copyright. I am wondering why society should think it owns something I created. "Because others benefit" is insufficient in my opinion: if you're posting on HN, you're in the wealthy half of the world population. Others would benefit if society took half of what you own and distributed its value to those significantly less well off.

I'm in favour of the concept of ownership myself, but I don't see why creative works should be exempt from that.

[1] at one point in time, there was an Elvis vs. Cliff vibe. Possibly strength depending on where you lived (more apparent for UK/EU folks?).


i think the argument goes that all human culture is remixed from human culture. if you write a book it's safe to say you have borrowed from other works of culture. you might have put a new spin on it but that isn't to say you have created something wholly new. how could you possibly claim to have crated a new artistic work uninfluenced by previously created artistic works? thus how much of this work do you truly own?

when you look at the Disney animation classic's back catalogue you see an awful lot of work from the commons. does this not display the value of having these works in the commons?


That 70 vs. 20 year argument assumes a bunch of facts not in evidence. In a star-search business, the outlier winners are a big part of what sets compensation levels for the authors that don't have runaway successes. It's possible, even likely, that cutting copyright terms back to an unprecedented 20 years --- that's shorter than the term we had in the 1700s --- would in fact drastically reduce the amount of work that gets produced, by making even the hits so unprofitable that nobody will invest in their authors.

Meanwhile, if you rolled back the last two big extensions --- CTEA and the Berne-joining Copyright Act of '76 --- and brought us back to 1909, you'd still have 60 year terms. I'd flip the argument around and claim that no copyright opponent on HN would accept 60 years either. So what are we arguing about? Does term have anything real to do with this?


I probably should have left off mentioning any actual number of years, since my argument was not trying to argue for any specific length of time.

The question I was answering is if we have copyright at all, why shouldn’t it be infinite in length? The answer is that the incentive copyright provides to creators has diminishing returns, and eventually provides no extra incentive… how long that period actually is is not obvious, but it is likely somewhere way before 95 years. And since society gets a benefit when works enter public domain, society has an incentive to try to set the length of time as short as possible while maintaining the incentive to create.

I am not trying to argue for an exact length of time, just explaining why we don’t want it to be forever.


I agree it shouldn't be forever. Maybe it should even be shorter. But I don't look at the market for original authorship of cultural works and think "wow, this a lucrative field to get into". Most authors are just barely getting by.


That is also part of what the article is pointing out… after a few years, only the wildly successful works are going to continue to have demand enough to make copyright matter… 99% of creators aren’t going to be affected at all by the length of copyright, so 99% of creators will not care either way.


I know I'm saying this for the 50th time on this thread so I'll keep this short: it is not the case that just because only 1% of works are still throwing off cash 50 years later that a 50 year term only benefits 1% of work. The probability that any given work will be profitable 50 years from now is priced into lots of deals; that's how star-search businesses work.


I’d be curious on the economics for publishing… probably varies by the genre. I can’t imagine most tech publishers, for example, are banking on profits in 50 years.

Someone probably could get industry numbers for how much publishers make on copyright older than 50 years… and with the time discount for 50 years of not having the money to use for other purposes… and see how much each creator gets in the star-search lottery


Frame it a different way.

If you share with society should you be able to control other people's use of it?

How does that benefit society? Remember the rules are enforced by society and need to serve society.


Copyright Law is the existing and established answer to that question that society has agreed upon. The article already explained how it benefits society: by protecting the people who create things of value for long enough that they can profit, in order to incentivize the creators to create. I don’t see how asking this sheds any light on the discussion, am I missing something or can you elaborate more?


We are discussing whether changing it makes sense. Society can agree to change the rules. Creators are not creating because copyright exists they are creating to make something. Copyright allows them to be the only person making money from their work. Why grant them that right when it doesn't exist in other industries. Come up with an amazing idea like selling bagged milk and everyone can copy you. Should we give them 95 years to be the only person who can sell a bag milk?


I’m not sure I understand what you mean; that right does exist in other industries in the form of patents and trademarks. You can register BaggedMilk(tm) and get protection. You can patent your bagged milk process or invention and get protection, if it’s a new idea. The terms aren’t the same as copyrights, but the protections and the reasons behind it are similar.


Trademarks aren't similar at all. Fundamentally, you have to make it clear that you're a competing product and you can do whatever you want.

Patents and copyright go hand-in-hand in protecting ideas. But patents last 20 years.


Here is the USA copyright was designed "for a limited time" that is why your copyright should expire. The question becomes "what is a limited time?" My belief is that the artists lifetime is too long, and the artist it isn't really limited. I also dont believe you want copyrights to end with the artists death. So pick a limited time, good for everyone. I say 25 years.


> copyright was designed “for a limited time” that is why your copyright should expire.

That’s just circular, not a reason. The explanation & philosophy behind limited terms isn’t justified with “because it was designed with limited terms”. The rationale was stated in the article, and is written into copyright law. I don’t have any beef with your opinion, but so far it’s only an opinion and not backed up by clear reasoning or evidence. 25 years is shorter than copyright has ever been in the US, even in 1790, more than 200 years ago.

If you believe creator lifetime is too long, part of the question is whether you would really stick to that if you were making money from your own work. Imagine, if you will, that you write software for your employer. Your software is currently protected by copyrights. But if that software copyright protection expires in 25 years, then any software you write can be legally taken by a brand new startup that doesn’t write code, it only sells code other people wrote, even using other people’s marketing material, including videos and imagery your company built. They offer your product for cheaper than your employer can, because their operating expenses are one hundredth of yours. Can your product & employer survive this, will your job last? If your job were actually on the line and might disappear suddenly anytime the company you work for has their work expire, do you still stick to your opinion that 25 years is enough?


>> copyright was designed “for a limited time” that is why your copyright should expire.

> That’s just circular, not a reason.

Oh, sure -- but no more circular than:

>>> I was talking about within a society that already has copyright. Let me ask it another way: assuming that we have a copyright system, why should my copyrights ever expire?

...now is it? The obvious counter-question is, why should you have any copyright at all; why should we assume that we have a copyright system in the first place?

> The explanation & philosophy behind limited terms isn’t justified with “because it was designed with limited terms”

No, exactly. So, as the article says: Limited terms are a practical compromise between the per se equally unjustifiable extremes of "no copyright at all" and "eternal copyright". So what's the use of even asking for some principled a-priori-rationable reason in response to an article that explains why precisely that is not attainable?


Ironically, we have excellent examples of your ideas in practice. Video games from 1995 are lost to time because they cannot be legally duplicated and delivered and even if they were the os to run them is under copyright and no longer sold. Meanwhile, the source code to all MSFT oses before XP leaked and it hasn't hurt them at all. Might it hurt them a bit if DosBOX used that leaked code to make a better emulator? I don't see how, they're already no longer selling that code.


I don't see issue. 25 years sounds entirely reasonable copy right protection period for software. Meaning that you can freely sell 25 year old versions of software. If you haven't upgraded or released new versions under new term, you really don't deserve protections. Sell version 1 in 1995, it would be now free. On other hand the version 2 with more features as non-free upgrade released in 2000 would still have some protections left.

Trademarks are also different from copyright. It gets complicated, but you shouldn't be able to do confusing things with them.


> Let me ask it another way: assuming that we have a copyright system, why should my copyrights ever expire?

Because copyright exists for a reason, not by nature. Assume we have a copyright system, sure. We've got one. The thing is that people made that system. Why did they do it? What was the reasoning for making that system, and is the current system still functioning the way we wanted it to function when we created it?

We can't completely ignore the reason why copyright exists, because copyright isn't real. Copyright isn't a right, there's no natural moral reason to for it to exist, it's not a property right and there's no coherent framing of copyright as a property right that makes sense when examined with the same rigor that we use to examine other property rights. Copying an idea doesn't deprive anyone else of anything other than a monopoly over other people's behaviors, which is not something that we usually care about when talking about natural rights.

We don't claim that inventing a better mousetrap is violence because it puts the old mousetrap makers out of business, so there's no good way to phrase "a monopoly over profits" as a natural right that people are morally entitled to. And the more we go down that road (independent invention, the fact that copyright can't exist without a public domain because very little of what we create is original, etc, etc...) -- we just keep finding problems and situations where copyright doesn't make sense as a moral right.

But there's an even bigger problem: it's not just that copyright isn't a moral right, copyright is also a restriction on the rights of culture itself. One of the most human things in the world that you'll find in every culture is that human beings share things with each other: ideas, stories, thoughts, and emotions. Copyright restricts people's freedom to share ideas, to fix their problems, and to exercise their own autonomy. It also intrudes into the free market, allowing emerging monopolies over content, and allows content to be weaponized to manipulate other parts of the market. It also restricts the collective autonomy of a culture to define itself and and to define its own cultural language.

However, despite all of these problems copyright is also a very convenient way to make sure artists get paid for the things they make. This is why humans invented it.

So the question becomes: given that copyright is a pragmatic restriction of both individual and cultural rights, are we going just far enough to make sure that artists get paid and that they're incentivized to make new art, or are we going farther than that and restricting people unnecessarily?

----

> The less loaded way to phrase what you’re saying is that without copyright, there’s nothing preventing someone from copying my work, not that it’s somehow inherently everyone’s property (which is literally to say that it’s no-one’s property.)

To be clear, I am not in the first camp. I would say that no one has a moral claim over an idea, you can not logically own a thought or a story, and I don't think that is a way of looking at the world that stands up to scrutiny. I would not say copyright is just the way that society protects your idea, I would say that an idea is literally "no-one's property", the latter part of your sentence is correct.

I'll kind of issue the same challenge back to you in the opposite direction: I have heard moral arguments for copyright based on ideals of fairness or out of people deserving compensation when they help society. Some of those make sense, that's stuff we care about. However, I have never heard an internally consistent explanation of how someone can inherently own an idea that stands up to scrutiny in the real world; IP as a natural property right doesn't make sense either from a Libertarian/Anarchist perspective or from a Collectivist/Communist perspective, it's kind of amazing how many different worldviews it clashes with.

There's a huge amount of work that has been put into the phrasing of copyright and IP as "property" and "right", the names aren't accidental. But it's just pure propaganda, it's phrased that way so it sounds better to you. Copyright is a purely pragmatic invention designed to encourage production and to compensate artists. It has the same moral weight as any other administrative law we've invented: that is to say important and beneficial and worth having around, but only important in so-far as it accomplishes its original goal. Past that point, IP is an abridgement of actual natural rights to things like free speech, cultural exchange, and even (when we get the DMCA involved) actual property rights to tamper with and inspect products that people actually own.

There are decent arguments for multiple different copyright policies in multiple directions. But most of the decent arguments are based around pragmatism and policy (whether or not copyright is actually accomplishing its goals in its current form); they're rarely based around some kind of mythological right people should have to control everyone else's ability to imitate them or share information freely.


Outside of your innate right to split someone's skull open with the nearest tree branch and take the freshly killed squirrel out of their dead hands, pretty much all rights are legal fictions. You have to do better in your argument than to point out that the balancing acts we do in our laws are artificial.

What we're discussing here is a right that's been baked into American law since its creation; it's not a random idea Sonny Bono had in 1997.


No, people can actually protect themselves from theft by securing their property. You however can’t protect a book after selling it to someone else, that’s the legal fiction.

Also, IP law is relatively recent in American law which originates from England and France. Originally copyright only protected works from authors inside the country was only extended to foreign works in 1891 making it roughly half the age of the US.


If you copy my book I'm going to break your kneecaps. How is that any different from securing your property presumably through violence?


For one how can you detect it? You just sold me the book, what are you keeping goons in the house of everyone that bought a copy?


IPR is literally in the main text of the US Constitution.


A lot of things are the main text of the US Constitution that are not inherent individual rights: the entire text about how representatives are allotted between States for example.

To say that in the natural world people don't always have their rights guaranteed does not mean that Senator age requirements are in the same category of Right as a Right to a fair trial. One of those is a moral right and one of them is an administrative policy.

The age of copyright in the relation to the US is kind of weird debate to have, because in general we would want to look considerably earlier than the formation of the US to talk about moral rights, or at least we would want to look at arguments outside of the Constitution to try and figure out whether Copyright is a moral right or a pragmatic policy.

----

All we really get from the Constitution is:

> To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Which just leads to more endless debate over what "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" actually means, and whether a government right to regulate something is the same as an individual right/entitlement to a specific regulatory outcome (usually we don't treat those two things as the same). And we can go down that rabbit hole of what the founders intended, but in some ways that debate almost doesn't even matter when we get into what people are morally entitled to, because if the argument is that copyright is a natural property right that people are morally entitled to, that argument shouldn't boil down to "Jefferson thought so."

Looking at what the founders intended really only matters if copyright isn't a moral right, it matters if it's a policy designed to produce an outcome because then we can look at intent and see if the policy is producing the desired outcome. If people want to argue that they're morally entitled to a monopoly on pieces of culture, then they need a much stronger argument for that position.


