So this morning I read an interesting article on copyright reform that talked about how a GOP staffer had issued a policy memo calling for several copyright reforms including shortening the length of time of protection only to have it quickly pulled when the GOP realized the reforms would be bad for the multinational corporations they hold dear. But the article properly reminds everyone that the Constitution calls for rights to be held for “a limited time” in order to promote science and art. We have gotten away from that concept and have moved from providing rights for 28 years (14 plus another 14) to providing rights for 70 years after an author’s death which could easily be well more than a century. Corporate rightholders are given 95 years of protection. Congress extended copyright protection to these terms in 1998 largely to protect corporate entities. Otherwise a certain mouse would have long fallen into public domain. In fact, while the 1998 law is technically called the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act(named to posthumously honor Cher’s former husband, who eventually became a U.S. Congressman from California) the bill was often referred to as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” by proponents and opponents alike.
I am a strong believer and defender of intellectual property rights, particularly those held by the individual artists who created the works – authors, composers, sculptors, etc. I firmly believe that 70 years after the death of the artist is the right period of time as the artist’s heirs should also be allowed to enjoy the fruits of their relative’s labors and creativity before the work lapses into the public domain. But too often we see that when those rights get transferred to a large corporate entity any creative re-working of the IP gets quashed. An individual artist is much more likely to allow someone new to come along and try a re-imagination of their work. Corporate honchos would be more likely to “just say no” and want to hold tightly to any use of their valued IP.
The article did not really offer any solutions to alleviating the stress between artists’ rights and the need to allow for creativity through re-workings of prior pieces of art. Perhaps one might be an expansion of compulsory licensing into other areas. There are several different compulsory license provisions in United States copyright law, including for non-dramatic musical compositions, public broadcasting and retransmission by cable systems. If I want to record a new version of a copyrighted song, I cannot be stopped; I just have to pay the copyright holder a royalty determined by the Copyright Office. While most artists who want to “Cover” a song get permission and don’t go the compulsory license route, I believe that Congress needs to develop an outlet, particularly in the field of patents, that allows for a newcomer to advance an old concept even when the concept is owned by its creator. I don’t see that happening any time soon, but it was refreshing to learn that the GOP was at least thinking about it (however briefly).
Here’s the story: