(as usual from /.
A radical rethink
Jan 23rd 2003
From The Economist print edition
The best way to foster creativity in the digital age is to overhaul
current copyright laws
CRITICS have derided a 1998 extension of American copyrights as the
"Mickey Mouse Protection Act" because it stopped early images of the
Disney company's mascot from entering the public domain. But such laws,
they argue, are no joke. Extending and strengthening copyrights, they
claim, will help a handful of big corporations crush creativity in the
digital age. On the contrary, say Hollywood studios and big record
companies. Without stronger copyright protection, a wave of piracy will
destroy their industries, depriving consumers everywhere of a broad
choice of movies, music and books.
Last week America's Supreme Court weighed into what is rapidly becoming
a nasty worldwide battle about the scope and enforcement of copyrights,
by rejecting a challenge to the 1998 law on constitutional grounds. But
even as it upheld the law, the court expressed misgivings. Blistering
dissents from two justices dismissed the 20-year extension of copyright
as unwarranted, and even the majority's opinion hinted that Congress's
decision may have been "unwise".
The court's ambivalence is understandable. The growing quarrel over
copyright is just one of the many difficult issues thrown up by the
spread of the internet and related technologies (see our survey of the
internet society in this issue). But of all these issues, the copyright
battle is becoming one of the most urgent, and bitterly fought, because
it could yet determine the future character of cyberspace itself.
Both sides have a point. Digital piracy does indeed threaten to
overwhelm so-called "content" industries. As the power and reach of the
internet continue to grow, the illicit trading of perfect copies may
well devastate the music, movie and publishing industries. The content
industries want to protect themselves with anti-copying technology,
backed by stronger laws. So far, they have been at loggerheads with
technology firms about how to implement such schemes (see article
But a deal between Hollywood and Silicon Valley is likely eventually.
Critics are right to fear that, when such a deal is struck, it will be
in the interests of big firms, not the public.
A grand new bargain
The alternative is to return to the original purpose of copyright,
something no national legislature has yet been willing to do. Copyright
was originally the grant of a temporary government-supported monopoly on
copying a work, not a property right. Its sole purpose was to encourage
the circulation of ideas by giving creators and publishers a short-term
incentive to disseminate their work. Over the past 50 years, as a result
of heavy lobbying by content industries, copyright has grown to such
ludicrous proportions that it now often inhibits rather than promotes
the circulation of ideas, leaving thousands of old movies, records and
books languishing behind a legal barrier. Starting from scratch today,
no rational, disinterested lawmaker would agree to copyrights that
extend to 70 years after an author's death, now the norm in the
Digital technologies are not only making it easier to copy all sorts of
works, but also sharply reducing the costs of creating or distributing
them, and so also reducing the required incentives. The flood of free
content on the internet has shown that most creators do not need
incentives that stretch across generations. To reward those who can
attract a paying audience, and the firms that support them, much shorter
copyrights would be enough. The 14-year term of the original
18th-century British and American copyright laws, renewable once, might
be a good place to start.
However, to provide any incentive at all, more limited copyrights would
have to be enforceable, and in the digital age this would mean giving
content industries much of the legal backing which they are seeking for
copy-protection technologies. Many cyber activists would loathe this
idea. But if copyright is to continue to work at all, it is necessary.
And in exchange for a vast expansion of the public domain, such a
concession would clearly be in the interests of consumers.
This sounds resonable, how does something like this get done? With the
Supreme Court just ruling on the subject, wouldn't that put it several
years into the future, and with the possability of new judges?
Unfortuantely to get access to content earlier, we'd have to probably
give more controls over to MicroSquoosh, Silicon Valley and the lackys
of Hollyweird and RIAAaaah.
The Race to Kill Kazaa
Rumori, the Detritus.net Discussion List
to unsubscribe, send mail to majordomoATdetritus.net
with "unsubscribe rumori" in the message body.
Rumori list archives & other information are at
[an error occurred while processing this directive] N© Detritus.net. Sharerights extended to all.