Nah. The problem people have with copyright is the monopoly it gives the creator. That objectionable term is right there in the language of the copyright clause. There's no abstraction to flee to here. You can't reasonably argue that it's "new to American law".


> There's no abstraction to flee to here. You can't reasonably argue that it's "new to American law".

What does that mean though? If you want to claim that copyright is a moral right, saying that it was invented early on in American history isn't a good enough argument to justify that. Lots of things were invented early on in American history that are not moral rights, they're just useful policies.

The US Constitution includes language like:

> [Senators and Representatives] shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

No one would seriously claim that this means the Constitution is arguing that people have an inherent right not to be prosecuted while they're at a government job. It's a practical policy we put in place for practical reasons that should be examined through that lens.

And copyright is the same. The fact that the US Government reserves for itself the right to regulate commerce/sharing around ideas/inventions does not confer any moral right to any individual to have a monopoly over ideas. It merely gives Congress the right to establish that monopoly as it sees fit.


I claimed that it's not new to American Law, citing the text of the US Constitution as evidence. I kind of don't know what it is that you're trying to argue; I think it doesn't have anything to do with what I'm saying.


To be clear the ability to have copyright was enabled by the constitution, but the constitution didn’t directly create any such laws.


Which dates back to 11 years after the founding of the US, but hundreds of years after the settlement of the the US.

And as I just said it only recognized works created in the US and therefore didn’t represent any recognition of copyright as some universal fact. It was a relatively ad hock compromise extending some at the time recent developments in English law.


It was originally 14 years, renewable for an additional 14 year term if the author was alive.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_copyright_law_of_th...


It was almost 60 years as of 1909, 14 years before Disney existed. But if you believe the right itself is a fiction, I'm not sure what the term has to do with anything.


How is 1909 relevant to the origin of copyright?

The article explained how limited copyright is a useful incentive apart from any moral view. And it explained how the term affects the costs.


> Before copyright was a thing, freely copying and remixing the ideas and stories of others was the default

You describe this as something positive without considering that it was basically impossible to survive as an author (or any other creative professional) before copyright existed unless you had a rich patron sponsoring you (who obviously had his own agenda) or were independently wealthy. It wasn't really feasible to make a living by selling your work to actual consumers. I mean just look at Cervantes one of the most popular writers in Europe at the time who died in relative poverty and obscurity and who was basically only able to write and publish what he did because he found a rich nobleman willing to finance him.


> Why shouldn’t I have the right to take my work to my grave and never have someone else profit from it?

Because Mickey mouse is just a mouse and Frankenstein is "the modern Prometheus" and Star Wars is a western movie where "Lucas has said that the plot and characters in the 1958 Japanese film The Hidden Fortress, directed by Akira Kurosawa, was a major inspiration" (Star Wars came out only 19 years later, in 1977)

nothing we create is "ours" let alone forever...

There's an argument on incentives, if copyright ends after say 20 years, media companies could simply wait 20 years to use the content for free, it's possible, but I don't think it's probable.

I imagine a system where if the publisher makes a lot more money (with a lot to be defined) than the original author made before the creation went public domain, then they could be forced to compensate the original author.


What if you write a book which only becomes popular 20 years after you first publish it. In that case the publisher(s) would make a lot of money and the author would get nothing (of course with ebooks nobody would likely make any money..) how would that be fair?


> What if you write a book which only becomes popular 20 years after you first publish it

I would thank the Gods because they gave me a second chance when nobody, including me, expected it and probably other books of mine would be rediscovered as well and I would be contacted to write something new.

The point is that after 20 years of producing zero income, anyone would lose interest and if it gets a sudden popularity it's probably someone else's merit.

But we are talking about extremely rare conditions.

What if you buy a house and sell it the day before its price skyrocket?

What if you buy stocks and the day after you sell them they go up 10x?

You the author have moral rights over the creation, you'll always be the author, but your rights to an economic compensation over something you created should be limited in time.

Especially because most of the time economic rights are sold to entities that only care about profiting from the IPs and nothing else.

Publishing a book it's much like publishing an opensource projects, once it's out, it's out, it's no longer yours.

A friend of mine is a popular comic book writer in my country, he has been publishing comics for over 20 years, growing his audience over a long span of time. When he suddenly had a spike in popularity, the first thing he did was to publish a collection of all his past works, sell it and make a profit (the comics are all still free on the web for those who wonna read them without paying)

He is the author and controls the source material, he owns all the originals he owns (and wrote) all the scripts, they have great value even if the copyright was hypothetically expired.

But let's look at it from another angle: what if an unknown book becomes popular 25 years after the author wrote it, because someone saw a great potential in it, a potential that 25 years before wasn't even there and adapted it to make it resonate with the present?

Think about disaster stories about climate change or a pandemic, they are much more popular now than 25 years ago.

Isn't it the person who did the research and found the book in the first place the real protagonist of this story?

Should the author be compensated because there was an outbreak?

On the other hand, if you want to adapt a story, wouldn't you contact the original author first?

Publishing something that becomes a hit it's always worth it, even if your economic rights on it have expired.


> What if you buy a house and sell it the day before its price skyrocket > What if you buy stocks and the day after you sell them they go up 10x?

I don't see how are these in any way equivalent unless I made an explicit choice to renounce (e.g. by selling it) the ownership of my work unless I was actually legally forced to sell my house 20 years after I bought regardless if I want to or not.

> Publishing something that becomes a hit it's always worth it, even if your economic rights on it have expired.

But the the author would likely not be the one profiting the most or at all in this case compared to large publishers and other corporations.

Talking about the rarity of such situation the Witcher series is a pretty good example. The books were modestly successful in Poland and other Centre or East European countries and only became internationally popular after the video games released. While it did not took exactly 20 years (between 18 and 23 years for individual books) for the series to be translated to English let's assume for the sake of argument the copyright would had expired by then. So the publishing companies that published these books in English would have been able to keep 100% of the profits and wouldn't be required to compensate the author in any way. How is that fair? And how does that benefit anyone besides the international corporations which own these publishing companies? Especially considering that it inherently disadvantages authors writing in languages other English (or any other language with a huge market). Publishers could just wait 20 years before copyright expires before translating anything and avoid paying royalties to the author.

Basically how I see it, you're proposing that companies or individuals that are better capable at monetizing someone else's work should have the right to not compensate the author and keep all the profits for themselves. Which is both unfair and disincentivizes creating new content in the first place. Why create something new when you can take something someone else wrote/created in the past improve it and/or invest more into marketing or distribution mechanisms than the original author was able and sell it for a profit. I mean Disney is successful not because they own the copyright of some old movies featuring Mickey Mouse but because they have the capital, the brand and know-how required to create successful new movies and these factor would make large corporations even more dominant if they could just legally make movies/other content based on books or script for free as long they waited for 20/X years (instead of having to wait until the Author dies + X years).


> I don't see how are these in any way equivalent unless I made an explicit choice to renounce (e.g. by selling it) the ownership of my work unless I was actually legally forced to sell my house 20 years after I bought regardless if I want to or not.

you asked WHAT IF

it is not like that right now, and it's wrong IMO

> But the the author would likely not be the one profiting the most or at all in this case compared to large publishers and other corporations.

so, what are you exactly arguing about?

> Basically how I see it, you're proposing that companies or individuals that are better capable at monetizing someone else's work should have the right to not compensate the author and keep all the profits for themselves

That's exactly how it is now.

And it lasts a century (more or less)

Do you really think that authors are paid in percentage of the publisher's profits?

The majority of them get paid once when they sell their rights, and that's it.

Usually it's not even a large amount.

But you got it completely backwards, what I wrote is

I imagine a system where if the publisher makes a lot more money (with a lot to be defined) than the original author made before the creation went public domain, then __they could be forced to compensate the original author__

> So the publishing companies that published these books in English would have been able to keep 100% of the profits and wouldn't be required to compensate the author in any way. How is that fair?

That's exactly what everyone gets wrong.

They bought the rights for a relatively unknown story paying peanuts, made it big and profited.

Do you really believe they paid a lot of money for something that was relatively obscure even in Poland?

Do you really believe that the Witcher could become a HIT on its own merits?

Shortening the life of copyright would make this hoarding practices useless, because everybody could make a Witcher after 20 years, now nobody can, because whoever bought the rights will keep renewing them for a century.

> I mean Disney is successful not because they own the copyright of some old movies featuring Mickey Mouse but because they have the capital

No it's because Mickey mouse is a trademark and they will sue everyone who tries to create whatever fictional mouse.

So other large corporations will make a pre-deal with Disney to be safe and smaller ones will avoid the mouse thing entirely.

If it really wasn't so important, why spend so much money to defend it?

Life long copyright is the root of all evil in the publishing/entertainment business.


>Do you really think that authors are paid in percentage of the publisher's profits?

For books authors generally get a percentage of revenue (with some caveats) which is even better.

> They bought the rights for a relatively unknown story paying peanuts, made it big and profited.

I assume the the author still made a lot of money from increased book sales.

> Do you really believe that the Witcher could become a HIT on its own merits?

If it was written in English then perhaps.

> I imagine a system where if the publisher makes a lot more money (with a lot to be defined) than the original author made before the creation went public domain, then __they could be forced to compensate the original author__

Sorry I think I missed this bit. However again this would only benefit the publisher and not the author until the threshold is reached. After it's reached I assume authors would get something similar to what they get under the current system?

I'm not completely against having some compensation mechanism similar to books royalties for derived works like games or movies under which would be entitled to receive some % of revenue as opposed to whatever they have negotiated with the studio in advance. However I'm afraid this would disincentivize studios from making on movies based on less successful/well-known books altogether.

> Shortening the life of copyright would make this hoarding practices useless, because everybody could make a Witcher after 20 years, now nobody can, because whoever bought the rights will keep renewing them for a century.

Is that a necessarily positive outcome? Even if you don't believe that authors should have the right to excise creative control over their work why is it any better for the society if anyone can freely make movies, games or sequels based on the Witcher universe?

Even if is, wouldn't it better to ban or limit the exclusivity clause in contracts rather ban copyright all together? (e.g. Authors could have the right to sell their rights to multiple companies or any contract would legally be limited to fixed numbers of years after which the author would be able to resell them someone else)

>No it's because Mickey mouse is a trademark and they will sue everyone who tries to create whatever fictional mouse.

Unless you're suggesting that trademarks should be abolished as well Disney will still be able to do that.

>Life long copyright is the root of all evil in the publishing/entertainment business.

I disagree, I think overall it's one of the main reasons the current publishing/entertainment industry even exists and the world would have been a much bleaker place without it. I mean yes corporations often abuse the current system and it's flawed in many ways but throwing it out of the window and introducing an arbitrary 20 year (or any other fixed limit) would just further disadvantage individual authors without solving any actual problems.


> For books authors generally get a percentage of revenue (with some caveats) which is even better.

Yes and it's very small.

Like less than 10%

You make more money by autoproducing.

Very few authors make money with books.

> Is that a necessarily positive outcome? Even if you don't believe that authors should have the right to excise creative control over their work

Please, stop using this false dichotomy and to pur words in my mouth.

You have to stop talking like what you're saying is true, what is true and what usually happens is Felix Salten that sells the story of Bambi to a movie director for a thousand dollars, the director then sell it to Disney, Disney wins 4 oscars and makes a pile of money out of it while Salten dies alone in Zurich few years later without even being mentioned in the Disney movie.

The English translation has also a complete different meaning than the original German one. Talking about creative control...

The story of the copyright of Bambi is interesting because after Salten death his daughter fought for the rights and after a few controversial rulings, her husband, that continued after Salten's daughter's death, won.

But that means two things

- nobody knows what the original author would have wanted, but others that never wrote a single line of the book claimed the rights

- with that ruling the US courts basically said that as long as someone renew the copyright, it can well be ethernal, there is no need to be authors, there is no right to creative control (which is granted BTW for being the author, that has nothing to do with copyright, you conflate the two things constantly) it's all about the money

In the end those holding the copyrights most of the times are not the authors, Disney wrote none of the stories that made him rich and famous.

So the rethoric about poor authors not being compensated it's completely fabricated, it's already happening, it always happened.

It's the "think of the children" of the publishing world.


You think you're mostly right. The one thing that bothers me is that you seem to be suggesting that because the current system is bad for most authors we should replace it a system that's bad for ALL authors (i.e. instead of introducing sensible limits or restricting the ability of corporate entities to hold copyright, or allowing authors to renegotiate their contracts based on the actual revenue earned you're basically suggesting removing it all together (the 20 year limit is simply infeasible due to the arguments from my previous comment)).


> For books authors generally get a percentage of revenue (with some caveats) which is even better.

Yes and it's very small.

Like less than 10%

You make more money by autoproducing.

