13 December 2005

Copyright and Free Speech.

John Bloom, over at the National Review Online, makes a point near and dear to my heart, that there is a political and anti-aristocratic argument against long and strong copyrights (o.k., go ahead and snicker). This historical perspective makes it worth a read. A sample:

We now have an exact replica of the medieval Stationers' Company, which controlled the English copyrights, only its names today are Disney, Bertelsmann, and AOL Time Warner. The big media companies, holding the copyrights of dead authors, have said, in effect, that Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton were wrong and that we should go back to the aristocratic system of hereditary ownership, granting copyrights in perpetuity. To effect this result, they've liberally greased the palms of Congressmen in the form of campaign contributions — and it's worked.

In the name of Mickey Mouse and other American icons, we have gradually lengthened that 14-year limit on copyrights. At one time it was as much as 99 years, then scaled back to 75 years, then — in one of the most anti-American acts of the last century — suspended entirely in 1998. The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of that year says simply that there will be no copyright expirations for 20 years, meaning that everything published between 1923 and 1943 will not be released into the public domain. Presumably they'll take up the matter again in 2018 and decide whether any of these books, movies, or songs are ever set free. There are 400,000 of them.

No comments: