Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Respect the public domain.

Respect the public domain. This is one of several sites trying to keep the public domain of copyright free material as large as possible. In particular, it is a response to virtual elimination of new work entering the public domain due to ever increasing copyright extensions.

From the site:

Why should I care about the public domain?

The short answer is: because you've been cheated. The long answer? Because the movie industry wants you to honor your part of a deal, even though they no longer honor their part of the same deal. You see, the public is being admonished to respect copyrights, but the copyright holders have not respected the public domain. Instead, they have lobbied for extension after extension, indefinitely delaying their obligation to release works into the public domain. This runs contrary to the "limited time" restriction in the U.S. Constitution, and has effectively killed off the public domain.

What is the problem?

The problem isn't copyright itself. The founders of the United States had it right, and struck a fine balance. Copyright originally lasted 14 years with 1 option to renew for an extra 14 years. That is long enough for the owner of a copyright to profit from it, but short enough that the public could reclaim their culture while they were still alive to appreciate it. But now, copyrights can last the lifetime of an author plus 70 years. And that's a problem! The end result is that nothing created since 1923 has fallen into the public domain! Some people, such as Jack Valenti and Mary Bono, have urged Congress to extend copyright to forever less one day.¹ This is far, far beyond reasonable. Our society is a human institution. And as such, "limited times" should be viewed from a human perspective. Lengthy and repeated copyright extensions undermine the spirit of the Constitution, and ignore human reality: we die. Limited times that extend beyond our own lives are useless, nothing more than a token gesture. Until corporations and government officials understand that they're dealing with human beings, they will continue to experience failure here.

What is the solution?

First of all, we encourage movie goers to take advantage of the movie industry's guilt-trip trailers: make their platform your soapbox. Boo their ads right in the theater, or shout "respect the public domain!" Don't underestimate the influence even a quick quip can have on a theater full of people getting lectured in the dark.