Very few authors make money with books.

> Is that a necessarily positive outcome? Even if you don't believe that authors should have the right to excise creative control over their work

Please, stop using this false dichotomy and to pur words in my mouth.

You have to stop talking like what you're saying is true, what is true and what usually happens is Felix Salten that sells the story of Bambi to a movie director for a thousand dollars, the director then sell it to Disney, Disney wins 4 oscars and makes a pile of money out of it while Salten dies alone in Zurich few years later without even being mentioned in the Disney movie.

The English translation has also a complete different meaning than the original German one. Talking about creative control...

The story of the copyright of Bambi is interesting because after Salten death his daughter fought for the rights and after a few controversial rulings, her husband, that continued after Salten's daughter's death, won.

But that means two things

- nobody knows what the original author would have wanted, but others that never wrote a single line of the book claimed the rights

- with that ruling the US courts basically said that as long as someone renew the copyright, it can well be ethernal, there is no need to be authors, there is no right to creative control (which is granted BTW for being the author, that has nothing to do with copyright, you conflate the two things constantly) it's all about the money

In the end those holding the copyrights most of the times are not the authors, Disney wrote none of the stories that made him rich and famous.

So the rethoric about poor authors not being compensated it's completely fabricated, it's already happening, it always happened.

It's the "think of the children" of the publishing world.

Actual copyright laws made nothing to prevent it while also making it close to impossible for many authors to innovate over the existing material, that's why we see only (kinda boring) superheroes movies nowadays and to see something different we have to watch South Korean productions


Ok, lets pretend IP never reverts to the public domain. Before you write the first word, pay a license to the heir of whoever invented written language. And spoken, for that matter. And invented paper, and the pen. Then to the heirs of all the folk tales and myths you'll inevitably be borrowing from, consciously or not, starting with the epic of Gilgamesh.


But that's not how copyright works, you don't need to pay anything to the original author if you're merely borrowing their ideas even if the original work is not in the public domain. You're free to make a movie 'inspired' by Star Wars as long as you don't actually copy anything directly, use any character names etc.


You're making a legal argument, about how things are, not how they should be. If we're talking about "how copyright works", 100 years ago it worked very differently from today.


The ability to preserve, study, and build on works is very important to me. Some of my favorite fiction is fanfiction, there are many ROM hacks and mods that improve games I've played, etc. Shorter copyright would enable these things by making them legally possible sooner. I think there would be more high-quality media and software if copyright was shorter, in the 20 to 50 years range.

I'm also not hurting anyone by making copies of things, the only negative side-effect is that the creator might make less money. On the other hand, the fact that it's illegal to make modified versions of copyrighted works, or to send them to my friends, has been a significant inconvenience in my life and to my creativity. Money for the author is important, and we make concessions for that by having copyright, but in the absence of anything else the default ought to be freedom, not copyright.

I'd go for 20 years of copyright by default, with the option of renewing up to 50 years, which ought to be long enough for the creator to make their money.

As an aside, I don't care if others sell copies of my work, that's why I prefer to release it under open-source licenses or into the public domain directly.


> I'm also not hurting anyone by making copies of things, the only negative side-effect is that the creator might make less money.

This is not true, and this is codified into copyright law already. A discussion of copyright cannot continue past this point until it’s understood and agreed that using others’ work without permission comes with multiple kinds of social harm. People can be and have been sued for breach of copyright without either making a financial gain nor taking away from the creator’s financial gain. It’s fundamentally damaging because it’s not yours to copy and distribute, and there are reasons beyond money why, including a variety of ways it can affect your reputation. The law has only been getting more clear on this point that nobody should have to justify why they wish to reserve all rights and not allow others to take their work, which is why copyrights became default-on for everything created, and no longer requires registration.

> I don’t care if others sell copies of my work

This is great! This must mean that your income doesn’t depend on your creative work, right? It’s important to fully understand that many people do care, not only if others resell their works, but they care deeply if others even redistribute their work.

20 + 50 seems like it could be reasonable-ish to me but how do you arrive at that “ought to be long enough to make their money”? How long does it take, on average, for creators including all the non-Disney entities? Given that this has to work well on balance for everyone. Why should it even matter how long it takes for a creator to “make their money”?


(I meant 20 + 30, not 20 + 50, sorry for the confusion.)

I don't think I understand in what ways it can be damaging to reputation. Maybe you mean if I pretended to be the original author? Because in that case I think it's a different issue than copyright. You can have no copyright but still have laws about proper disclaimers and proper attribution, and I'd be in favor of that. I don't care if I have to clearly and explicitly label all my derivative works as a "fanwork", so long as I'm allowed to legally make and distribute them at all.

Other than that, you mentioned "multiple kinds of social harm". But I'm looking through your other comments on this submission, and the only other place where I've found where you explicitly state a harm is here:

> That claim doesn’t hold water when the pirate is enjoying the value of the work, and is ignoring the costs of it’s creation including time.

Which as far as I can tell is just the money issue again. Sorry if I missed another harm that you mentioned, but for now as far as I can tell every harm is either money, or a harm which can be addressed by much less restrictive laws than copyright.

Now, assuming that money is the only harm of copying, which is what I believe, then it's the only issue that copyright needs to deal with. And given that copyright has harms of its own, both socially and with respect to freedom*, then once money is dealt with I think the copyright should be removed.

So then it becomes a debate on what would be a "reasonable" copyright, which would mostly avoid the "money" harm, while also mostly avoiding the harms of copyright itself. I don't think it makes sense to reward children for their parents' creation (except insofar as they might inherit money that the parent has already earned), so I think anything longer than life is already much too long.

I think 50 is more than enough, since someone making a work at 20 will be able to receive income from it until they're 70, which is almost their entire life. I think it's very rare that a work will make no money for the first 50 years but then suddenly start making money, but even in that case the author will probably have already moved on, made more works and/or made money in other ways by then, so at that point the monetary harm is less important.

I'm in favor of requiring manually registering to extend copyright past 20 because I think most works will never make money and are not intended to make money (most memes, for example), so those works should become public domain faster. I also think that most works that make money will have started doing so in the first 20 years, so it will be rare that a money-making work will unintentionally enter the public domain after 20 years.

I'll note that I'm less confident about registration than about shorter copyright. However, I view the "manual registration" as a compromise, so if we removed it and just went for a flat number of years, I would advocate for less than 50 years, maybe 30 or 40.

(*I think it's a restriction on my freedom that I have things in my head which I can't use. It wouldn't be realistic to argue that I should avoid looking at any copyrighted material my entire life, and as long as I can't feasibly do that and still take part in society, I will have ideas derived from copyrighted works and be unable to legally act on them)

Edit: I should also address startups and corporations making software. In that case, 50 years is already quite long, and the software almost never stays exactly as it is, it evolves. And every new change will last another 20-50 years. So you'll only be able to use version 20-50 years out of date, so in almost all cases the corporation will still have their competitive edge.


> Now, assuming that money is the only harm of copying, which is what I believe

This is exposing your assumptions, biases, and lack of complete understanding of copyright and the history of copyright. It doesn’t take long to find examples of reputational damage if you search it, nor is it hard to imagine some, so it seems clear you haven’t even tried.

Reputational damage that can affect a creator’s entire business includes, but is not limited to: someone distributing lower quality copies, leading to a reputation of low quality; someone distributing cheaper copies, leading to a reputation of being too expensive; many people distributing slightly changed works, leading to a reputation of stylistic abundance, non-exclusivity, or non-uniqueness. Plagiarism is different than copyright, but there absolutely is overlap, and making derivative works that contain large sizeable portions is a gray area where the derivative author can legally take credit and give the impression that they authored all of the work when they didn’t.

The rest of your comment is elaborating on your opinions without providing any of the justification I asked for. What makes you qualified to opine on how long it takes for a creator to make “enough money”? What makes you qualified to decide that a certain amount of monetary harm is “less important”? I don’t care how many years you think feels good to you; I’m asking for an evidence based demonstration that it’s the right number for society, or a strong argument for why that shouldn’t be the criteria. Neither of those is easy, but you haven’t even broached them.


I did propose a solution to all these reputational damages you mentioned: requiring clearly labeling derivative works as derivative works. Someone selling something that looks like your work won't affect your reputation if they have to explicitly and clearly disclaim that the derivative work has nothing to do with you. We can make this requirement last significantly longer than copyright.

And someone selling copies cheaper might give you a reputation for being too expensive, but a) that's the money issue again, and b) this can only happen after 20-50 years, at which point you've had plenty of time to build your business, and c) even after 20-50 years, you only have a problem if you were completely stagnant, because any new changes you made to the work will last 20-50 years after the most recent change.

If you don't think that this solution is sufficient, then it would seem that we've found the main point of disagreement.

You also asked:

> What makes you qualified to opine on how long it takes for a creator to make “enough money”? What makes you qualified to decide that a certain amount of monetary harm is “less important”?

The way I answer these questions is by viewing money as a means to an end. I think money only matters insofar as it positively or negatively affects someone's life, so to me the question is, "to what extent is this person negatively impacted by less money 20-50 years later, compared to everyone who is negatively impacted by the restrictions on their actions?"

---

As for the rest of my comment, I was elaborating on my opinions, yes. And yes, these opinions are largely based on what seems reasonable to me. I don't have the desire nor time to do a thorough study to find the actually correct number of years, and even if I did, the question is sufficiently complicated that I expect that there would still be a lot of uncertainty left even after thorough research. In addition, since it's partially a moral issue, gut feeling will always be a necessary component of this.

Finally, your original question wasn't about concrete numbers, merely persuasiveness:

> But, devil’s advocate, I haven’t heard a super convincing argument as to why something I make should ever revert to public domain, especially while I’m alive. Why shouldn’t I have the right to take my work to my grave and never have someone else profit from it?

So I don't feel bad about explaining my own point of view, which is persuasive to me even if not to you, as an attempt to answer that question.


Fundamentally, copyright is the government promising to beat up anyone that copies a protected work. Now, we don't live in a complete dystopia, so it's not literal beatings. It's legal protection and the beating up is the infringer of the copyright having to pay a bunch of money to the copyright holder. That means that the government is spending resources in order to maintain that copyright. Government is funded by "the people", and so "the people" are paying to beat up anyone who sells a Mickey Mouse doll.

In actuality, the reason it doesn't work like you'd expect is because "the people" are separate from "the government", and it doesn't actually cost much to maintain copyright. But there are a bunch of interested parties in getting to keep monopolies on copying for long periods of time.

But yeah, the reason they shouldn't last forever is because they are relatively expensive to maintain, and some great works can come from public domain stories (case in point, the lovable Mouse who used Grimm's fairy tales as the basis for all of it's most profitable works). Life of author? Definitely. But if the author assigns rights to a corporation? Probably shouldn't allow it to extend 200 years or whatever Disney is up to. Disney won't die, so there is no natural end to the monopoly, and Disney has also proven that they aren't interested in branching out to new stories (perhaps because us humans like the old ones so much).

A reasonable copyright in a digital age is probably something like life of the author, or 25 years after transfer to a corporation. This still effectively provides 75+ years of protection for most works, but then the author gets more say (because transfer of ownership can't happen without giving up monopoly rights sooner), and things like film and games and such aren't locked up for hundreds of years, as it would be surprising to have them owned by a human.


> Why shouldn’t I have the right to take my work to my grave and never have someone else profit from it?

You have! Then just don't publish/share/release it. Take it physically to your grave.

Once you publish it, I also have the "natural ability" to record it. Copyright limits my ability to record/reuse what I technically can by what is allowed. Copyright, and other IP rights have been sold as to give the original creators some head start which would make investing in such works more easy, in the end leading to a more rich commons for everyone.


Your argument across multiple comments doesn't cohere. You mention "good copyright" upthread, but here have somehow derived an innate right to record and reproduce anything you technically can, which is an argument that relitigates the entire premise of copyright, which is to artificially restrict that innate right in order to incentivize people to author new works.


> You mention "good copyright"

That means short copyright, just enough to increase innovation.

> but here have somehow derived an innate right to record and reproduce anything you technically can

No, that's not a right, that just a technical ability. Copyright outlaw that ability.

> to artificially restrict that innate right in order to incentivize people to author new works.

Exactly that is what all IP law does imho.


I see the tension around copyright as an instance of the tension between our personal independence and our social interdependence.

Your special effort or unique inspiration may indeed produce something valuable - and it is just that you, the individual, be rewarded for that value.

But it is also just to recognize that your ability to produce anything useful is built on the efforts and insights of countless others, most whom you have long forgotten or are long dead. The vast majority will receive no recompense for their part in your success, particularly (in my experience) the most deserving.

So it seems to me that to demand a reward at the moment of inspiration may be fitting, but the longer a society enforces an exclusive reward for ideas inevitably built on the back of the entire community, the more likely that enforcement has made the transition from something just to something unjust.

