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Friday, 24 May 2013

My ideal copyright term

Once upon a time, the Statute of Anne provided for a fixed copyright term of 14 years, extensible (if the copyright holder was still alive) for an additional term of 14 years.

Since then, copyright terms have ballooned to the point where:
  • in the US, nothing now in copyright will enter the public domain until 2019;
  • outside the US, HathiTrust, JSTOR and other content providers aren't willing to give us access to material published after ~1872 (In New Zealand, 1872 material would only still be in copyright if an author who published when they were 20 lived to over 100);
  • we're wondering whether the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations will make things even worse.
But how do you fight the Mickey Mouse Protection Act?

What I'd love to see is to go back to a copyright term of 14 years, but allow it to be renewed for additional terms of 14 years as many times as the copyright holder wants, as long as the copyright holder applies for the renewal before the expiry of the 14 years. (Maybe throw in a small renewal fee - say, the cost to the consumer of one full-priced copy of the work in question.) This would:
  • Get a whole heap of stuff into the public domain where it belongs;
  • Remove all incentive for large companies to repeatedly lobby for law changes;
  • Deal once and for all with the orphan works problem.
So Mickey Mouse would be in copyright forever; I don't care, let them protect themselves into obscurity. The important thing is that it would stop them forcing the rest of us to starve the public domain as well.