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The Damages of Excessive Copyright Protection

Posted by Rick · July 23rd, 2003 · No Comments

With so much focus on the lying, the war, the violation of longstanding policies against assassinations of other countries’ political figures, we need to remember that these are primarily distractions created à la wag-the-dog to take our minds off the entrenchment of the rights of Big Business as against the rights of the Public.

In Eldred vs. Ashcroft, recently argued before the Supreme Court, Lessig tried to stop the most recent extension of the copyright term an additional 20 years, or a total 70 years past the life of the creator. He lost. Most Americans shrugged their shoulders.
?The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,? both the comic and the film, demonstrate why ordinary people should care about Lessig?s cause. [See story demonstrating impact.]

It’s disheartening, sometimes, to watch what’s going on around us and not be able to find a way to break through the apathy. In days of yore, people understood—hell, they wrote a Constitution because of it!—that protecting our rights was a necessary component of securing the Blessings of Liberty.

One of the things the Constitution did was to give Congress the power to encourage “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.” [U.S. Constitution, section 8, clause 8, a.k.a., “Copyright Clause“]

Note that “limited times” is undefined (also potentially problematic is the term “useful Arts”). But the goal is the encouragement of progress. Progress depends upon the ability to use what has come before. If you must constantly re-invent the wheel (and take great care not to violate existing copyrights while doing it), progress is impeded. Thus, such protections started out with short terms of fourteen years with no possibility of extensions and have been repeatedly extended to the current “life of creator plus seventy (70) years.”

“Well, okay,” you say. “But what’s that got to do with a movie?”

Simply put, there are at least three things that matter about a movie as pertains to excessive copyright protection:

  1. Movies entertain us and exercise our imaginations more when they are provocative than when vapid, but vapidity is encouraged by placing all the best literary or creative ideas out of reach via copyright.
  2. Movies inspire us to new ideas more when they provoke thought than when they lack plots, storylines or reasons to care—in other words when they are more than mere “eye candy” filled with gratuitous sex, explosions and violence. But when the thought-provoking ideas are placed out of reach via overlong copyrights, eye candy is all that’s left.
  3. If, in the interest of protecting the relatively few big businesses that can afford to corner the market on copyrights and badger even legitimate copyright holders into submission, we will wreak havoc on something as small as the plot or storyline for movies, what of the things that really count?

But now we come back to the question of how to get people to care…

The Internet is a source for more on modern copyright extensions and the dangers it entails for progress.

Categories: Law and Legal Issues


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