Pontificating aside, the current system makes me sad.


Because even if your name is on it, the idea that “you” made it is not really true. Someone made materials for you, somebody taught you the skills needed to make the thing. There was a whole functioning society that allowed the work to be made in the first place. The society was also the thing that enforced the property rights for some arbitrary length of time. At some point, the society that helped create the work should share in the spoils.


Fine, so tax it. This doesn’t amount to a pro-argument that someone else should be able to divert my income stream and my creative work for their own private gain.


There’s no counter-argument to make beyond my self-interest in consuming creative works at very low cost and with very few limitations outweighing your self-interest in profiting from your works.


There is a counter argument to make, and that’s not it. If getting free stuff were the primary argument in favor of shorter copyright, our court system would have extended copyrights forever already.


Congress is the one that’s dramatically extended copyright length, not the courts.


Sure, fine. I stand corrected and remain unsatisfied by still not hearing any clear or compelling reasons to shorten copyrights. Congress isn’t extending copyrights on their own, their doing it because they’ve been asked to by businesses like Disney. The length hasn’t been extended “dramatically”, any time recently. No more dramatically than in the past. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_law_of_the_United_St...


The only compelling reason is to give broader and cheaper access to past works. If you don’t find that compelling then I don’t know what to tell you. What’s the compelling argument for them to exist as is?

The big extensions came in the mid-70s and late 90s, well within living memory. According to your own link they nearly doubled the average duration and pushed it over 100 years.


Where do you get a doubling of the average copyright term?

> What’s the compelling argument for them to exist as is?

You’re asking why does copyright exist?


I mean, you can apply that logic to other IPs like vaccines as well. Imagine if the polio vaccine was never public domain until 95 years after everyone involved in inventing it died.

I don't see why being the first to come up with something means it has to be yours infinitely. Most research can be duplicated. 10, 20, 30 or more years of exclusivity, sure, I see the logic in that. But if you truly invented something novel and can't monetize it within a few decades, you're doing something wrong.

I also think about the electronic music scene and how it freely remixes older songs from the 1970s etc. Imagine if that never existed.


This comment is confusing patents with copyrights. But allow me to take it at face value anyway.

Let’s not pretend that Star Wars is as important as the Polio vaccine, or that we aren’t able to differentiate between artworks and medical technology. We can and do already have exceptions to the copyright law that allow for important social uses, so I don’t buy this argument.

> I don’t see why being the first to come up with something means it has to be your infinitely.

This doesn’t answer the question of why someone else should be able to take what I created for their own personal gain.

A lot of song remixing falls under Fair Use Copyright Law. Some of it doesn’t, and even if we like it, maybe shouldn’t be allowed. The question at hand is at what time can I just copy your entire album verbatim and sell it for my own profit, unmodified. That’s what copyright expiring enables.


> We can and do already have exceptions to the copyright law that allow for important social uses, so I don’t buy this argument.

I think this misses the point that parent is making. The ordinary protection period of a patent is just a couple of decades (not only for specific exceptions), and that seems to be sufficient. The goal of each system is to encourage creative qodk. We still get plenty of inventions. So why should the ordinary term of copyright monopoly be so much longer than the term of patent monopoly?

> This doesn’t answer the question of why someone else should be able to take what I created for their own personal gain.

This feels like a shifting of the burden. Shouldn't the system of intellectual property be the thing that needs to justify itself, rather than the other way around? Copyright isn't a natural state, it involves paying the courts and police for enforcement, giving them additional powers, criminalizing additional activities, etc... People can go to prison for violating the set of rules copyright sets up. Every such system needs to have good reasons for it's existence that outweigh the problems caused by the system, so the conversation should be more nuanced than "why should you get to copy X without paying for it?"


> I think this misses the point that parent is making

I don’t, it’s important to clearly differentiate between patents and copyrights, and parent’s example was discussing patents and not copyrights in the context of a discussion purely about copyrights. The reason patent terms are shorter is because patent inventions are considered more important to release into society in a timely manner than works of art. It makes plenty of sense that the business case for music and books and other individual personal or creative works might often take much longer than for, say, industrial corporations. There are hardly any solo inventors actively getting patents compared to the vast number of people creating music and art.

> Shouldn’t the system of intellectual property be the thing that needs to justify itself

It already is justified, and the article re-iterated those justifications while arguing clumsily (IMO) for shorter terms. I’m not debating whether we should have copyrights. I’m just exploring and curious about how to justify any given balance point, and how to reason more clearly about terms. It’s not that easy, and can’t be as quickly stated as many many people seem to assume. People are just throwing around numbers that “feel” good to them, not because they’re aware of the history of media and IP and the many varied problems and experiences people have had.


>> I think this misses the point that parent is making

> I don’t, it’s important to clearly differentiate between patents and copyrights

Why?

The distinction seems quite artificial to me -- "intellectual property" is "intellectual property", isn't it? -- so IMO its proponents own the burden of justifying it.


> Let’s not pretend that Star Wars is as important as the Polio vaccine

Then surely the protection for silly Western-in-space films should be shorter than that for important medical breakthroughs, not considerably longer as it is now?


> We can and do already have exceptions to the copyright law that allow for important social uses, so I don’t buy this argument.

Those exceptions only cover a small fraction of the important social uses you get from public domain works.


Because it's taxpayer funded enforcement. The walmart employee funds the guards around George Lucas and kim kardashian's castles.


The police are taxpayer funded enforcement of the things in your house and in your bank. Should personal property and wealth savings also revert to the public because of this? It would be a stronger argument if the creation of the work was taxpayer funded, then that would be a decent reason to have the protections lapse eventually.


IP is not property. If you put your chair on display, then yes, people should¹ have a right to make a similar chair and copy and share ad infinitum, but taking the original chair itself would be a no-no. It's not a good comparison.

To take thing further, there are various takes on personal property, with broad acceptance that yes, personal property should (gradually) revert to the public (taxes), otherwise very bad things happen (see inequality). Some societies do not have personal property beyond some personal items. Property/ownership has vast negative consequences (exacerbating greed, poverty, starvation, mass suffering; many wars are fought for property), though I'd agree it is in many ways better than alternatives, especially if the state and taxation dulls some of the sharp edges.

¹ By default. We may argue to what extent some restrictions may be reasonable as an imperfect way to achieve a certain goal.


> IP is not property.

It is, and not just because it is in the name. It is the right to exclude people from a defined set of actions with regard to a defined subject, which is exactly what property is.

(Now, you may think it is not, in your value system, the kind of thing in which property rights naturally exist, and it's pretty clear that the authors of the copyright clause were at least sympathetic to this for the kinds of IP it authorized, which are limited in scope and to advance a defined public purpose.)


> It is the right to exclude people from a defined set of actions with regard to a defined subject, which is exactly what property is.

That is not what property is.

Ownership of property is the right to decide how a good will be consumed (i.e., used up). It means that the property owner can consume the good without needing anyone else's permission, and conversely that anyone else requires the owner's permission to take any action with regard to the good which would result in its consumption—whether temporarily or permanently. However, this limited exclusivity is a consequence of scarcity, and not central to the definition of property. If someone else can can derive some benefit from the property—for example, by painting a picture of someone else's house—without interfering with the owner's use, they are perfectly free to do so, as this does not involve consuming the good, and the owners' rights remain intact.

Only scarce, rivalrous goods are subject to being used up. Superabundant goods, which includes everything to which copyright and patent rules might apply, cannot be consumed, even temporarily. One person's use of or benefit from the copyrighted work or patented process does not interfere with anyone else using or benefiting from the same work or process. As such, there is nothing here to which the concept of ownership may be applied.


> That is not what property is.

No, the ability to exclude others is exactly what property is.

> Ownership of property is the right to decide how a good will be consumed

Exclusivity is the defining feature of property interests. It's true that there is a common view of rights to consumption and alienation as dividing those property interests that constitute “ownership of property” (that is, ownership of the subject of a property interest) from those that are mere “ownership of an interest in property”, but that's not germane to whether or not IP is property though it might be to whether the subjects of IP are genuinely “owned” by the private holders of IP rights.


Obviously we are approaching this in the context of different frameworks with different definitions of property. IMHO attempting to define property as a right to prohibit others from deriving any benefit from the good—regardless of whether their actions affect your own use of the good—is self-contradictory, contrary to human nature, and a source of needless conflict. Scarcity is the obstacle here, and property is how that obstacle is addressed. If there is no scarcity then there is simply no point in attempting to allocate property rights—you're taking something superabundant and making it scarce for no net benefit.

Even if you do stretch the definition of property to include copyrights and patents, however, the fact remains that these are non-rivalrous goods, which implies that you are not harmed when someone else ignores your claim to exclusivity. No response involving force (including fines, imprisonment, etc.) could ever be proportional to the supposed offense, which means this is a "right" you cannot justly enforce.

Exclusivity, and the ability to justly enforce it, are common characteristics of property exactly because most of the things people try to classify as property are scarce and rivalrous. You can try to extend the definition to include things which are neither scarce nor rivalrous, but if you do so then the justification for enforcing property rights no longer applies to all such "property". At that point you've accomplished little beyond turning the word "property" into a useless label that could be applied to almost anything and which does not imply anything about the rights of the property owner.


I didn’t argue that IP was property. I responded to the suggestion that the reason to have a limited copyright term is because enforcement is taxpayer funded. I’m pointing out that this reasoning is inconsistent and has no strong basis.


I'm pointing out your reasoning is unfounded non sequitur. Physical property does indeed revert to public domain, hence it does not make sense to add requisites for release of intellectual restrictions. Requiring public funding for only-temporarily-private IP would make things more inconsistent.


Because it allows others to build on it without limit.


>I haven’t heard a super convincing argument as to why something I make should ever revert to public domain, especially while I’m alive

Overlong copyright terms lead to what we have now, where digital libraries either ignore copyright law (libgen, scihub), or have the best features of ebooks (easy copying and transmission, access from all regions of the world, unlimited simultaneous readers, etc.) crippled by DRM, or have limited collections of works by living authors, or are locked behind paywalls (Elsevier.)

Copyright law could provide a time-limited monopoly on copying that is a reasonable balance of public benefit with incentives for authors to create additional works, but currently it does not and harms both purposes.

I expect many authors are less concerned with verbatim copies of their works being distributed than for derivative works or adaptations being distributed. Perhaps copyright should be split a bit more finely.


You can do that. Just keep it to yourself!


It seems like what makes sense is protection for trademarks/brands/characters should be infinite, because it’s clear that there’s harm in just letting anybody make their own “Nike” shoes or make a really crappy movie starring “Mickey Mouse”.

But, you could still put actual works in the public domain after ~20 years. I think there’s a difference between being able to freely copy and use a video of “Steamboat Willie” and having full use to put Mickey on any shabby product anyone in the world wants to.


That's exactly why the argument is that copyright should be shorter, not non-existent. When you publish something, 99% of the time are that you are going to make most of the profit in the first few years after release. If you're in the tiny percent that creates something that will last decades, then you'll probably get rich and successful enough that you won't need to extend the copyright any longer.


> When you publish something, 99% of the time are that you are going to make most of the profit in the first few years after release

This is true of big-biz movies, but not true of the many volumes of works by smaller creators, independent artists and smaller companies. Sometimes artists don’t enjoy success for decades, and then it happens long after their most influential work. And even when it is true, just because you make the “most” in the first year doesn’t mean the following years are inconsequential, right? The argument needs to be compelling as to why someone who wasn’t involved in the production of a work deserves to be able to take that income stream for themselves, and divert it away from the creator, without paying or creating anything themselves. I don’t hear that side of the argument.


If I published my own copy of a public domain work I'm not diverting the income stream away from the original creator's estate. Yes I'd be taking some income from it, but the descendants of the author are equally able to do the same. Framing it as of I'd be totally diverting income from the creator is disingenuous.

Besides, I'd still be providing value by taking the time to publish the work and provide it to customers.


I wasn’t talking about taking copies from the public domain, it is you who’s being disingenuous. If I’m alive and I make something people pay for, why should you ever have the right to make and distribute copies of my work without paying me for it? Turn the “me” and “you” around and assume you created the work, and tell me why I should be able to profit from your work, how that is “providing value”?


> Sometimes artists don’t enjoy success for decades, and then it happens long after their most influential work.

I know there are notable examples of this, but they are notable because it's incredibly rare.


No it’s not. It frequently takes a long time for something unknown to get popular. There are thousands upon thousands of albums and artworks and books that didn’t get popular until a decade or two after they were made. Another example you might not be thinking of is software startups take 10 years to get going all the time, and their entire codebase is protected by copyright.

That said, I’m still not hearing a particularly compelling reason why copyrights should revert. Regardless of how long it takes for something to get popular, why should your protections expire such that it becomes legal for me to wholesale copy something you made, and turn around and sell it as if it were mine?


