A modest proposal for fixing copyright

First 12 years are free, followed by several elective renewal periods that require paying an increasing percentage of royalties. All copyright terminates after 46 years.

Now we have de facto perpetual copyright. Every time Mickey Mouse is near to entering the public domain, Disney lobbies Congress to extend copyright. Ironically, Disney itself is built on the public domain, including Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, the Little Mermaid, Pinocchio, the Swiss Family Robinson, Aladdin and Alice in Wonderland.

The author of the proposal is R Street Associate Fellow Derek Khanna, who was fired from his job as a Republican Congressional staffer after authoring a paper calling for copyright reform.

“We have clear evidence that, rather than serving as an incentive to create, excessively long copyright actually hinders creation,” said Khanna. “New artists, directors and writers are unable to create derivative works without paying fees that can be so high as to make the cost of derivative works prohibitive or even impossible.”

In addition to hindering new creation, perpetual copyrights lead to a host of other problems, including historical works being unavailable to future generations, the growing number of “orphan works,” limitations on digital archiving and derivative works, higher transaction costs and a limited volume of publicly available content.

“When historical clips are in the public domain, learning flourishes,” said Khanna. “Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is rarely shown on television because the speech is not in the public domain.”

R Street paper calls for shortened copyright terms and examination of international treaties

Via Cory Doctorow – thanks!

3 Replies to “A modest proposal for fixing copyright”

  1. What if you purchased at a flea market 78 year old stories dated 1936 found in a leather binder owned by a nameless girl scout leader, written by an anonymous person. Did she create them herself? I think so, it seems to be true. Could they be copied from a grammar school textbook? I don’t know. Either way the 75 year copyright window is closed now, right? I just don’t know what to do with the stories now that I have them.

    1. I am not a copyright attorney — or an attorney of any kind — but as I understand it the contents of that binder are still under copyright. The thumb rule I use is anything created 1922 or earlier is in the public domain, anything afterward is not.

      And that binder is a perfect example of an “orphan work,” and an example of one area of copyright law requiring reforming.

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