You're talking about inventors laboring a decade or two in obscurity. Not 95 years. By that time the money's been rolling in for three-quarters of a century, perhaps to the grandchildren, never having worked a day in their lives while others toil away for their benefit, simply because of a distant accident of birth. That's the cost of generational wealth. It persists because, by the rules of the money game, the current generation of workers is enslaved by the debt of wealth created in the past.

Having said that, I do agree it's unrealistic to assume that that truly democratic institutions would abolish long copyrights. I think that the majority of people who are invested in this issue imagine that they are just one bestselling book away, one hit song away, one TikTok meme away, from being wealthy creators. The idea that someone else might re-upload and unfairly profit from their own habanero sauce snorting video, that they worked so hard to perfect, is anathema to them.


I have mentioned above I’m in favor of shortening copyrights. I have my reasons, but I’m also asking to hear more compelling and clearly stated reasons than “I want free stuff” or “it’d be better for everyone if things were free” or “it should be free because big media is already rich”.

> I think that the majority of people who are invested in this issue imagine that they are just one bestselling book away […] The idea that someone else might re-upload and unfairly profit from their own habanero sauce snorting video, that they worked so hard to perfect, is anathema to them.

I wouldn’t be quite so glib. The history of copyright, and the state of the debate today, is far more interesting than your assumptions here. First of all, the driving force behind updates to the copyright law in recent years is big business, not TikTok memers. Second, the economic sectors of Information (based on copyright protected code), and of Media and Entertainment (based on copyright protected artwork), are larger than utilities, construction, education, and corporate management combined, for example. This is a large and core part to our economy and not something that is primarily being discussed because of a few artists with little more than hopes and dollar signs in their eyes.


> it’d be better for everyone if things were free

This is compelling for me. Not so I can have free stuff, but because it's beneficial to society to have access to these things without worrying that it's going to vanish. Think about kids in school, there's tons of literature and plays that they can use for free already, but wouldn't it be nice if they could read something more modern that would maybe get them more engaged?

Another argument I hear sometimes is that when you release something to the public, doesn't that in some sense belong to everyone? The original Star Wars trilogy is a significant piece of modern culture, and it hasn't been released in it's original version since 2006. That really doesn't seem right. I'm not necessarily saying it should be public domain right now, but it would be nice to watch it with my grandkids without apologizing for the terrible scenes they added in the 90s.


> but I’m also asking to hear more compelling and clearly stated reasons than [...] “it’d be better for everyone if things were free”

How could anything be a better reason than that?


It's not stealing if it's an idea, if it's just a concept. I am not taking your hard drives, I am not ripping you brain cells out of your brain. I am simply no longer allowing you to restrict my usage of something that you have freely given to me, whether that be a DVD you sold me, or my memory of something you said.

And it's not like I will take all your business just like that. People will still buy from you by default. If people buy from me instead, that means I am providing some value that you are not providing. And that is good for society.


The false idea that you can’t steal copies has already been dealt with multiple times in this comment thread, and it’s addressed directly and rejected by our Copyright law. A compelling argument needs to be able to accept the fact that taking copies is harmful and demonstrate that the good outweighs the harm.

> it’s not like I will take all your business just like that.

Yes it is, that is exactly what happens when copyrights expire, and the debate we’re having is precisely over whether it should be legal to take all of the business because you’re better at marketing than the original creator. If you don’t do it, someone else will, more so now with the internet than ever before.

> People will still buy from you by default

That’s an assumption that doesn’t stand up to a reality check, it’s rare for media that expires copyright and has a revenue stream to continue providing that same revenue in the face of competition. This is exactly why Disney has asked for extensions.

> If people buy from me instead, that means I am providing some value that you are not providing. And that is good for society.

Not automatically it’s not. The easiest “value” to provide is to steal something you didn’t make, and offer it for less money than the original because you don’t have anything to recoup. That’s not good for society, and it’s why copyrights exist in the first place.


"The false idea that you can’t steal copies" alright semantics, semantics. Breach of copyright clearly has negative consequences for the copyright holder. Whether that is because the copyright holder is then being stripped of control, or because the copyright holder simply is no longer allowed to strip others of their control, is up for debate. I hold that the latter is more true.

Copyright is a service that is provided so that you can continue to remotely exert control over something that is no longer in your possession. The fact that you are allowed to control what I do with the thoughts in my brain, and control what I do with what I have legally bought from you, is a temporary favor to incite you to create cool stuff.

And yes, simply selling something at a lower cost/it being free provides value to the people. People will gain access to the media in the most convenient way possible, and spending as little of their money as possible. That's value.

Don't forget, due to the competition it will be a race to the bottom in terms of price. Nobody is going to get rich just off of your creation. The major benefactors will be the buyers, not the sellers.


> The fact that you are allowed to control what I do with the thoughts in my brain, and control what I do with what I have legally bought from you, is a temporary favor to incite you to create cool stuff.

This is a pretty big and hyperbolic straw man that immediately makes it hard to take seriously. Copyright does not control your thoughts. Copyright prevents me from redistributing your work without permission, and nothing more. It has nothing to do with what I think about it or say about it or what you do with your own copies. Copyright does not prevent you from reselling your own copy that you legally bought, nor from doing anything you want with your copy aside from making and distributing new copies to others.


>> People will still buy from you by default

> That’s an assumption that doesn’t stand up to a reality check, it’s rare for media that expires copyright and has a revenue stream to continue providing that same revenue in the face of competition. This is exactly why Disney has asked for extensions.

One interesting thing this reminds me of is the case where due to the publication technology of the day, the quality of the work as available to the general public is significantly inferior as compared to the master copy sitting in the vaults.

If copyright was for example only twenty years and simultaneously releasing a higher quality version of the same work still wouldn't qualify for its own copyright term, would we have seen the various re-releases of older works as newer and better reproduction technology became available? Under that assumption for example, most of the Beatles' albums would have been already out of copyright by the time the first CD re-releases appeared in our timeline.

This might admittedly only be a temporary problem because it can be argued that storage formats eventually will be (or already are) good enough that yet another higher quality re-release won't be necessary in the future (and at least for books without illustrations/pictures/special special typographic features it never really mattered anyway, because unless the print quality was truly dire, the original text can always perfectly be recovered), but at least for the past transitions we've had for audio from vinyl to CDs and generally digital music formats, as well as for video e.g. VHS to DVD to BluRay etc. I'd argue that there was a certain benefit to the public that the holders of the high-quality master copy were motivated (because of continuing copyright) to actually spend the money and do the work of re-releasing those works in a higher quality format.


That logic doesn't work either. Companies that extract profits from IPR provide most of the foundation for financially compensating authors. Almost all of those businesses work on the same portfolio logic as startup investors do: most investments will fail, and the hits subsidize the investments in the duds. You don't know which is which up front. What you do to reduce profits on the hits will come out of the pockets of all authors, not just the superstars.


This logic works, as far as it goes. But it also suggests that there is a large body of work not worth publishing or otherwise capitalizing on that is trapped under IP protections. This a cost to society that is completely unaccounted for in the math folks tend to present when arguing for increased terms. There is a paper[0] that documents this effect to some degree, and it's overall high quality enough that I find the data presented and the reasoning behind it convincing.

From their summary:

> First, a random sample of more than 2000 new books for sale on Amazon.com is analyzed along with a random sample of almost 2000 songs available on new DVD’s. Copyright status correlates highly with absence from the Amazon shelf. Together with publishing business models, copyright law seems to deter distribution and diminish access.

I think identifying and accounting for difficult-to-measure societal costs is key in pushing back on further copyright extensions.

[0]: https://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/How_Copyright_Keeps_Works...


I don't support extensions to copyright and am open to supporting cutbacks to terms. The problem I have is with the logic that gets tossed around in these threads, like the idea that there's no point to maintaining copyright after the death of an author (as if the author was the one extracting value from the work in the first place, or that extraction had nothing to do with the compensation the author received), or that copyright is only meaningful to a few breakout hits (as if those hits and the hunt for more of them didn't subsidize all the rest of the authors).

There's a real Chesterton's Fence thing happening in these discussions.


Your point about authors being compensated now for expected income from their works after their death is interesting. You allude to it above, but downthread, you also mention:

> If value can only be extracted while the author draws breath, the market provides much less reward --- for the author, in this lifetime.

I'm completely unaware of this practice! From the reading I've done about how authors get paid (typically for books), authors are paid royalties on sales. Sometimes they get an advance while the book is being written. Magazine/news writing is mostly contract work, unless the writer is employed by the publication, in which case they assign copyright with some author's rights to republish (sometimes).

The model you're suggesting is much more like the stock market: the current stock price is a function of the expected earnings in the future. If I'm following you correctly, you're suggesting that a substantial portion of authors have contracts structured so that they will be paid now for earnings that are predicted to occur, potentially decades in the future. I tried to validate this by reading Author's Guild articles, Cory Doctorow's descriptions of how he sees the industry, and a few other sites that I'm less familiar with, but I wasn't able to. Is Neal Stephenson being paid for copies of Cryptonomicon that haven't yet been sold? If so, I'm astonished. Perhaps you're referring to large advances for well-established authors? That could certainly qualify, but I suspect it only applies to a few authors.

I'm a copyright term minimalist, because when I read through how writers are getting paid (median annual income 2017: $6k, down 42% from 2009)[0], I don't see a problem with the terms of copyright. I see a problem with exposure (Tim O'Reilly's famous "you can't monetize obscurity"), I see a problem with market dominance by Amazon, and I see a problem with publishing houses cutting bad deals to many writers:

> ...the Guild cited the growing dominance of Amazon over the marketplace, lower royalties and advances for mid-list books (which publishers report comes from losses they are forced to pass on), including the extremely low royalties paid on the increasing number of deeply discounted sales and the 25 percent of net ebook royalty. The blockbuster mentality of publishers who grant celebrity writers massive advances and markets them wildly at the expense of the working writers is also certainly a factor.

In fact, copyright is never even mentioned as an issue. It would be a real coincidence of the Disney-fueled Mickey Mouse copyright extensions got it exactly right; I suspect 14/28 years was much closer to the optimal value. But perhaps I'm wrong! I'm very interested in this particular fence, why it was built this way, and how it can be made better.

[0]: https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/authors-guild...


> It would be a real coincidence of the Disney-fueled Mickey Mouse copyright extensions got it exactly right.

There have only been two copyright term extensions in the US that have affected Mickey Mouse, and only one of them could even remotely be called "Disney-fueled".

The Copyright Act of 1976 changed the term from two 28-year term to one 75 year term. The Copyright Extension Act of 1988 added 20 years to that.

The second one is that one that might be called "Disney-fueled".

The 1976 Act was probably supported by Disney but that didn't matter. It had widespread support and very little opposition. This was because it was widely believed that the 1909 Act was very outdated and needed a major overhaul, and that as part of that overhaul the US should align itself better with how copyright worked in most of the rest of the world. The term changes were part of this effort to align with the rest of the world and pave the way for the US to join the Berne Convention.


This argument depends greatly on how much you're shortening copyright. Even if it went back to 30 years, I'm skeptical that it would impact it much. They may still sell, but I doubt publishers are being kept afloat by works that old. Even for the IPs that remain popular they do new things with them to keep the revenue coming.


True but we should also not grant taxpayer funded enforcement for billionaires and their perpetual billionaire offspring. 2 years of enforcement is good, drugs only get 17 years, Hollywood has gotten obscene in the low effort / no work wealth it creates.


Adding to what the others have said, the real money in those is merchandising, which is protected more or less perpetually via trademark law. According to the books, Star Wars never made a dime, and those who were intendeding to be paid by film royalties (like the actor who played Darth Vader) never saw a dime.


> According to the books

Don't assume that Hollywood accounting bears any resemblance to reality.


The point is that modern blockbusters aren't really attempting to make money from ticket sales, and that's not where people working on it expect to be paid out of. Trademark law protects the real revenue streams.

That's why Disney finally stopped pushing for increases to copyright duration every couple decades, and have allowed some films staring Mickey Mouse to go into the public domain. They get their money from crap sold with the likeness of the characters.


> A few people do this, but since we don’t have basic income ...

We can imagine a society where everyone is given an amount of money to produce whatever they like by taking money from people who are producing what others like.

Instead we have a system where people are free to produce what they like, but the people who can do it full time are the ones what have shown they can produce what other's like.

If a lack of basic income is why people are producing great works of art, then we should expect to see people on retirement to be the most prolific authors of great works.


> are the ones what have shown they can produce what other's like.

How do you show you can do this?

• Have enough money to fund yourself making the art in the first place.

• Actually be able to do it.

• Have enough resources left over to market it.

In an ideal world, you'd only need the middle one, but currently you need all three.


I would argue that in no point in history has it been easier to make a living producing things that other's want to view than today. You can make a very high quality movie with an inexpensive computer or even a phone, youtube will host it for you for free, and, if people like it, they can watch it and share it with others. Youtube will even pay you ad revenues or let you sell your movie.

If your movie is only good enough that it takes massive marketing to become popular, then that doesn't work, but then you are in the realm of producing what others are told to like rather than what they will like and share with their friends naturally.


> If a lack of basic income is why people are producing great works of art, then we should expect to see people on retirement to be the most prolific authors of great works.

Unfortunately getting old and retiring and having to make a living doing something else for 70 years first is a massive confounding factor for that hypothesis, otherwise I think it would probably be happening.


There's no shortage whatsoever of new books, music, etc.


> That was the original idea behind intellectual property law,

It really wasn't. It was printer biz holding culture for ransom with government backing, right from the start.


Ok, maybe then that was how it was sold (and I meant "intellectual property" in general, that was not clear, sorry).


I don't think people care much about this issue and will focus more on issues that actually matter to them in a functioning democracy. E.g. taxes, health care, crime, education.


The counter-argument to this is that in a functioning democracy, people would actually have the ability to think about things like copyright, vs. scrambling to get adequate healthcare or education, while knowing their tax money would do meaningful things about crime instead of whatever they're doing now.


Your point seem to be a rant about US social policies and is easily disproved by the fact that similar copyright terms existing in Europe where those things aren't the same.


AFAIK the European model is not as similar as you seem to be convinced. And the origin of copyright was from the beginning related not to the well-being of authors but rather publishers.


They exist in Europe because of a similar corrupting mechanism; just because the European system hasn't completely dismantled their social systems the way the US is close to doesn't mean that democracy isn't also being weakened by capitalism.


It's a flatly incorrect counter-argument.

The majority of people that vote in the US and ultimately (if indirectly) determine such matters as copyright duration, are not scrambling for healthcare or education. That majority of voters rests well above the median in fact in both income and wealth.

That's trivially demonstrated by the demographic, income and employment profiles of the majority of people that vote.

You've made a sizable mistake in thinking that that majority of voters are interested in freeing Winnie the Pooh versus boosting their equity portfolio by padding the bottom line of Disney. The majority American voting profile is one of the wealthiest on the planet. You might reassess what you think their priorities are.

This aspect isn't going to change, and no amount of wishing will make it so. The majority of US voters will continue to have a significant tilt toward their financial self-interest, which rests with Disney's bottomline and not with rapidly emptying Disney's copyright vault.

Hint: look up the median and average white + asian household income and wealth figures these days (latest Fed household survey).


The longest I can theoretically think is justified is the death of the author. The idea to keep works out of the public domain so that heirs or estates or businesses can live off economic rents is pretty bizarre to me, seems straight up feudal.


If someone writes a best seller and kicks the bucket, it'd sort of suck that someone like Disney could swoop in and make a bunch of movies without paying a dime of royalties to the author's family. Or that a bunch of publishers can have a field day republishing the best seller diluting all the work of the original publisher.

But on the flip side, 90+ years is really WAY too long.

Cut it to 20 years. Long enough to capture the initial buzz, but not so long that we end up with shit staying under the mouse's thumb forever.


20 years is a reasonable length for copyrights, since many patents in the U.S. also expire after 20 years:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Term_of_patent_in_the_United_S...


I have photographs that I took 20 years ago that I occasionally sell a print of. You are suggesting that that material now be part of the public domain?

For that matter, you're suggesting GCC version 3.0.3, Emacs 21.2 and all prior versions be public domain and not have any copyright or copyleft protection on it? And thus, I could take the source code for them, modify it, close source it release my own version.


Yes. You can still sell prints of uncopyrighted stuff.

Your software argument is even better evidence that 20 years is a good idea. If the software is maintained, the new, derivative versions continue to be copyright protected. At the same time, abandonware becomes available for use without worry.

Here's another thought experiment. Assume Spiderman was first created in 2002 with the launch of the movie. It would be expiring soon. They've already made massive profits and such old movies are found for bargain-basement prices all over, so there's not a ton of money left to be made.

What does Disney have to lose? Just the idea of Spiderman himself, but would you rather see Marvel's spiderman or Warner Bros making yet another failed superhero movie? The latest Spiderman movie would still be available under copyright for another 20 years too. The only way Disney loses is if Warner Bros actually manages to make better content than disney makes. If better content COULD be made, but is stopped by copyright, this runs counter to the copyright's purpose according to the US Constitution.

Summed up, long copyright only serves to lock-in big companies and protect them from people who could do a better job with the ideas than they could. Everyone is worse off except the company's stockholders.


Disney makes billions a year off of Winnie the Pooh. Every year. New movie or not. What they make on Spider-Man is peanuts to that. It’s Pooh and the Mouse they are nervous about.


And, an example of where we are actively harmed is the Hulk. Because Disney doesn't own the rights to the Hulk we've not ever seen a good integration of the Hulk into the MCU. All because while Marvel was floundering they sold off rights piecemeal to a bunch of companies.


Absolutely.

Would you not have taken the photo or sold it had you known the timeframe for it's value would be limited to 20 years? I suspect that, yes, you'd still take that photo. So long as the timespan is long enough to benefit the creator (and thus, encourage creativity) but not so long as to forever lock up the creation, then I see no harm in a much shorter copyright timeframe.

Why should I care if a 20 year old compiler or text editor ends up having closed source versions? And, on the flip side, wouldn't it be neat if we had Windows XP source code in the public domain?

Now consider the fact that with a 20 year lifespan on copyright every streaming service would have access to everything published in 2001 and earlier. 1 service could give you a bonkers amount of content.


why limit it to books or other creative creations - if you buy a house, you get exclusive use for 20 years - after that, other people just get to move into the unused bedrooms - after all, your kids are probably grown by now and you don't need them anymore.

How is this different - why should I be entitled to get, for free, something someone else created and owns.


Because we are talking about the ability to copy or mimic things when talking about IP/patent laws. We are not talking about physical goods, but instead ideas.

It's a crime to steal someone's bible even though the bible texts are (largely) in public domain.

It is not the same to compare a thing to a concept. I can copy someone's bitcoin hash all day long, but I don't own that hash simply be copying it into a text document. Same principle.

Anyone should be able to write and sell a story about Superman or Mickey.


Oh no, you are now required to watch this damned cartoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeTybKL1pM4 (A one minute ELI5 explanation about the difference between physical and intellectual property.)


If you build a house, other people can copy it after 20 years.

Suddenly it doesn't sound unreasonable at all.

> something someone else created and owns

The way someone should "own" an idea is exactly what's being disputed...


With property it kind of works this way, via property tax. You can see property tax as the government taking a small percentage of your property every year, and you buying it back.


Honestly, I don't see the problem with a 20 year copyright term.

You made profits off the prints for 20 years, and the state enforced those rights. You didn't pay for them, at most you paid a token fee to register the copyrights.

That's the bargain of copyright, I think. Yes, some folks lose control after a period, but everyone else is enriched.

Excuse me, I've got to go order a Miskatonic University sweatshirt.


> You made profits off the prints for 20 years, and the state enforced those rights. You didn't pay for them, at most you paid a token fee to register the copyrights.

That's a very idealized version. You most likely did pay taxes on any income made and you payed a lawyer to enforce your right, if necessary. The only thing the state did was to write those laws down once and offer a judge and jury, in case of a violation.

Also, you didn't pay for any of your other rights. I don't see why copyright should be special in that regard.

I'm fine with 20 years, but that argument in particular is rather weak.


> The only thing the state did was to write those laws down once and offer a judge and jury, in case of a violation.

Nope. The judge and jury are backed by the bailiff who forecloses on you if you don't pay the judgement, and by the police who jails you if you resist the taking of your assets, and by the prison system where you end up. This whole security apparatus is behind just "writing those laws", and it does not come cheap.


> I have photographs that I took 20 years ago that I occasionally sell a print of. You are suggesting that that material now be part of the public domain?

Have you been selling the prints for 20 years? Then sure, that's probably fine. If you didn't make enough money off those sales, encouragement to go take new photos is a good thing.

> For that matter, you're suggesting GCC version 3.0.3, Emacs 21.2 and all prior versions be public domain and not have any copyright or copyleft protection on it? And thus, I could take the source code for them, modify it, close source it release my own version.

But you also get to take any closed-source program from X years ago and it becomes public domain too. I'm comfortable with this tradeoff. Though I'd like to go further and force companies to register a copy of the source code when they register their copyright, to be released upon expiration. And we could always add specific open-source legislation...

If you really don't like 20 years we can do 30. But I think half an adult lifetime is long enough to profit off any particular work.


Richard Stallman - the originator of GCC and Emacs and copyleft - says 10 years: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/misinterpreting-copyright.en....


I think the software if anything would be the least harmed by a twenty year term. If you wanted to make a closed source compiler its going to need to be better than the latest open source ones for anyone to buy it, so it seems like starting with a twenty year old design and having to (cleanroom) fix all the various bugs that have since been found and modernize the codebase, plus add all the new features needed to be competitive, would be a nonstarter.

If you could fork the latest version and make it closed source, then it's easy, you just add a couple useful features and now yours is "better." But if you have to start with such an ancient version and decades of technical debt you didn't even create, it would be a total waste of time. The open source one would continue getting better while you were playing catchup to even release it.


Re software: While not necessarily fundamentally anti-copyright, the basic point of "copyleft" licensing like the GPL is to use the system of copyright against itself. I can't imagine the FSF/GNU project would be against a massive reduction of the extent of copyright limits. If there was no concept of copyright, copyleft would be somewhat moot.


I believe that's what the GP is saying. Perhaps I'm wrong, but your tone seems to indicate that you think doing doing so is completely preposterous. And while you're allowed to feel that way, instead of dismissing the GP entirely, I'd be more interested in hearing more about your position based on your totally valid personal experience.


Personally I think it should be 25 years But yes. That is how copyright works. At the end of the term, the item falls into public domain. If that term is 20 years, then your photo should be public domain by then. That should incentivize you to take more photos


As a hobbyist photographer, no - it wouldn't incentivize me to take more photos... or rather, it would incentivize me to not publish my photos and share them with others online.

Simply said, if you wish to profit from or enjoy the creative works that I have done beyond what I've provided, I expect some compensation.

If that term was 20 years, my photographs would never have been displayed online in the first place.

Additionally, model releases and property releases become much more difficult when someone in the photograph loses their rights for how the photograph may be used.

I firmly believe that a reduction of the copyright duration that would make it expire during the lifetime of the artist or model would have a chilling effect on hobbyist art being accessible to the public.


> my photographs would never have been displayed online in the first place.

So the world would have to learn to somehow live with that loss. Given all the other works it would get access to in stead, I strongly suspect the world at large will find that a great bargain.

I've never (AFAIK) seen your photos even in this timeline where they are online (IIUC?), and I'm okay with that. But I'd sure love it if a bunch of stuff I know of from between 1923 and 1990 were in the public domain. So at least I would find that bargain great.


> You are suggesting that that material now be part of the public domain?

Yes. I could be wrong, but I feel comfortable guessing that you were sufficiently incentivized to take those photographs 20 years ago. Also, you could still sell prints!


But you are not dead yet. The idea above is "20 years from death".


I am replying to a post that looks to make the term of copyrights the same as the term of patents. Patents aren't tied to the lifespan of their inventor.

Life + 20y is is quite reasonable. 20y from publication is on the very short side for content that has a lifespan that can easily outlast its creator.

Some of the posts are suggesting that things that were published in 1990 or 2000 should be in the public domain now.


Yes that sounds reasonable to me.


This is exactly what Disney did do though; Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio; to become a massive corp. And now that they are a massive Corp that just can buy the rights to any copyrighted material locking out competitors. Imagine if others had the chance to compete.


Disney doesn't own the rights to Pinocchio. You are free to make your own movie with book version of the the characters and the story. Carlo Collodi was dead by 1890 so Disney definitely didn't "swoop in" and benefit at his or his descendent's expense.

I believe the other stories you mention are even older.


>Disney doesn't own the rights to Pinocchio. You are free to make your own movie with book version of the the characters and the story.

This is very much an "in principle" thing. In practice, many of these traditional stories have (sadly) become synonymous with the Disney version, so Disney's work is basically the canonical version. This gives Disney a very good sword of Damocles to hang over the heads of anyone else trying to adapt these folk stories: to my understanding if you include a single copyrightable adaptation or embellishment of the original that was written by Disney without "prior art", you're liable to be steamrollered by the lawyer army and be ruined.


Pinocchio was just fine in the Shrek movies, and I imagine Eisner wasn't happy that Universal of all people used him (as, only a few years prior, Universal poached a bunch of imagineers and made The Lost Continent, which copied a lot of elements of 'Beastly Kingdom', the original name for Animal Kingdom), so it must have took a lot of lawyers saying "this is a bad idea" when Eisner surely suggested they sue over using Pinocchio.


> Disney doesn't own the rights to Pinocchio. [...] Carlo Collodi was dead by 1890 so Disney definitely didn't "swoop in" and benefit at his or his descendent's expense.

This illustrates (IMO, the evils of over-long) current copyright terms rather perfectly: Disney didn't swoop in and benefit at Collodi's or his descendent's expense under the copyright rules of the time. Had current -- heavily Disney-influenced, so presumably supported and wished-for by Disney -- terms been in force then, this would have been a case of Disney swooping in and benefitting at Collodi's or his descendent's expense. Dunno what exactly this means... Besides Disney possibly being quite hypocritical.

And yes, most of Disney's older great hits about princesses and princes (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella...) are based on German folk tales collected by the brothers Grimm and first published in 1812.


Companies can (and have) make their own versions of all those. What they can't use is disney's representation of those characters.


They did that via public domain usage; the OP is making the point that extending it just to "death of author" will allow Disney to continue to do this. Nowadays, they surely can just buy the rights to stuff they want, but that's a completely separate issue and not one that copyright law is meant to address.


>>90+ years is really WAY too long.

Way too long for who? I don't own any copyrights - probably never will - but why am I supposedly owed the right to use something for free that someone else created after some arbitrary amount of time?

You might be able to make a case that it is in the public's interest to only patent life-saving medicine for X number of years, but who is really harmed when the author of a book retains the rights in perpetuity?


Please pay your forefathers for each word you use, each thought you have and even each invention you make for their share of what you reused.

As a first line argument: It's not that you are owed anything (as tshaddox says, it only applies to things already shared/published), it's that you do not owe a due to others.

As a second line, I would say that yes, if you are making money off of things you share, then society deserves the right to freely use and share it (say after 20y), even if you put DRM on it (shouldn't be a thing) and even if you didn't originally publish the source code or manuals and tools. Though compulsory requirements should probably be limited as a fraction of sales.


> who is really harmed when the author of a book retains the rights in perpetuity?

Anyone that wants to make (or accidentally makes) derivative works based on that work. This is especially apparent in the music industry.

Write a story about a prince waking a princess with a kiss an you run the very real risk of getting sued into oblivion by Disney.

We, the public, lose out on creative works because creative folk have to be VERY careful with how they approach art to try and minimize their exposure to lawsuits.

Very similar to the harm done by software patents.


Who is harmed? Creators. Consumers. Anyone who ever pined for access to something out of print, or in a vault, or otherwise squatted on for no productive reason. Anyone who ever had to guess what they could sample or what they could not; what would be legally considered derivative of some decades-old musical expression (many of which resemble each other superficially) and what would not.


> I don't own any copyrights - probably never will

Actually, you do own lots of copyrights. For example, you own the copyright on almost every blog post that you made. (The exceptions are things like lists of facts.) You own the copyright on every picture that you've taken or drawn.


> why am I supposedly owed the right to use something for free that someone else created after some arbitrary amount of time

That's the natural default. If two people don't interfere with each other's happiness, then there is no copyright. You don't need a right to copy, the owner needs a right to stop you from copying.

Why are they owed the right to a government-enforced monopoly?

Well, xyz there are good reasons but also those reasons make more sense with a time limit.


It's antithetical to the very idea of culture. Humans have been modifying and retelling stories since before the dawn of civilization. Imo, it's profoundly immoral for the state to restrict ownership of culture to its creator for such a long period of time. Some degree of copyright is necessary to create a financial incentive for new works, but the currently length goes far beyond that.


You’re never owed the right to use something for free that someone else created. They ought to be able to keep it to themselves if they want.


If they keep it to themselves then copyright won't matter.


I'd rather do away with it entirely, but under capitalism, I would reduce it to 7-10 years though initially it was 14 years.

https://www.arl.org/copyright-timeline/


That's precisely how Disney started.


This doesn't even make conceptual sense. An author chooses to divert their working time to producing a piece of content (say, about a honey-guzzling bear) with the expectation that they'll be rewarded by the market for doing so, which is why they don't instead divert all their efforts into writing ad copy for PepsiCo.

The amount of reward the market provides is based on the value that can be extracted from that property. If value can only be extracted while the author draws breath, the market provides much less reward --- for the author, in this lifetime.

Bear in mind that intellectual property is in some ways even more defensible than real property. The rights to real property are fundamentally secured through conquest and forcible appropriation. IPR is generated de novo, from the creators themselves.

So, to me, the opposite argument seems to apply. There's no obvious moral reason that copyright should be in any way tied to the lifespan of the author. A cultural work is no less valuable because its author happens to get hit by a bus the week after they publish; why on earth should the market for those works be asked to consider that possibility?

(This is potentially an argument against creators, in the sense that an unusually long-lived author is no more entitled to excess rewards than an unlucky bus-strike victim is entitled to fewer rewards.)


> There's no obvious moral reason that copyright should be in any way tied to the lifespan of the author.

A dead author can't create new works. Their copyright persisting beyond their death prevents derivative works from being created. Copyright after death forestalls the creation of new derivative works.

Is that "worth" eliminating the "copyright-after-death" bargain? I don't know. I tend to think opening up a world of potential derivative works after the death of an author is a good gamble if the desired outcome is more works.

Curtailing copyright after death would have to be handled in a nuanced process because some people certainly have "banked on" that business model.


I'm not sure you're following. The limited monopoly on new works incentivizes authorship by providing a market for that content based on the transfer of that monopoly. It doesn't just incentivize the next work; it's the foundation of incentives for all of the work, including the first. Anything you do to make the transfer of those rights less valuable (for instance: terminating them when the original author dies) reduces the incentive for every work of authorship, from the first to the last.


I don't think fewer works would be created under a less restrictive copyright regime. Some classes of works wouldn't be profitable anymore, but that's not a tragedy to me. (Taking away some of the profit motive sounds like a good move to me culturally but that reflects my preference in more "indie" media and less "mass market" media.)

Morally I find the idea copyright flat wrong on the basis that it restricts human expression and culture. Pragmatically I can see a use for it. We're better off with it, even if it (and the class of "workers" who benefit repeatedly from only doing work once) is morally repugnant.

The social contract around copyright, as it sits now, has been "negotiated" significantly in favor of the owners of copyrights to the detriment of the good of society (terms that are too long, works becoming orphaned because mandatory registration was eliminated, infringement without profit motive treated the same as "piracy"). I'd like to see it brought back to a more fair arrangement.


Your first two sentences literally contradict each other, unless you think that profitability has no bearing on which works get authored.


> Your first two sentences literally contradict each other

No they don't. They only do if you think the number of works that wouldn't be produced because creators are dissuaded from producing them by the knowledge that they wouldn't be able to profit from them after they're dead is necessarily greater than the number of new works that would now be created (and otherwise couldn't), using the newly liberated work of these creators as input.

Do you really think that? I certainly don't.


A less restrictive copyright regime (shorter terms) would enable a larger number of derivative works to be created sooner (likely when these derivative works are more culturally relevant, too).

Would fewer "primary" works be created-- maybe? (I tend to believe that almost all human expression is derivative by nature, though. There are few new ideas under the sun.)

Would more derivative works be created? Almost assuredly. There are always more "other people" to build on an earlier work that the lone creator of the work upon which derivative works are based.

I'd bet less restrictive copyright terms result in a net larger number of works.

Fewer works that require fantastic financial investment would be created under a weakened copyright regime. I still believe more works, overall, would be created.


So we agree: reducing incentives on the creation of new primary works will reduce the number of primary works created, because people respond to incentives.

You hope to offset that by enabling the commercialization of fan fiction. I am less hopeful about that proposal, but at least it's a coherent proposal.


I firmly believe, like I said, that nearly all human expression is derivative. It's almost all "fan fiction" when it comes down to it. There aren't very many "primary" works that can't have their influences traced back to prior works. The current copyright regime just gets to choose who is allowed to make the "fan fiction" and when.


No, sorry, that doesn't work: you're saying that by reducing incentives for primary work authorship, we'll gain more works because people will be able to work on derivative works based on existing ones. The only plausible way that could work is by allowing people to derive works from popular properties; literally: you're talking about fan fiction qua fan fiction. Star Wars. Twilight. Spider Man. Enabling people to derive new works from obscure primary works wouldn't move the needle, and wouldn't support your original argument.

I'm saying: I don't think you'll get enough commercial Spider Man fan fiction to offset the damage. But you can at least connect the dots on that argument.


Recent Star Wars and Spider Man stories were just fan fiction with permission.

Star Wars borrowed from many sources. Some inspiration and some copying. Most were obscure to most of the audience.

They didn't say most new works would be commercial. But it's plausible fewer very expensive works could benefit less expensive works.


You are free to borrow from those same works, have your superhero bit by a radioactive arthropod, or invent a coven of space witches with energy swords, and you'll be just fine.


It depends on which kind of "works" we're talking about.

I seriously doubt that passionate authors would refrain themselves from writing because they've been denied a few extra bucks after their death. Many would probably be happier to know that their legacy goes on through the now possible derivative work.

Could such a restriction on copyright impact purely commercial works? I don't care. Work made just for profit has no soul anyway.


It's not after their death. This is the crazymaking part of the argument. The cash flows from art received after the death of the author is factored in to the compensation the artist obtains during their life. This is basic economics.

If you don't care about a work made for profit because it's soulless, then what grounds do you have to set terms for its release? It's work you by definition think is unimportant.


This is a pretty common argument in fact, that places which lack copyright protections often have as much or more art. It's a very competitive endeavor no matter how low the stakes get.

Also the new business models adopted by those adapting to a lack of copyright may well involve more creative production. For example holding concerts instead of just selling reproductions.


This argument would be more persuasive with examples. Also: touring music is notoriously non-remunerative; people think about U2's fleet of luxury busses, but the majority of acts, even ones that lots of people have heard of, barely cover gas money and the returns they'd get as the manager of a convenience store from touring --- which is work that is tremendously disruptive to actually building a life, which is why we pay long haul truck drivers so much money to do it.

I get a lot more value from recorded music than I do from live music; the idea that we should make it essentially impossible to make a living from music you only play in a studio doesn't sit well, since I like a lot of that music too.

My bigger problem here is a moral one, though. It's simple: a musician takes the time to compose and record a piece of music. I had nothing whatsoever to do with that work. What right do I have to set the terms that musician can use for their work? It's their work, not mine. If they want to charge $5,000 for a copy, that's their right; I can just listen to something else. If musicians writ large want to maximize the number of copies that are made of their work, they can do what Radiohead does and release on "pay what you want" terms. That almost nobody does this in practice is telling.


The internet itself is one commonly-used example of a "wild west" without protection and with prolific art nonetheless.

The incentive to continue wasting your life doing unprofitable concerts is not removed in a world where you can only profit via concerts. It simply changes to hoping for a future of profitable concerts, rather than hoping for a future of profitable record sales.

And while you may cling to one system becasue you like certain facets of it which might change, you also don't know what you are missing in a system without copyright. Policies always have a hidden cost.


Are the most enduring and popular works of fiction, of film, or of music produced primarily on the Internet, or are they released commercially with IPR protections?

I don't doubt the Internet's ability to produce cartoons and memes, but I wouldn't trade all of them together for Blood Meridian or Nevermind.


I agree that tying copyrights to lifetimes doesn’t make sense, because it’s logical for copyrights to be inherited and the law shouldn’t benefit long‐lived authors over short‐lived authors. I’m not fond of the reasoning in your comment though—by my reading there’s nothing stopping it from being used to extend copyright to “forever less one day.”

US copyright law at its inception was intended to provide a balance, incentivizing authors to create new works without infringing too far on people’s inherent right to copy and share ideas they haven’t necessarily created. See Madison (who wrote the original Copyright Clause):

“But grants of this sort can be justified in very peculiar cases only, if at all; the danger being very great that the good resulting from the operation of the monopoly, will be overbalanced by the evil effect of the precedent; and it being not impossible that the monopoly itself, in its original operation, may produce more evil than good.”


I'm not sure what "inheritance" has to do with it. Assume an author destined to die alone. That author might be more highly compensated for a successful work in a system where copyright isn't tied to lifetime, since the work itself has more market value. That value accrues to the author in their own lifetime; immediately, in fact.


Deeply disagree with you. Imaginary property is a coercive and violent fantasy. It is infinitely reproducible once created, unlike physical items which can only do one thing in one space at time. The imagination of a fellow human does not deserve men with guns to protect it. Say what you like about the imaginary world of cryptocurrency; at least it’s opt-in (you are free to ignore the coin or the NFT, but those that don’t ignore it can freely transact). The only property rights I can get behind are opt-in and enforced by the universe of mathematics.


Imaginary or not it takes real effort and time to create works of fiction. And there are occupational hazards to using ones hands so much. Having done some modeling and animation I have an appreciation for those who do it professionally.


Do you have any arguments that might be persuasive to people who do recognize property rights not enforced by "the universe of mathematics"?


Those kind of people are free to believe whatever they like, as long as they don’t push it on those that don’t believe. :-) That is the fundamental difference. Wanting the State to shoot people in the face for daring to challenge their ongoing intellectual rent extraction is mean spirited to say the least. Math needs no gun, and it’s defenses are as much energy can be thrown at the problem.

I’m not really here to argue my point, I don’t think I could challenge you T or change your mind. But I wanted to splash some counter idea on this hard and growing harder IP dystopian world we find ourselves in.


> IPR is generated de novo, from the creators themselves.

I'm absolutely stunned to see you make this claim. All work is based on prior work.


>. If value can only be extracted while the author draws breath, the market provides much less reward --- for the author, in this lifetime.

This is true for any kind of property tax is taxed or IP that expires, be it patents or land lease policies or whatever else. The less you can milk it the lower is its value. However given that we don't want to live in a necrocracy where the interests of the dead outweigh the interests of the living we've always balanced this, or we'd grant 1000 year patents.

Also as a sidenote if you look at most of humanities greatest works of art, if anything most of them obtained market value long after the creators were dead in the first place. If anything we're drowning in mediocre fiction precisely because we've commodified art.


Again: it's not the interests of the dead. Those posthumous interests are priced into fees the authors collect in life. The proceeds of those interests don't just pay the original authors; they also subsidize future bets on other authors.


> An author chooses to divert their working time to producing a piece of content (say, about a honey-guzzling bear) with the expectation that they'll be rewarded by the market for doing so, which is why they don't instead divert all their efforts into writing ad copy for PepsiCo.

Seems like a good fit - a honey-guzzling bear and ad copy for PepsiCo aren't all that far apart...


Doesn't the same apply to property in general? Should children be allowed to inherit a house, but not intellectual property rights?

What if the author dies shortly after creating the work, and was hoping to support their family on the proceeds?


The people who wrote the clause of the US constitution that enables the government to grant a temporary monopoly to authors and inventors argued over whether to do so. It was not like ownership of land, structures, etc. The phrase "intellectual property" dates to the 19th c. and was not initially widely used.

What we call "copyright" is, as it is referred to in the constitution, a monopoly granted by the government. All your other rights are assumed to exist because it would be outlandish to say a mere government could "grant" them. They are protected by the government, or so it was intended.

Unlike real rights, Congress could pass a law setting the term of such a monopoly to zero and there would be no civil rights argument against doing so. Patents and copyright are nothing like your actual rights.

This applies to the way copyright law is authorized constitutionally in the US. YMMV.


Outside of portable material property, the idea of property rights as natural rights is pretty fanciful. Land ownership is a good example of a property right that was understood to be government-originated even in the system of English Common Law relied upon by the authors of the Constitution. At the time that the United States split from Great Britain it was understood that land ownership rested with the monarch, that land could at the discretion of the monarch be held in "freehold" by entities other than the monarch, but that the monarch retained certain rights on account of its fundamental ownership of all land, such as the power of eminent domain, or the fact that any property for which a freeholder could not be identifier would revert to the control of the crown. The authors of the Constitution understood that going forward such rights were held by the new federal government, or by the governments of the several States.

Moving away from land ownership, you get forms of property rights that are even harder to reconcile with the idea of natural rights. Mineral rights, shipping rights, air rights, spectrum rights, toll rights, salvage rights, etc. None of these things are meaningful absent the concept of a legal system enforced by a government.


Someone once tried to calculate the optimal duration, and came up with 15 years: https://rufuspollock.com/papers/optimal_copyright_term.pdf

I do not think law should be calculated (it sounds too much like hiding your political values behind science) but it's worth trying - just to see what assumptions you need to make.


It is less crazy when you compare to real property and personal property. Your rights to real estate never expire.

I am pretty sure if you traced my house's property title back far enough it was awarded by Charles II to a loyalist.

At least with IP, you can make infinite new property.


I spend years writing a novel. My wife contributes to this novel by keeping me fed, clothed, and sheltered while I write it. The day it's published, I die.

Your proposal leaves my family nothing.

Life + a decade is reasonable, IMO. Alternatively, 25yrs or life, whichever is longer.


Dead creators can't create new works. The primary purpose of copyright, to my mind, is to incent the creation of new works for the ultimate benefit of humanity.

I'd like to see "life plus" sunset over a period of years, allowing those who "banked" on that business model to still benefit while decreasing the copyright term after death until it's eventually eliminated.

Removing copyright-after-death gradually discourages the business model you describe. It makes sense, to me, to ease into that gradually.

Does the end of copyright-after-death mean some works won't be created? Maybe. Some people might not create new works if their estate can't profit after their death.

Eliminating copyright-after-death opens the door for new derivative works sooner. I think there's potential for more new works to be created with copyright ending at death. More creators can build upon the old work versus a single creator toiling at the end of their life.

I am of the camp, ultimately, that wants to see the U.S. Constitution's original copyright terms restored (and the requirement for registration and renewal). I think it will need to be a gradual process if only to allow those who have (unfairly, in my mind) lobbied for effectively infinite copyright terms to die.


> I am of the camp, ultimately, that wants to see the U.S. Constitution's original copyright terms restored

The Constitution doesn’t specify copyright terms; it only grants Congress the ability to set them.

You probably mean that you want to restore the terms of the US’s first copyright law, the Copyright Act of 1790 (fourteen plus fourteen years, etc.).


> You probably mean that you want to restore the terms of the US’s first copyright law, the Copyright Act of 1790 (fourteen plus fourteen years, etc.).

You're quite correct. Sorry for being sloppy when I banged-out that comment.


> Dead creators can't create new works. The primary purpose of copyright, to my mind, is to incent the creation of new works for the ultimate benefit of humanity.

But in the example GP posted, if the person knew they were near death, they very well might stop working on it since their family won't benefit.


Yes. I said that in the 4th paragraph of my parent comment.

Some people might choose not to create works for that reason.

Works will become available for masses of artists to build upon sooner if copyright ends at death.

I think the latter option will likely create more newworks than the former so I see potentially sacrificing the former as being worthy.


So I've always leaned toward the "ends at death" model (if not sooner; I actually have tended to lean toward no IP protections) but I think you've raised a good argument and might have changed my mind.

However, can't you somehow create some legal mechanism for transferring rights on death to handle the sort of scenario you describe? This is, after all, the arguments about divorce settlements (Person A is supremely financially successful, but was supported by their spouse, so their spouse is heavily rewarded by the court). So couldn't you somehow smooth that process?

I tend to think copyright lengths are arbitrary except these kinds of arguments:

1. Death of the creator(s) -- or those supporting them, or designated by the creator(s) as you've outlined. People dream up all sorts of murder plots, but it seems like those kinds of incentives could be worked out.

2. Some decline in profits or failure to make available a product. That is, once the profit declines to a certain point, or if someone takes a product out of print, it enters the public domain.

You could also specify something based on averages. Like, the median product ceases to maintain X% of profit after Y years, so that becomes your copyright length.


One real‐world example of this is Ulysses S. Grant’s autobiography[1], which he wrote while dying of throat cancer, specifically to provide for his wife. He died five days after finishing the final manuscript.

It’s a great read and I’m glad it was written. I’m also glad that the copyright has expired and as a result there exist free, high‐quality community‐maintained ebook editions.

[1] https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/ulysses-s-grant/personal-m...


Why not 10 years? That’s all your wife gets in the first case, why linger if you don’t die?


Are you Robert Jordan or J.K. Rowling?

The large majority of people who write novels don't get any money for it and have no such expectations.


I would be okay with a fixed term allowing a short time for estates to profit, in the event someone created a work shortly before their death. I think the primary purpose should be to provide for the author, not their heirs, but I can understand how an author would feel like their effort were wasted if they died shortly after. Maybe something like a minimum term of ten years, with the ability to renew it during your life up to fifty years or so.


I surely can't be the only one who finds it really weird that copyright lengths depend on the author's lifespan? Copyrights act as a sort of financial instrument that can be bought and sold. Imagine suggesting an office space lease that lasted for X years following the death of some specific named person. Everyone would think you are insane! But if it is the rights to a book, now everyone acts like an author's life expectancy should reasonably be a factor the term that any subsequent owner can hold the rights for their book


Reminds me of a precursor to life insurance, if only I could remember what it was called... Kind of a lottery / pool, all participants paid into it and the last survivor inherited the lot. IIRC.

Come to think of it, reminds me of life insurance: that's also a financial instrument the value of which depends on the lifespan of a specific named person.


Unless there's something even closer to what I was warbling on about, it was probably a tontine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tontine


It makes sense if you consider that royalty fees are the retirement plan for many authors.


so an author that creates a blockbuster book at 25 years old is automatically worth more than an identical work created by a 85 year old?

I truly don't get it - why do you feel that you are somehow owed the free use of something someone else created with their blood and sweat?


You aren’t entitled to simply reprint or republish someone else’s work for profit but copyright is blocking derivative and reinterpreted works from entering the public domain.

Take Cinderella. Place her in the Wild West. Make her lose a cowboy boot at a village fete. But retain the names from the original so this heroine Cinderella. Clearly derivative, right? Also violative of Disney’s rights to Cinderella’s name and likeness.

What copyright blocks (in this instance) is our ability to start from a common source of understanding - naif with evil stepmom rescued by hot prince - to extend the story in random directions.

This block should not last in perpetuity is what many of us are saying.

In software, this would be akin to preventing forking.


> Also violative of Disney’s rights to Cinderella’s name and likeness.

How the fuck can they have any rights to her name?!? I'm fairly sure that's been the name used in English for the heroine of that story from the first English translation of the folk-tale collection of the brothers Grimm. (Or does this particular story predate even that; maybe Perrault or La Fontaine?)


You are indeed entitled to simply reprint or republish someone else’s work for profit if it is in the public domain. Copyright blocks most derivative work (with a few exceptionns like parodies), but also blocks verbatim unauthorized copies.


> Copyright blocks most derivative work (with a few exceptionns like parodies), but also blocks verbatim unauthorized copies.

Maybe verbatim unauthorized copies is all it should block? Hey, it's right there in the name, isn't it -- Copyright? It's not called "parodyright" or "derivativeright"...


Translations, revised editions (to fix typos, add examples or change the bookcover) and adaptations to other media formats are examples of derivative works, so copyright law would be pretty useless without that kind of protection.


Death of the author and spouse. No need for it to transfer any farther then that.


Not sure why even involve spouse. The money generated and save is in the estate, spouce and others are free to use the money how they want.


Why? Why didn't a creator try to provide for their lives ones? Sure it shouldn't last forever. But just because a best selling author dies, shouldn't mean the kids and spouse end up homeless


How should works created by groups of people or companies be handled?


Wouldn't that... be... the wrong incentive against keeping the author alive? (if you see what I mean)


How about real estate and land ownership? Shouldn't that revert to the public domain after a set number of years?


That's effectively how land ownership works in many Asian countries. Every holder of land is effectively leasing it from the public for a set number of years (100 years or whatever). Land sales for indeterminate times (in "fee simple") place an unfair burden on future generations, by denying to them the public benefits of increasing land values. It's effectively a hidden form of debt to a bunch of private rent seekers.


Intellectual property and physical property are entirely different. Intellectual property can be shared/multiplied/given away indefinitely while still being retained by the originator while physical property cannot.

After copyright expiration, the original author of intellectual property can create derivative works even after their copyright expires (in the same universe, etc.) or even updated revisions, which restart their copyright for the revision. Even if other could do so, I suspect the market for their derivative works will still have a preference for their works vs. others who create derivative works of the original, depending on the quality of the derivatives.

It is really hard to own land (or any other physical thing) after you've sold it but the same is not true of a novel.


Doesn't that happen in Hawaii today? I think a lot of land is leased for a long period, and ultimately reverts back to the real owners.


Alright, how's this for an intermediate compromise: instead of 70 + life, make it 70 - remainder of life. That way, people who die the second their book is submitted are still able to leave something for their children but people who live a very long amount of time for whatever reason aren't unjustly rewarded solely for living a long time.


How naive. This encourages killing off an author with a hitman so you can swoop in and steal extremely valuable intellectual property.

What, are you going to make an exception for authors killed in grisly murders of mysterious circumstances? Imagine if instead of paying George Lucas billions for the rights to Star Wars Disney just had him killed off for a fraction of the price.


> This encourages killing off an author with a hitman so you can swoop in and steal extremely valuable intellectual property.

No, because the property rights ceasing to exist means that there is nothing to steal. You can use what would have been exclusive under them, but so can anyone else. Property rights aren't the right to use but the right to exclude; without the right to exclude, there is no property.

(I do think taking the author’s life into account is a dumb idea, just not for that reason.)


Disney would have made much less off Star Wars if it were in the public domain.


Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: